Nepal Crisis: Will India lose its neighbor?

Nepal has been confronted with another humanitarian conflict after two catastrophic earthquakes. It is facing an acute shortage of fuel, cooking gas, and medicines among other necessities. India’s unofficial three-month long blockade in Nepal has crippled the country’s economy. The Government of Nepal blames India. However, India denies any responsibility in the blockade. Nepal, a landlocked country, shares an open border with India from three sides. Thus, its outreach to the rest of the world is determined through India. Many Nepalis work across the border to earn a decent living, and many have even gotten married across the border. India is Nepal’s largest trading partner. India in many instances has acted as a good neighbor and has extended trade concessions to Nepal. Nepal retrieves all of its essential commodities from and through India. But with the blockade, India is at the risk of losing Nepal to China. During the blockade, China supplied 4 tankers of fuel to Nepal and in a way; India lost a monopoly on its supply of goods to Nepal. If the plight continues, it will be very difficult to revive India-Nepal relations.

The blockade is the result of protests by the Madhesis who demand equal representation in Nepal’s new Constitution. The Nepal Constitution does not equally represent the Madhesi and Tharu communities, who make up forty percent of the total population. They are against the discriminated federal structure adopted in the Constitution by the Nepali government. The Indian government is taking appropriate steps to resolve the Madhesis’ demands as early as possible. Recently, Indian External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj met top Madhesi leaders and expressed theneed for”broad based ownership of the Constitution and encouraged a speedy political solution and return to normalcy on that basis.” In my view, India should maintain restraint from interfering in Nepal’s internal affairs, while considering the sovereignty of its neighbor.

The following are arguments of the Government of Nepal, of the Madhesi minority group, as well as India’s stance on the issue to provide a clearer picture of the problem.

Government of Nepal: Clearly, the Nepali government wants India to stay away from their internal affairs. Nepal has recently acquired a democratic framework and wants to resolve internal issues on its own. It believes that India’s support to the Madhesis is working against the entire Nepali population and has turned the majority of the Nepali population against India, as it believes that the blockade is because of India.  Nepal feels that India should stop acting as a “big brother” and instead let Nepal arbitrate with the Madhesis.

Madhesis in Nepal: The Madhesh-based political party Samyukta Loktantrik Madheshi Morcha is at the forefront of the protest because of the discriminatory policy framework adopted by the Nepali Constitution. They protest on three particular issues that they believe should be addressed immediately: proportional representation, allocation of seats on the basis of population, and identity-based federalism. While the first two issues have attained reasonable attention by the Nepali government, the problem that remains untouched by Nepal is addressing identity-based federalism. Madhesis, who have been historically marginalized, feel polarized and demand equal representation. They urge for demarcation of state boundaries. Because they are mostly ethnic Indians, it is surmised that the Indian government is supporting the Madhesis by implementing a blockade.

Government of India: The Indian government initially was not happy with Nepal’s Constitution and suggested a few changes that were never accepted. Since then, the government has maintained not to influence or interfere in Nepal’s internal affairs. The Indian government upholds that the blockade is a result of the protests, and the Nepali government should resolve the dispute expeditiously with unanimity. India however denies using a “big brother approach” when dealing with Nepal.

Internal impediment in Nepal can be resolved only if there is consensual political dialogue among leaders. Each country is busy blaming the other. Nepal uses its nationalist approach to segregate the Madhesi population from the rest of the population.  India is anxious about China’s closeness with Nepal and fears losing a very important neighbor. The question that remains is whether relations between Nepal and India will get any better? Or, will Nepal approach China and ignore India?  Based on very recent developments, the India-Nepal relationship looks optimistic, as the Nepali government has decided to address the demands of the Madhesis and review the Nepali Constitution.  As such, there still remains hope in revitalizing the critical partnership between Nepal and India.


Image: Philippe Lopez-AFP, Getty

Posted in , Foreign Policy, India, Nepal

Arushi Gupta

Arushi Gupta is presently a researcher with Lokniti, Centre for the Study of the Developing Societies (CSDS), New Delhi, analyzing the trends in Indian elections using the quantitative data. She was previously associated with the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) where she worked on issues pertaining to foreign policy. Her interest revolves around socio-political developments in and around India. She has received her graduation and post-graduation degree in political science from Delhi University. Arushi can be contacted at: guptaarushi.07[at]

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4 thoughts on “Nepal Crisis: Will India lose its neighbor?

  1. Wonderfully written article Arushi! I especially liked how you have summarized the three positions. However I feel India, on occasions, has also been very touchy about Nepal’s foreign relations.
    Of course India is concerned about China’s aggressive investment in infrastructure in the region. Yet, I feel it is more likely that the weight of geography will favor closer relations between India and Nepal.

    The new Nepal is likely to critically examine its national interests and how they can be best pursued. India can influence the future by tendering assistance, when sought, directed largely at alleviating the harsh life of least development areas as also continuing assistance in building infrastructure and making it always abundantly clear in words and actions that the welfare of Nepal is, in itself, of primary to India and that it has no other agenda of its own.

  2. Thanks, Yash!

    That’s exactly my point. India has to sought its stand in the region loud and clear. I believe that the anti-India sentiment is created in Nepal which in a way is affecting India’s relation with Nepal. Also there is China factor. Its a complex situation and requires a lot of strategic planning.
    But on the other hand, I’m slightly also of the view that India should maintain distance from internal affairs of the newly democratic Nepal. I mean, sending foreign minister directly after the Constitution was adopted was not a welcoming step and in a way, has strained the relations a bit.
    I hope the issue is resolved soon as Nepal is an important neighbour for India both from foreign policy and domestic stand point.

  3. A compromising attitude can only eliminate ongoing internal disturbances in Nepal.If any deprivation is done to the Medhesi people,then, it should be corrected.Or if Madhesi people have raised unreasonable demands ,then, they should stop raising unreasonable demands. Hence,both the government of Nepal and the Madhesi people should face each other and end the ongoing agitation engineered by the Madhesi people.India’ counselling can become helpful to both the parties.Only a policy of give and take can bring a peaceful atmosphere to Nepal.

  4. Arushi as you said Nepali do have close ties India. But some facts need to be corrected.% fo madeshi and that is 20% only and secondly there is no discrimination to that extend. Madeshi people have majority residence in 8 district which have been made separate state but they wants other districts too where their population is in minority and that districts are claimed by other tribespeople. Proportional representation and election issued have been solved by amendments. Though I am from Nepal and one of madeshi people being neutral I can clearly see that real reason of all this drama has two parts. Those parties doing protest lost previous election badly. Only 15 seats out of 116 so they want to come again by running propaganda and secondly reason of India’s anger is non fulfilment of promise made by major political parties..i.e making Nepal a Hindu country..but in constitution its a sovereign country..Also India is interested in water of koshi and mahakali river. Which will be easy for India only when all south part of Nepal is separated from North part as separate state as against 5 divisions in south Nepal now

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