January 7, 2016, RAKESH SOOD
The Oli government needs to demonstrate an inclusive approach during the constitutional amendment process. For India, the challenge is to give greater political content to its engagement with Nepal even as cross-border movement of goods picks up
While media attention has been focussed on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise Christmas rendezvous in Lahore with Nawaz Sharif and the terrorist attack at the Pathankot airbase, significant developments on the Nepal front have been taking place. Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Oli telephoned Mr. Modi on New Year’s Eve to convey his greetings for 2016 and informed him about his government’s plans to move forward with the three-point package while undertaking negotiations with the agitating Madhesi leaders of the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha (SLMM). In response, Mr. Modi reiterated the need to find durable solutions to Nepal’s political problems on the basis of “consensus” and conveyed his greetings to the Nepali people for 2016.
Shift or drift?
However, there are subtle changes of position underway. The first sign came on December 21 following the decisions taken by the Nepali cabinet to address the demands of the SLMM. The three-point package consists of constitutional amendments on participation in the state organs on the basis of “proportionate inclusiveness” and delineation of electoral constituencies on the basis of population. Demarcation of provinces was to be undertaken in a three-month period through a political mechanism on the basis of consensus, and other demands — including those pertaining to “citizenship” — are to be resolved through negotiation and appropriate notification. Nepal’s Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa had already briefed External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj about this road map during his visit to Delhi last month.
In an official statement, India’s Ministry of External Affairs welcomed these developments as “positive steps that help create the basis for a resolution of the current impasse in Nepal”. The statement further urged “all Nepali political forces to now demonstrate the necessary maturity and flexibility” so that a resolution to the current crisis could be found. The formal Indian statement has been followed by aninformal easing of supplies, particularly fuel and LPG, by using border-crossing points other than the Raxaul-Birgunj crossing which remains blocked.