India talks tough as Nepal restive over statute

India talked tough and warned the leadership in Nepal that unrest brewed from political issues had to be resolved through political means, not by force, even as violence spiralled in the neighbouring country a day it adopted its new constitution.

As the Madhesi and Tharu communities continued to protest against the constitution and at least three protesters were killed in police firing at Biratnagar, bordering Bihar, on Monday, New Delhi sent out a strong message to Kathmandu. “The issues facing Nepal are political in nature and cannot be resolved through force,” said a Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) statement in New Delhi.

A day after Nepal rebuffed India and promulgated the much-protested constitution, New Delhi also sent out a veiled threat to Kathmandu, subtly hinting that it might have to suspend supplies to the neighbouring country if violence continued. “Our freight companies and transporters have voiced complaints about difficulties in movement within Nepal and security due to the prevailing unrest,” said the MEA.

Nepal depends on supplies from India for a range of essentials — from petroleum products to medicine. “We had repeatedly cautioned the political leadership of Nepal to take urgent steps to defuse the tension in these regions. This, if done in a timely manner, could have avoided these serious developments,” added the MEA statement. Nepal promulgated the new constitution on Sunday amid widespread protests in Tarai — the country’s southern lowland bordering India.

The Madhesis and Tharus are protesting as they believe the new statute neither accommodated their aspirations nor addressed their concerns, let alone ending the socio-economic discrimination they were purportedly subjected to due to political dominance of upper-caste highland elites.

India’s envoy to Nepal Ranjit Rae was called to New Delhi on Monday for consultation on the evolving situation in the neighbouring country. Meetings with the MEA top brass and the ensuing discussion focused on how New Delhi could exert more pressure on Kathmandu to ensure that the country’s new constitution is amended to address concerns of the Madeshis and Tharus.