New Delhi: India is considering sending an all-party delegation to Nepal to convey its goodwill to the Himalayan country even as it pushes for changes in the country’s controversial new constitution, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said on Thursday.
Swaraj’s comments came as Indian Right to Food Campaign urged her government to help end a land blockade of Nepal by sections opposed to the constitution.
In her opening statement to a calling attention motion in the upper house of Parliament, Swaraj said that Kamal Thapa, Nepal’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, who was in New Delhi this week on a private visit, had assured her that “progress" was being made in the dialogue on the contentious sections of the constitution with the protesting groups.
“This gives us hope that an early resolution would be found for the political problems facing Nepal. We will continue to encourage all sides to come to a solution sooner rather than later," Swaraj, who met Thapa on Wednesday, told MPs.
Stating that Nepal itself had to take “credible" and “effective" steps to resolve its political problems, Swaraj said, “India’s only interest is in a peaceful, united and stable Nepal... There has also been the broadest goodwill for Nepal in India and full political consensus on our policy. In that tradition, I would urge the House to consider the merits of a visit to Nepal by an all-party delegation."
India’s interest in the matter stems from the fact that Nepal shares a 1,751km open border with five Indian states—Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Sikkim—Swaraj said, adding: “India is directly affected by developments in the Terai," or the plains of Nepal.
An unfortunate example of this was that an Indian national was killed when Nepal tried to forcibly remove Nepalese protestors squatting on the roads preventing the movement of commercial vehicles carrying goods and fuel from India last month, she said.
Swaraj’s statement came as India’s Right to Food Campaign, an influential network of organizations committed to upholding the right to food in the country, expressed concern over what it called food insecurity in Nepal due to the blockades at the border.
In a statement released on Thursday, the network condemned all the groups involved in creating and perpetuating the blockade and urged the Indian government to take “proactive measures to end the blockade and stand in solidarity with the people of Nepal at this time of crisis."
The group also wanted the Indian government to address concerns that India was backing the blockades.
“As a good neighbour, the government of India in such a situation should dispel these allegations and must ensure that the common people of Nepal do not suffer due the political tensions," the Right to Food Campaign said in a press statement.
Noting that Nepal was recovering from a devastating earthquake which struck the country in April, the Right to Food Campaign said, “Essentials need to be delivered to these areas urgently before all the roads to reach them get blocked."
Landlocked Nepal’s new constitution seeks to create seven states in a federal model in which 60% of lawmakers will be elected directly, while the rest will be elected in proportion to the population of these seven states.
The Tharus, Madhesis and Janjatis, who constitute 51% of the country’s 27 million population, fear they will not be adequately represented in the country’s parliament under the new constitution and have been holding protests.
India blames the stoppage of commercial vehicles carrying goods to Nepal on the protesters who have been squatting on the roads.
Nepal, on its part, blames India’s alleged tacit support for the protesters for their prolonged agitation and has accused India of imposing an economic and fuel blockade.
The situation has resulted in tension between India and Nepal, reversing the warmth in relations seen after Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office on 26 May last year.
In her statement to the Rajya Sabha, Swaraj said India was not behind the blockade on supplies to Nepal. “Obstructions are by the Nepalese population on the Nepalese side, in which government of India cannot interfere," she said adding that there had been incidents of violence in areas of Nepal bordering India, with Indian freight operators voicing complaints about difficulties in movement and security.
India has facilitated supplies wherever possible, Swaraj said adding several thousands of trucks have remained stranded on the Indian side of the border for weeks, waiting to cross over. “The primary crossing of Raxaul-Birgunj, which accounts for two-thirds of our trade, remains closed from the Nepali side for more than two months," she said. India had also airlifted fuel and medicines to Nepal and was re-routing supply trucks through other available crossing points, she said. “But there are also logistical constraints and the best remedy remains a political solution leading to the end of the agitation," she added.
The Rajya Sabha is to discuss India’s Nepal policy on Monday.