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Sino-Nepal relations: What’s at stake for India?

Ms Varya Srivastava Writes: Being a landlocked country, Nepal had always been dependent on India for supply of resources. However, the forced Nepalese transition into a democracy strained the relations between the two countries giving the window to China to nurture its ties with Nepal. Today, markets in Nepal are flooded with Chinese goods.

Ms Varya Srivastava Writes: Being a landlocked country, Nepal had always been dependent on India for supply of resources. However, the forced Nepalese transition into a democracy strained the relations between the two countries giving the window to China to nurture its ties with Nepal. Today, markets in Nepal are flooded with Chinese goods and train services are being developed from China to Kathmandu. This is a cause of worry for India, which shares an open boarder with Nepal, people form the state of Bihar have for years been working as daily wage workers in Nepal and were employed in clearing of debris post the Nepal earthquakes.

The 11-year-old Himalayan republic has a very fragile internal situation today. The recently elected Sher Bahadur Deuba has inherited a deeply divided Nepal, divided between the Madhesis and the upper caste Bahun-Chettris of Kathmandu Valley, with whom New Delhi has been doing business since it bailed out King Tribhuvan in 1950. But what is interesting in todays Nepal is that India, which had supported the 2006 Jan Andolan against the monarchy which forced King Gyanendra to hand over power to the people; has all but distanced itself from the Madhes agitation and its demands: the right to be represented in Parliament and other state organs on the basis of population, or the one-man-one-vote principle.

Does a principled stand favouring democracy and representation trump over good relations with neighbouring states? The Indian support of the rights of the Madhesis, and consequently the 135-day blockade they mounted from October 2015-February 2016 (Forty five people were killed in the agitation then, including one Indian national, and all of Nepal, especially the Terai, had suffered hardships as essential supplies grew scarce) to demand those rights has bought the Chinese and the Nepalese elite closer, India watched uncomfortably. Certainly, it is this fear of the Chinese dragon expanding its presence across Nepal including in the Terai plains that neighbor Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand that has forced India to postpone the big fight on behalf of the Madhesis.

K P Oli began to openly woo both the Chinese as well as King Gyanendra when he suspected that the Madhesis may actually come into their own with the help of his former benefactor, India. India watched with growing apprehension as Oli and his foreign minister, the pro-royal Kamal Thapa, promised the Chinese in March 2016 that it would allow them to open another consulate in the picturesque hill town of Pokhara. Beijing had already tempted Oli by offering him Nepali consulates in Lhasa and Guangzhou. In addition, Oli agreed that the People’s Bank of China could open two more branches in the Terai, apart from the one it already had in Lumbini, where the Chinese are helping revamp the birthplace of the Buddha. The Chinese Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group is building the Gautam Buddha international airport in nearby Bhairahawa.

The 2015 Nepal earthquake became a litmus test to the proximity of Sino-Nepal relations, when the Chinese government proactively provided help and assistance to the newly democratic state of Nepal.

The ball is now in the Indian court, it is up to New Delhi to work towards strengthening its relation as not only a defence to the growing Chinese influence but also to have a unified South Asia.

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