India to ask Nepal to immediately resolve Madhesis issue, avoid border blockade

Nayanima Basu New Delhi | Updated on January 20, 2018

KP Sharma Oli

First bilateral meeting between the Prime Ministers of the two countries today

India will seize the opportunity to mend bilateral ties with its neighbour and ask Nepal for an “immediate” end to the Madhesis problem and call for avoiding any incidents of border blockade in the future.

The issues will be raised on Saturday during the bilateral meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Nepalese counterpart KP Sharma Oli, who arrived here on Friday evening.

“Of course India will ask Nepal to complete the matter from where it all began. Yes, they have gone for a set of Constitutional amendments but then they have to address the main concerns related to the border issue,” a top official told BusinessLine on condition of anonymity.

In other words, although India is content with the recent amendments made by Nepal to its newly-promulgated Constitution, the Centre wants Kathmandu to redraw the federal borders according to the existing local ethnic groups.

On the eve of his maiden visit to India, Oli announced the formation of an 11-member political committee for settlement of the border issue, which has been the foremost demand of the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF), that had led to the border blockade since September 2015.

But, India does not seem to be “much satisfied” with the formation of such a committee as it believes it will only prolong the matter while the “danger of Madhesis going for agitation continues to loom large,” said the official.

Talks between the Nepalese government and UDMF representatives remained inconclusive on Thursday regarding the terms of reference of the committee, the official added.

However, the political committee will be officially finalised once Oli returns from his six-day India visit, the official said.

“We need to restore goodwill and not go for moral pressurising. Also, let us see how the political committee shapes out,” said Rakesh Sood, former Ambassador of India to Nepal.

Madhesis, who are mostly of Indian-origin, comprise of 1.35 crore of Nepal’s total population of 2.65 crore, according to the 2011 census.

Oli, who is visiting India from February 19-24, will be also travelling to Gujarat and Maharashtra next week. He will also meet External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

Ever since Nepal’s new Constitution was unveiled, outraged Madhesis resorted to massive agitation demanding greater representation within the upper-caste dominated ruling elite.

Their agitation went on for almost five months leading to blockade at all border checkpoints between the two countries, which Nepal accused India of imposing in order to put pressure on it.

The border blockade resulted in severe shortage of petroleum, food and other essential items that are shipped from India. This led to a huge diplomatic tiff between the two countries.

However, at present the blockade is over and trade ties are back to normal.

Published on February 19, 2016

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