As the visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Nepal approaches, there are indications on social media that he will face a chilly welcome. Hashtags like #BlockadeWasCrimeMrModi and #ModiNotWelcome are trending.
Modi is due to arrive in the neighboring country this Friday for a two-day official visit. Notwithstanding the issues he is likely to focus on during talks with top officials, one thing will stand out in the minds of ordinary Nepali people: the 2015 blockade.
Obviously, we Nepalis can’t forget the acrimonious experience of the Indian blockade. It came just after the earthquake in April 2015 in which thousands of people lost their lives and hundreds of thousands became homeless. India has always denied authorizing a blockade, but there was no doubt at the time that it had been imposed by Modi and his government. On September 20, 2015, Nepal promulgated its new constitution, which India had opposed, and then the blockade started.
The blockade was more bitter than an actual military war or missile attack. Nepal was severely plagued by a significant shortage of fuel and supplies, as thousands of trucks carrying goods from India were deserted at the India-Nepal border.
Nepal is a landlocked country that has open borders with India on three sides and relies on supplies from that country, most significantly medicines and fuel. During the blockade, India was violating the right of landlocked countries to get access to the sea through the nearest country. The Indian blockade lasted more than five months and there was a big humanitarian crisis in Nepal.
Thus Modi is not welcome in Nepal. If the government of Nepal gives a civic reception to him in the city of Janakpur, where he is due to arrive and meet with his Nepali counterpart K P Sharma Oli, that’s fine, that is solely the government’s call. That is only a government decision and the public can’t do anything about it, but honestly, we people don’t want to see Modi in our land without an apology for the blockade.
It is unlikely that Modi’s visit will restore Nepal-India relations to where they were before the 2015 blockade, which was not the first time India had made such a move. In 1989 when Nepal refused to sign a trade and transit treaty with the Rajiv Gandhi–led government, India imposed an economic blockade against Nepal.
The border dispute with India is a very sensitive issue for Nepal. Throughout its history, Nepal has been regarded as an independent and sovereign country. Historically, the border of Nepal extended to Tista in the east and to Kangada in the west.
Nepal shares an open border with India that is unique in this world. But India has encroached on Nepalese land, which is not acceptable. India has encroached on Kalapani and Susta, which belong to Nepal, in its west and east respectively.
Lipulekh is also a part of Nepal that India and China use as a trading point. Nepal was not happy with India and China when they signed a pact on sharing Lipulekh as a trading point, which happened during an official visit by Modi to China in 2015.
When Modi become prime minister of India, we Nepalis were hoping to solved the border disputes, as he had promised when he first visited Nepal in 2014. But now Modi’s real face has been seen.
Many times Indian border security forces have entered Nepal without permission. In March 2017, Govinda Gautam, a 30-year-old Nepali man, was killed by the SSB at the border. These are only a few examples. Now the time has come for Nepal to think about how to control the border with India. The current situation is completely unacceptable.
Neighborhood diplomacy failure
Indian neighborhood diplomacy in Nepal has been failing day by day. But there was massive hope when Narendra Modi became prime minister of India; people used to say, “Now India will improve its neighborhood diplomacy.”
On May 26, 2014, eight world leaders were invited to Modi’s swearing-in ceremony. It was the first time that the heads of the member states of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nation had been invited to attend an Indian prime minister’s swearing-in ceremony.
In August 2014, Modi made the first official visit by an Indian prime minister to the Himalayan nation in 17 years. The last visit by an Indian PM was by I K Gujral in June 1997. During his visit, Modi’s address to Nepal’s Constituent Assembly won the hearts of the Nepali people, as it showed that India was paying attention to its neighbors.
But when Nepal passed a new constitution in September 2015, instead of welcoming it, Modi and his government imposed an unofficial blockade.
Many Indian scholars and think-tanks have claimed that because of Modi’s failed neighborhood policy, India is losing the neighborhood. Modi’s government has not only failed in Nepal but also in Sri Lanka and Maldives.
Again, very clearly the 2015 blockade was a crime, and Modi must make an apology. We neither forgive nor forget.