By Choodamani Bhattarai, Kathmandu
8 December 2016
The subject of dual nationality is currently eating away at Nepal. This hidden agenda came to the fore when the government led by Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” registered a constitutional amendment bill in the Legislature Parliament. The government has proposed the demarcation of provinces at the behest of the southern neighbor, India. The Indian position is being pushed by some Madheshi parties that are demanding a separate nationality within Nepal. Even before implementing the newly promulgated constitution, the government had been actively engaged in amending major provisions enshrined in the statute. Nepalis, both at home and abroad, are furious with India as well as with the Government of Nepal for the mess the mountain nation currently finds itself in. Their anger is at full display in Kathmandu and other regional cities where hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets damning the amendment bill introduced by the Prachanda government. That anger is slowly turning violent in some places as strong feelings threaten the unity between Madhesi and Pahadi people.
The constitutional amendment bill is an attempt to establish two distinct units: Terai (plains districts) and the Hills. And, the motive behind it is to disturb Nepali sentiments and unity. This nefarious motive is to divide units according to the colour of people. Right from the beginning when people began discussing federalism in Nepal, one thing nationalists feared the most was the demarcation of provinces based on Madhesi and Pahadi ethnic identities. Before becoming Prime Minister, Mr Dahal himself was bitterly opposed to such racist divisions. He also believed that such a division was India’s “game plan” to ruin Nepal. But surprisingly, he changed his mind overnight and gravitated towards the very same ‘game plan’. Ironic and understandable.
A few months ago, Mahant Thakur, the chairman of Tarai Madhesh Democratic Party, clearly stated in a meeting with journalists that he was waging a struggle to ensure Madhes as a different nationality and not merely an independent Madhes state. In fact, identity and nationality are not synonymous. Cognizant that Nepal is a country with many identities such as religions, caste-group, languages, cultures and territory, Thakur and his party were advocating for a separate Madhesi nationality.
Now, for nationality there must be a territory with shared history, culture, language and religion. Like other places of Nepal, Madhesh is also a unique blend of vivid cultures, history and languages and not homogeneous as portrayed. If Madhes is recognised as a separate nationality, then a need to recognise more nationalities within Madhes becomes imperative. Although aware of this fact, Thakur’s demand for the amendment appears to be a clear strategy to establish two distinct nationalities within a nation and ultimately trigger disintegration.
If the history of India’s stance and role in Nepal’s micro management is scrutinised, it becomes clear that India has been relentlessly trying to materialise its agenda by buttressing Thakur’s agenda. From the date of constitution promulgation up to a breakfast meeting with Madhesi leaders at the Embassy of India in Kathmandu on 2 December, India is dealing with the Madhesi parties as their cohorts for the rejection of constitution. This is illustrated by how the Indian envoy in Kathmandu, Ranjit Rae, recently assured the PM that the Madhesi parties were ready to support the amendment proposal. He clearly was speaking on behalf of the Madhesi parties. By releasing a press statement, India even expressed satisfaction at the amendment proposal. Earlier though, a point not to forget, it had issued a press statement to express its disapproval of Nepal’s constitution and even imposed an inhumane blockade to express its fury at the promulgation. Also, India has been persistently relaying messages to the Nepali leaders in an attempt to muster support for a different nationality (not identity) of Madhes and the division of Terai and the hill regions.
During Indian President Pranav Mukhajee’s recent visit to Nepal, such a message was conveyed even more strongly. Although, his visit was propagated as a goodwill visit by a titular head of state, he conveyed meaningful political and diplomatic messages to Nepal, South Asia and also to China. President Mukharjee’s attitude demonstrated that India is still determined in the micromanagement of Nepali politics in favor of Indian interests. His visit also confirmed the allegation that India has been playing an active role to divide the people of Terai and the Hills.
According to sources at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the two countries had initially agreed on announcing Indian aid for the development of the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu and Janaki Temple in Janakpur (Terai) during the visit. Later, however, Mr Mukharjee announced the aid only for Janaki Temple but not for Pashupatinath. This greatly surprised the government officials in Kathmandu.
The development of Janaki Temple with Indian assistance would not have become controversial under normal circumstances. But the manner in which it was executed clearly exhibited India’s partisanship. By choosing Janaki and ignoring Pashupatinath, Mr Mukherjee conveyed India’s intent. His arguments about Nepal’s new constitution were exactly the same as the ones given by the Indian establishment during the blockade. Expressing dissatisfaction at the promulgation of Nepal’s new constitution, India had imposed a blockade last year which critically damaged the economy of Nepal. Nepali people faced untold sufferings due to lack of life-saving drugs, food and fuel. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Nepal for the first time last year. He also planned to address Janakpur separately. In the end, he couldn’t visit there due to the fragile security situation of Bihar (an Indian state closed to Janakpur).
All of these activities being maneuvered by India are for the establishment of Madhes, a separate nationality despite the fact that dual nationality within a nation defies all political theories. Even in India, people of different identities remain united in the name of federalism. People claiming separate identity in Kashmir and Assam have been suppressed violently. In United Kingdom, the issue of separate nationality of Scotland was rejected by referendum last year. Across the globe, sweat and blood have been invested to keep nations united. In Nepal, multiple identities had been united during the unification process and was only possible due to ultimate sacrifice of our forefathers. Regionalism now is manifesting in extremism and it is greatly harming national unity and integrity.
By realising this fact that federalism only serves foreign interests and could lead to disintegration of the nation, the true leaders of Nepal should be ready to extract the nation from this predicament and work in favor of a national unity.
Now the question Nepali people have to answer is whether to accept Madhes a different nationality or reject the amendment proposal through their representatives in the parliament.
Every nation has its own national interests and tries hard to safeguard them. It is still not too late to realise that India as a powerful nation of South Asia, tries to handle its neighbour according to its own national interests. Through its president’s visit to Nepal, India sent clear messages to China, Pakistan and other SAARC nations that Nepal is now in its strategic pocket and it could handle Nepal as it sees fit. In the regional dynamics, China is supporting Pakistan and tensions are increasing between India and Pakistan. In recent days, both are accusing each other of incursions along the line of control. Crossfire along the border is taking place everyday following a planned terrorist attack on an Indian military camp in Kashmir. Diplomatically, both countries are heavily engaged in lobbying against each other in the region and with world powers. Charging Pakistan as a terrorists’ protector, Mr Mukharjee urged Nepali leaders to support India for eliminating state-protected terrorism.
China obviously has sympathy for Pakistan and sometimes they work together to safeguard their interests in Nepal. Although Chinese president Xi cancelled his Nepal visit, Chinese interest in Nepal is on the rise partly due to its “one belt one road” strategy and connectivity to the world which India rejects to recognize.
In the power game of South and North East Asia, Nepal’s main challenge is to remain sovereign. If it can safeguard its sovereignty, only then can it play an independent role in the region. It is definitely a difficult time for Nepali leaders and the people given national unity is facing slow erosion. In this regard, are the Prime Minister and the main political parties ready to accept the dual nationalities in accordance with India’s will or do we, as a sovereign nation, want to chart our own path in accordance with the desires of the proud Nepali people?
Choodamani Bhattarai is a journalist based in Kathmandu.
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