The cocktail of new Citizenship Act and planned National Register of Citizens (NRC) is seriously impacting Indo-Nepal relations. CAA entitles citizenship only for persecuted religious minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The political rivals of ruling BJP alleged that the act was especially designed to benefit Hindus and the act could create India as the biggest refuge state for Hindus as Israel is for Jews.
The union government justified CAA by saying that population share of minorities in Pakistan had declined from 23% in 1947 to 3.7% in 2011. Likewise, in Bangladesh the minorities population reduced from 22% to 7.8% in 2011. But it does not provide any respite to the millions of migrants of ex-Hindu nation Nepal, residing in India for livelihood, employment and others for several years.
Narrative against NRC built on verbatim of political leaders and opposition gives out a perception that those who failed to produce their ancestral records during citizenship drive will be either deported or put in detention centers to rot.
Secondly, it also keeps mum over the issue of persecuted Indian origin Nepalese (Hindu Madhesi and Christians). Reports indicate that a large number of Nepalese also have started joining these protests.
This controversial move has tested direct robust religious, social, cultural, economic, political and historical relations with ex- Hindu Rashtra ‘Nepal’. This attitude of India will further sour Indo-Nepal relations, ignite anti-India sentiments and will surely benefit China.
On the strategic front, India cannot afford distancing Nepal.
It cannot be denied that with the passing of time, cracks have appeared in Indo-Nepal cordial bond. In comparison to India, China is on gaining grounds. Unresolved border disputes, lackluster attitude and fragile policy towards Nepal has succoured in withering of Indo-Nepal ties.
Last year in August when India abrogated Article 370 and 35A which ceased the special status of Jammu and Kashmir there by converting it into Union Territory, most of the countries, except Pakistan and China, supported India’s move. They termed it as internal matter. Even SAARC countries like Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bangladesh and Bhutan immediately supported the move. But Nepal kept silence over it.
Just a few years back, in the SAARC council of Ministers meet held in Delhi, then Prime Minister of Nepal Girija Prasad Koirala overlooking the Indian interests advocated for the membership of China.
Overlooking Indian discomforts, Nepal signed China’s Belt and Road Initiative in 2016. It facilitates China to construct deep inroads and railway lines to have better connectivity inside Nepal, so that further dependence on India could be minimised.
Furthermore, the contract of 1200 MW Budhi Gandaki Hydro-electric Project, which was likely to be awarded to India’s National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC), was re-awarded to same Gezhouba Group Company of China, convicted of financial irregularities in Deuba government.
As anti-India stand keep on rising, Nepal also disowned US Indo-Pacific Strategy. Around 200 leaders of Nepal Communist Party (NCP) were trained to propagate Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping’s agenda in Nepal. Some prominent leaders of NCP are continuously spewing poison against Madhesi (India origin Nepali) by branding them as Indians infiltrators.
They unsuccessfully campaigned to strip the citizenship of Madhesis, maligned the image of Indian businessmen and jeopardize the fate of millions of Madhesis residing in Nepal for generations. Madhesis always wanted India’s intervention in solving their problems, but India never backed them.
Attempts were made for the closure of the age-old open border system between Nepal and India, also to restrict the movement of people residing in border areas, were vehemently opposed.
In order to downturn trans-border Indo-Nepal trade, in 2019 government of Nepal made Permanent Account Number (PAN) mandatory for all who are engaged in business activities in Nepal. It adversely affected Indian businessmen. Moreover, the Camp Office of Indian Embassy situated in Biratnagar, eastern Nepal was shut in 2018. Importing of Indian vegetables was discouraged by making pesticide test mandatory.
Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s declaration of ‘Neighborhood First’ policy in 2014, cordial relations between Nepal and India yet to be restored. On strategic front if misunderstanding persists, India has to pay heavy price. Therefore, it is high time for India to seriously review its policy towards Nepal.
(The writer is a senior journalist based in Raipur, Chhattisgarh. The views expressed here are his own)