Kathmandu, 7th October,2015: ‘A friend is the one who comes in when the whole world goes out’.
The popular quote by Grace Pulpit seems to be ironical as far as the age-old cohesive ties between Nepal and India is concerned. The entire world greets Nepal when the country delivers a new Federal Democratic Republic constitution through the people-elected highly representative body– Constituent Assembly (CA) but India refrains from applauding the arduous effort. In an apparent apprehension, India rather went to the extent of imposing unannounced trade embargo restricting flow of essential goods and services to landlocked Nepal from Indian border points.
The meticulous efforts of Nepal in charting out a new era of nation-state building saw a stumbling block when the southern neighbor demonstrated uncanny gesture of diplomacy. The promulgation of constitution was an epochal achievement for Nepal and Nepali people to validate the hard-earned paradigm-shift from unitary to federal and monarchy to republican state. This of course is a moment of illumination and celebration for sovereign Nepali since it heralds a new dawn of political system institutionalizing achievements marked with republicanism, federalism, secularism, pluralism and inclusiveness after ending protracted transition that cost much to the country.
The new constitution was endorsed by an overwhelming majority with 507 out of 598 members of the Constituent Assembly voting in favour, 25 voted against and 66 abstained in a vote. It has showcased a glaring success of CA to the rest of the world to get new constitution framed and promulgated through a participatory process. However, there is some dissatisfaction manifested in the form of widespread violence in the southern plain of Nepal which has drawn India’s concern citing that unrest on Nepal-India border poses serious threat to its territory.
Expressing happiness over the recent political and constitutional development of Nepal, K.C. Tyagi, Chief Secretary General of Janata Dal (United) of India, said, “Nepal possesses right to settle its affairs through its own style; the current standoff between the two friendly countries has propped up when Indian government ignored this reality”. In an interview to Nepali vernacular daily Naya Patrika on October 1, the member of the upper house of Indian parliament asserted that, “The elected representatives of the CA have framed the constitution in Nepal. It is the people’s inclusive constitution. Even the Indian constitution was not drafted by the people-elected representatives; it was not rather powerful. But, Nepal’s constitution has enshrined several special provisions to ensure rights and welfare of the indigenous nationalities, women, Madhesi and marginalized sections”.
Referring to the current economic blockade imposed by India in an overt reaction following the adoption of constitution in Nepal, an expert of international law Prof Yubaraj Sangroula said, “The main problems are Nepal’s lack of adequate capacity of diplomatic negotiations and security perception of India”. He added, “India sees China when it looks at Nepal. Nepali leadership should explicitly tell Indian establishment not to see Nepal from such security perspectives only”.
The Convention on Transit Trade of Land-locked States-1965 has allowed land-locked countries to transport goods to and from seaports. The Article 3 of the Geneva Convention on the High Seas-1958 provided that ‘in order to enjoy freedom of the seas on equal terms with coastal states, states having no coast should have free access to the sea. A transit country also should provide good infrastructure to enable the land-locked country to get access to sea. “The land-locked States shall enjoy freedom of transit through the territory of transit States by all means of transport”, the convention notes. The convention has been noted as the first international agreement to recognize the special disadvantaged position of land-locked states. In this context, experts said that the deliberate obstruction from the Indian side at the border points is the breach of convention and it should be made the case in international arena.
Besides the convention, Nepal and India have signed a transit treaty ensuring unobstructed right of access to the sea as long one contracting party does not infringe legitimate interest of another country.
Whatever the international law orNepal-India bilateral treaties to this effect say, Nepal has no option to draw up a clear perspective plan and devise actions accordingly to reduce dependency on other countries so as to ensure that the present situation does not repeat again in the future. As a sovereign nation, Nepal should keep its all diplomatic options open to materialize its national march to independence, including financial self-reliance. Had Nepal learnt lessons from the 1989 Indian blockade, we would not have been in todayâ€™s position with no option in hand rather than look for generosity of our new large neighbours. The Chinese sayings ‘A journey of thousand miles begins with a single step’ is quite demanding in today’s Nepal to start thinking and acting to set the journey of independence which may obviously take decades. As its better late than never.