India shifts stance, drops amendment call

Published On: February 3, 2018 07:21 AM NPT By: Kosh Raj Koirala  | @KoshRKoirala

KATHMANDU, Feb 3: In a major shift in its  position, India has advised Nepal’s Madhes-based parties to settle the issue of constitutional amendment internally through negotiations with major political parties.

Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who wrapped up her two-day whirlwind visit to Nepal on Friday, asked the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN) and Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN) to work together with the other political parties to pursue their demands. 

Members of the RJPN presidium  had sought Indian support for bringing about amendments to the constitution to address their grievances, during their meeting with Swaraj on Thursday evening.

“Constitution amendment is your internal affair. You should settle this issue, working together with other major parties in the country,” RJPN General Secretary Keshav Jha quoted presidium member of RJPN Sharat Singh Bhandari as saying. Bhandari was present at the meeting with  Swaraj. 

The Indian minister  did not make any reference to constitution amendment during the meeting she held with senior UML leaders on Thursday, according to the UML leaders. Instead, she  congratulated the UML leadership for securing an overwhelming victory in the parliamentary and provincial assembly polls held within the framework of a constitution that India has only ‘noted’ but has not yet welcomed. 

Before this, India had adopted a policy of  coercive diplomacy to pressure  the Nepal establishment to amend the constitution. The Madhesi people, who share cultural and linguistic affinity with people in Indian states adjoining the southern part of Nepal, have been calling for amendment to address their demands. Relations between Nepal and India had hit their lowest  under the premiership of UML Chairman KP Oli in the immediate aftermath of constitution promulgation in September, 2015. 

India’s tacit support for the Madhes-based parties in obstructing cross-border movement of vehicles at major entry points along the Nepal-India border had  soured UML’s relations not only with India but also with the Madhes-based parties. The priority accorded to UML leaders by the Indian side this time, according to analysts, reflects a change in India’s attitude toward Nepal’s constitution as well as its view of the UML, especially after the party emerged as the largest  in  parliament.

Sources said the Indian side also encouraged Madhes-based parties to cooperate with UML in forming the government at the center, although it suggested that RJPN and FSFN  form the government in Province 2. “The Indian side now appears to have given up its traditional approach of micro-managing things in Nepal and is  strictly  businesslike. Let’s hope my reading will not prove wrong in the days  ahead,” a senior political leader shared after his meeting with the Indian delegation.  

The suggestion of the Indian side to  Madhesi parties to settle their constitutional grievances internally is seen in a positive light in Nepal.  There is an impression in political circles that  Swaraj’s visit this time was focused more on expanding cooperation in various sectors than on micro-managing Nepal’s internal politics. 

During her meeting with the political leaders, Swaraj had conveyed that India was ready to work with the government under any political configuration in Nepal, allaying  apprehensions that India was  making efforts to thwart the forming of a leftist government here.

Minister Swaraj, who started her political meetings with CPN-UML Chairman K P Sharma Oli and then met presidium members of RJPN on Thursday, held  one-on-ones  with CPN (Maoist Center) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and FSFN Chairman Upendra Yadav on Friday. 

She also called on President Bidya Devi Bhandari and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba before wrapping up her two-day whirlwind trip later in the afternoon. Prime Minister Deuba had hosted a launcheon  in honor of  visiting Indian External Affairs Minister Swaraj. 

According to a press statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, both sides expressed satisfaction over the current state of bilateral relations and discussed matters of mutual interest during the meeting. “The Minister of External Affairs of India expressed pleasure over the successful holding of elections of the local level, provincial assemblies and Federal Parliament in Nepal,” said the statement. 

Minister Swaraj conveyed that the Indian government was willing to work with the government in Nepal to further strengthen age-old bilateral ties and continue its cooperation for the socio-economic development of Nepal.

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