India and Nepal have always maintained a cordial diplomatic relationship as neighbours. The protocol has always remained that dignitaries from both countries visit each other officially to maintain the arm of friendship that has always been extended from both sides. Last month, the Prime Minister of Nepal, KP Oli had visited India in what was termed as a “historical” visit but the trend to describe all these visits with heavy adjectives of importance and great stress on improved relationships between the two countries remains. Following suit, Oli’s Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi is on his third and perhaps the most reviled visit to Nepal since he has assumed his term as the Prime Minister of India.
This visit is difficult for him because unlike the previous two times when he had wooed the people of Nepal with his charisma, open embracement of Hinduism, and a likeable personality, the economic blockade on Nepal levied by India immediately following the massive earthquake of 2015 hit right where it hurt. It hurt not just manifestly as the country was cut off of vital necessities like cooking gas, fuel, food, medicines including but not limited to all the aid material that had to be transported to a landlocked Nepal via the Indian roadway, but also latently in the sentiments of people who had just experienced a devastating earthquake but in place of aid received a blockade.
The blockade had stemmed as a retaliation to refusal of the Indian demands on changes to the long-delayed Nepalese Constitution that finally passed in 2015. Despite the Indian government refuting these allegations of implementing a blockade on Nepal, the fact remains that the people have not forgotten their plight and they hold Modi responsible for it.
Upon the Indian demand, the impression-conscious Modi has been provided with top-level security and a grandiose welcome. But despite the gaudy decorations and hurried blacktopping of roads, the reception from the public is rather bleak. This is proven by a social media outcry against the visit by use of the hashtags #ModiNotWelcomeInNepal and #BlockadeWasACrimeMrModi, quite similar to the then blockade specific constitution meddling outrage that took form of #BackOffIndia. In fact, a blackout has also been planned for the night Modi stays in Kathmandu. The people vehemently stress upon the need for Modi to apologise.
Likewise, Bibeksheel Sajha Party, a political party in Nepal, hung a banner at their party office as Modi was about to land in Kathmandu that read, “Welcome, Mr Modi. But we have not forgotten the blockade”, which was taken off by the police and the party expressed the Oli government to be intolerant towards a peaceful protest. Earlier on the same day, a group of three activists were arrested by the police were suspected to “jeopardise harmony between India and Nepal”. The national media has also not covered any of this outcry or event and some have been questioning if some of the journalists can bring this up in front of Modi, and seek a clarification or an apology. However, that remains far-fetched for now.
Nepal is fully aware that any animosity with the Indian Prime Minister, who enjoys an international stature and relationships garnered by making similar visits all over the world, will be costly. In fact, regardless of who the state head is, hostility towards India will only be costly to Nepal. Nevertheless, this also works reciprocally for India and they are well aware of this fact.
Nepal is bordered by India on three sides and by China on one. Landlocked Nepal is dependent on India, fully. Any friction between the two could make Nepal inclined towards China, which if materialises makes the Indian border on three sides as insecure as it never has been. Thinking back on the border issues of India with its neighbouring countries, Pakistan, Nepal, China, and Bhutan this could be a serious threat to India.
Having said that, this visit of Modi could actually be fruitful to both the countries, if banked on economic, political and religious ties that have been in existence between the two for a long time.
Yet, the fact still remains that despite any public outcry as long as Nepal puts up a façade of hastily finished road constructions and little children bearing flags of both countries out on the roads to welcome Modi, he will never apologise for an act of inhumanity he does not accept to have committed.