India merely going to wrest the lost initiative
KATHMANDU: With the visit of Prime Minister K P Oli to India coming nearer and nearer what has come under more scrutiny and analysis is: Did India benefit from the blockade on Nepal?
The answer is a screeching no, given how the step has flared up anti-Indian feeling in Nepal than ever before in history. The move coming from BJP led government attracted salvos from Indian opposition which accused government of throwing Nepal under Chinese influence.
In a way it was like throwing the baby with bathwater, to say the least something which can take time to repair. The repair job may take long given how sentiments of the younger generation of Nepalese cannot be taken for granted.
In a way India ended up left to pay up than eke out benefits by having a say in Nepalese politics by backing the cause espoused by the tarai-centric political parties although Nepalese side has promised due correction in favor of tarai people.
The scenario however is still fluid with Nepalese side as determined to give a desirable tweak to the constitution just drafted in ways that both limits the power of tarai-centric parties and keeps India happy about it.
This incidentally is a biggest challenge which P M Oli will be facing sooner than later, with the mechanism to sort the constitutional row given three months.
But equally challenging it is for the Indian side which has invited PM Modi hot in the heels of the blockade that has put India in bad light. However Indian side knows it well that Nepal can ill-afford to from going out of Indian influence altogether.
The reason being Nepal depends more heavily on India than China on the trade front and China cannot be an all-out complete alternative to India for various reasons unless of course relations come to a breaking point.
Meanwhile the Indian bid to keep Nepal under its influence has received a setback given how the Chinese side made inroads into Nepal and won the heart and soul of battered people by coming more than half way to pave way to supply fuel, among other tokens of friendship.
Supplies are followed by influence and that is what is a reality today and something which Indian side appeared determined to fight out by employing all the means it has.
Indian side knows that China in Nepal today is China is other parts of South Asia at a time when it is already in Indian ocean region and even in Sri Lanka.
The blockade has helped China gain foothold in Nepal if signing of fuel agreement between Nepal Oil Corporation and Petro China is any indication, with bunch of other deals now waiting for further action when Prime Minister Oli travels to Beijing after returning from New Delhi.
The deal if signed will bury deal with Indian Oil Corporation and put an end to 40 year long monopoly in supplying fuel to Nepal which also served as political tool to control things in Nepal.
Both sides have concerns and limitations. While Nepal has few options and thus cannot distance from India and swing over to
China, the Indian side cannot step up its move to galvanize its influence on Nepal.
The scenario is much like a chance encounter involving snake, frog and scorpion in which none of the side can make the first move fearing the backlash.