Roti-Beti Ka Rishta
By: Kamal Baruah
They were basically cattle-rearing and farming people but poverty drove them to migrate as soldiers in the Gorkha Corps, when the British annexed Assam in 1826, giving rise to the Assam Light Infantry. The Assam Railway & Trading Company (1881) brought the Nepalese to work in coal mines and oil wells. There are 8.5 millions of Nepalese living in India and thirty five thousands of Gorkhas are still serving in the Indian Army. The Nepali population is mostly found in West Bengal, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal and the NE States. In Assam their population makes up about 8%, and have influenced the state’s development on art, culture and literature. Notably, Sahitya Akademi Awardee Padmashri Lil Bahadur Chettri, was also awarded the Nepal’s highest literary award Jagadamba Shree Puraskar. Nepal is a landlocked country surrounded by two big neighbours and is truly dependent on India for essential goods. It has geographical, historical, cultural and economic linkages since ages and maintains close bonds through marriages and family ties, ‘Roti-Beti ka Rishta’.
India is Nepal’s largest trade partner in FDI, providing transit, merchandise, service trade, 100% petroleum supplies and second highest inward remittances after Gulf countries for pensioners, professionals and workers working in India. Nepal imports 70% from India through organized trading points at Mechi and Mahakali and India receives 60% of Nepal’s total export. Nepal has historically relied on India for its transit trade primarily through the ports of Kolkata and Visakhapatnam. As China opens border connections to Nepal, it reverses the dependence to one nation. Ironically Kathmandu considers China as an alternative. They pushed ahead with amending a map that includes disputed territories Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura with China’s backing while India engaged in Ladakh. Beijing wants to diminish the age-old relations Nepal and India have shared since time immemorial. Oli’s confrontationist position with India is possible under active support of China. Should India retaliate, Nepal will face huge economic impact. The Himalayan country started trading (14% total goods worth 1.2 billion USD) with China through a few transit points and vice versa 2% for China. They import from mobile sets to telecom equipment, readymade garments and electrical goods and machineries. Nepal-India relation must be protected before it is allowed to cause damage. The relationship suffered stain recently at the behest of northern neighbour. Nepal went on to even protest India’s strategic Lipulekh Pass connecting Kailash Mansarovar. The watershed moment was the Indian origin people for Madhesi agitation 2015 and long economic blockade that crippled Nepal’s economy.
China took the opportunity to connect Tibet for supply of essential products to help Kathmandu. China is planning a strategic Kathmandu-Gyirong railway network extending to Lhasa-Xigatse. Post monarchy, Nepal has been under the Communist led government, presently led by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. He has brazenly and aggressively taken on India and preferred China on bilateral trade. Is Nepal moving upward Dragon’s trap? The Indian media had recently cautioned Nepal on Chinese intervention, the impact of which was that Indian media was blacked out. Nepal is relying on China, the world’s manufacturing hub for its micro management. Even as the India-Nepal Treaty 1950 of peace and friendship for close strategic relationship is in vogue, China is ambitiously teaching Mandarin in schools, training bureaucrats and organizing cultural exchange programs through its embassy. Nepal receives second highest number of tourists from China. Since Nepal had failed to attract grants and loans from World Bank thereby it sought China (106 million dollars) for post–earthquake reconstruction projects in making highways and industries. China has ambitious Belt and Road Initiatives extending up to Nepal.
The Chinese engineering has also been involved in the Pokhara International Airport project, in cement and hydropower sectors and other manufacturing units. Young Nepal may hold good opinion of China but perhaps is unaware of the snare being set up by the dragon. As a sovereign country, Nepal wants to maintain equidistance between two great neighbours and plans to continue cordial relationship. There a perhaps also of an inherent fear of a Tibet like fate someday. Communist China is a capitalist nation too and can exploit them. There is allegation against India for supporting and sheltering Nepali Maoists that destabilized monarchy in Nepal. The Nepalese blame Indian bureaucracy for their inability to read and understand their psychology. Can Nepal protect its sovereignty from the Chinese imperialism? They ought to discern it from historical facts. The only Hindu and secular country Nepal had been proud of defeating the enemy in the Nepal Tibet War.
Tibet was paying war compensation until China took over. Nepali youths are very optimistic that the two could play significant role making the India and China relation cordial and anticipate advantages from the two big nations. Poor infrastructure such as electricity and road access, fuelled by political instability are the major reasons for deindustrialization in Nepal. With enhanced partnership with China and new markets connectivity in East, Nepal may find the opportunity to realize its aspiration to develop but they should continue to maintain their traditional and strong cultural, religious, social and military ties with India for peace and harmony with its big neighbours. The growing and continued widening trade deficit of Rs 85,519 crore with India, and Rs 20,340 crore with China is a cause of concern for Nepal. Being a buffer state sandwiched between two rival powers, Nepal should not get caught under their sphere of influence.