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Did India deceive or did Madhesi Morcha misunderstand?

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Five Madhesi Morcha Leaders with Bihar (India) politician Lalu Yadav at his residence (Picture: Kantipur)

While talking for about an hour in Anamnagar, the leader’s two mobile phones rang continuously. He mostly ignored the calls, but when he did pick any one up, he would answer with exasperation, “Please wait a few days. We will sit and take a joint decision.”

The end of Srawan (mid-August) is the deadline for renewing government licenses, factory registrations and the like. By that time, the Morcha had already started its protests against the constitution-writing and federal demarcation. The Government offices in the Madhes plains were closed, making it impossible to renew any document. The cadre and supporters have been pestering the harried leaders to get the Government to cancel the fines slapped in the intervening six months.

Then there are the ordinary citizens, who have nothing more than their lives, their families and children, and perhaps a little plot of land. Among them, there are many who have been maimed or disabled. The Morcha does not have a count of how many died or were wounded during the movement.

The leader said, “If the talks (with the Government) had reached a certain point, we would have been in a position to make strong demands on all these matters. But right now, our self-esteem does not allow us to approach the Government. After all, we are in a movement.”

A general strike had been called in the plains by the Federal Inclusive Mahdesi Alliance on 15 August and by the Madhesi Morcha on 16 August. When the Constitution was promulgated on 20 September disregarding the Morcha’s displeasure and hectic Indian lobbying, India decided on its own to stop the transport of petroleum from the border points into Nepal.

[Related: A controlled Indian blockade on Nepal (BBC Report) ]

After India started the blockade on 22 September, the Front felt pressured to act. In informal meetings, India asked the Madhesi Morcha leaders to formally declare the blockade.

“The fact is, in earlier meetings we had ourselves suggested obstructing the border after violence escalated (against) Madhes. We had even gone to Raxaul to ask Indian officials to prevent passage of goods,” said one Morcha leader. “At first, the Indians did not come forward, fearing financial loss. Later, it was they who forced us to take the formal decision to blockade.”

A debate ensued among the Morcha members at the Rajbiraj meeting, which got extended. The meeting ultimately declared the blockade on 24 September, but by then transport of petroleum products had already been halted (by India) at all border points.

Leaders of Madhesi Morcha (Picture: Kantipur)
Leaders of Madhesi Morcha (Picture: Kantipur)

By the time of the Chhat festival, all the transit points had been closed, barring some consignments of fruits and grain that were allowed across. Thereafter, however, only the Birganj-Raxaul transit point was completely blocked while the others were all open.

Today, the Morcha’s senior leaders are pained to ask, “Why did India, after urging us to declare the blockade, proceed so enthusiastically on its own to lift it.”

[Related: Debunking Dr. Karan Singh’s misinformed comments on Nepal at Indian Rajya Sabha]

The second-rung leadership of the Morcha is even more confused: “At the Bijuli Bazaar meeting in the middle of January, our senior leaders had already announced that they would change the nature of the movement after 1 February. So why did India deceive our leaders? Or did our leaders fail to understand India’s suggestion.”

The ongoing turbulence within the Morcha today is the result of India’s diplomatic carelessness, maintains a leader of Sadbhavana Party. He is also perplexed as to why India opened all the other border points and kept only Birganj blocked for such a long time.

The Morcha has come out with its new schedule of protests, but they seem merely symbolic. Meanwhile, differences within the Morcha are escalating. On 3 February, TMLP Chair Mahanta Thakur went to stage a sit-in at the Miteri Bridge on the Birganj-Raxaul border, together with Vice-Chair Brishesh Chandra Lal and General Secretary Jitendra Sonal. There, Thakur said the blockade would continue.

[Related: India puts Nepal on Ventilator Support by blockading the country’s imports (BBC Report)]

The Sadbhavana Party Chair Rajendra Mahato arrived in Biratnagar the next day, on 4 February, and proclaimed there was no logic in keeping Birganj closed. This created a furor within the Morcha. When in a 8 February meeting the Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal Chair Upendra Yadav and TMLP leaders demanded that Mahato retract his statement, the latter staged a walk out. He has since threatened to start his own grand coalition or front.

TMLP’s Sonal said he did not believe Mahato would be able to start an independent front. He said, “We have asked him to correct himself and join the common platform. He has yet to announce his plans. Meanwhile, we will analyse the situation gravely and go before the people.”

Sadbhavana Party General Secretary Manish Kumar Suman said that while there were some misunderstandings within the Morcha, his party would not be diverted from the movement. Even though there is propaganda that the blockade was conducted by India, he claimed that in reality it was the Morcha’s doing.

[Related: Nepal- Madhesi groups have the highest representation in government jobs]

Said Suman, “If the border sit-in and general strike has benefited the Madhesi people, we will get the credit. If it has done harm, we will have to accept the blame. Why talk of others? There is no need to feel disheartened for having lifted the blockade. We should not forget that the other leaders had already announced their intention to change the nature of the movement before Sadbhavana’s Rajendra Mahato spoke up.”

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India puts #Nepal on Ventilator Support by Blockading the Country’s Imports (BBC Report)

(Translation of a report by senior journalist Anil Yadav, first published in BBC Hindi. You can read the original report here. A Nepali translation of the report is available on the BBC Nepali website.)

Translated by nepalforeignaffairs.com team.

bbc hindiThe slogan of Bajaj’s Pulsar motorbike roars, “Fear the Black.”

In these times of blockade on Nepal, Indian villages surrounding the border town of Sunauli just love this motorbike as the biggest means of petrol black-marketing into Nepal simply because its fuel tank holds 15 liters.

Read: A controlled Indian blockade on Nepal (BBC report)

Unemployed and students hire a Pulsar for 300 rupees a day, get the tank filled for 70 rupees per liter and sell it for 125-130 rupees a liter in Nepal right across the border.

Whoever makes more trips makes the evening more colorful. Other motorbikes are also used for petrol smuggling but profits are small because they have smaller tanks.

manojsinghThese boys, driving their motorbikes in high speed, have started wearing masks, not to prevent the dust from the fields but to sneak out of the eyes of extortionate police and berating petrol pumps.

Travel agencies are seen killing time but drivers are making money filling tanks of their taxies.

Blockade on Nepal has produced young investors, whose stories you get to hear at petrol stations. A young man from the village Thuthibari near a small border check-post, 25 kilometers away from Sunauli, had bought a second-hand motorbike for 15000 rupees. Having paid it off, he is now sitting on money.

Nepal’s Madhesi protesters had shot a boy carrying diesel into Nepal from the neighboring village Bargadawa few days ago. The Pulsar-boys refrain from talking about him.

For them, this incident is an exception, which took place not because of smuggling, but of personal fights.

151210160401_nepal_india_border_petrole_crisis_01_624x351_gettyThose unable to manage a motorbike are using bicycles to pass jerry cans filled with diesel. It goes to the extent that the women and girls from poor families have made their day buying 5-7 liters petrol out of borrowed money.

A Chat-boy (Chat is an Indian fast food) has put his cart at the petrol station nearNautanawa bypass, just a little further from the Commandant Office of the Indian Border Security force-SSB.

Until last month, his cart would stand at the gate of a nearby school. The cart-men say, “Where the boys there the cart. Those who never had 10 rupees before are now making 1000-1500 rupees a day.”

Long queue of jerry cans was seen atanother petrol station. The waiting women were asking pump-personnel to fill faster so that they could go into Nepal across the No Man’s Land via paddy fields, do their business and return back before the evening grew dark.

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Villages near the borders are quickly filling 1-2 cylinders of cooking gas at homes. One cylinder costs 720 rupees in the black market. It sells for a whopping 1500 rupees in Nepal’s Belahiya across the border. The prices go up to 2500-3000 rupees after they reach Bhairahawa and Kathmandu.

Flourishing black market has given hard time to the businesses in Sunauli. Their support boys have left jobs to join the new opportunity.

There is no sight of rickshaw-pullers in the villages near the border; labors are in scarcity in this season of wheat-sowing. The blockade on Nepal has bestowed them with an unprecedented money-making opportunity.

151210080205_nepal_sunauli_gorakhpur_624x351_manojkumarsingh_nocreditThey want this situation to continue long. They often cite a famous, old saying which means: when you live in border, you make easy money and you need not worry for having no studies.

A villager standing near a private hospital in the town of Farenda said, “India has put Nepal on ventilator-support. The family members of such patients pay any amount of money to the doctors. Nepal is also paying to these villagers.”