Anxious neighbours

(The Kathmandu Post)

Nepal is sandwiched between two of the largest countries in the world in terms of population. China now has the second largest economy on the globe and has experienced a very high growth rate. India has also shown a high rate of growth in recent years. Both have security interests in Nepal as their own countries might be impacted by what happens here. The majority of Nepali territory is situated south of the Himalaya, and India shares an open border with Nepal, and no passport or visa is required for nationals of the

two countries to cross this border. As Nepal now has become a federal republic, but has not yet decided on the kind of federalism, ethnic or geographic, both have reasons to be concerned about this issue.

To the north, China is a unitary state, but has a number of “autonomous regions” such as Tibet and Xinjiang. It also has a number of smaller autonomous regions for Chinese-speaking Muslims known as Hui and minority nationalities living in the south-eastern part in Yunan near the border with Myanmar and Vietnam. As a unitary country, it has greater control over the “autonomous regions” like Tibet and Xinjiang than in a federal country like India. China has not interfered in Nepal’s internal affairs, and didn’t play a role in the overthrow of the monarchy and declaration of Nepal as a republic after the success of Jana Andolan II in 2006.

On the other hand, India is a federal republic and played an important role in brokering the 12-Point Accord between the seven political parties and the Maoists, which led eventually to the declaration of Nepal as a republic. However, both of Nepal’s neighbours would like to see a stable government. China doesn’t want to see Nepal becoming a centre for anti-Chinese activities that could impact its control over Tibet. It’d also like to see Nepal as an independent sovereign country and would like

to develop trade with other Saarc countries including India and Bangladesh via Nepal.

Although India is a federal republic, most of its states were created on the basis of linguistic identity. For example, a majority of the people in Maharashtra speak Marathi, and most people in Tamil Nadu speak Tamil. It’s only in a few states in the northeast that ethnic federalism is practiced. There is Nagaland for the Naga ethnic group and Mizoram for the Mizos. There is also Meghalaya where Khasi and Jayantia ethnic groups make up a majority of the population. In Arunachal Pradesh, ethnic Tibetans form a majority of the population.

But these ethnic groups in their territory make up more than half of the population. What is proposed in Nepal is entirely different as in none of the ethnic states proposed by the Maoists such as Limbuwan, Kirat, Tamsaling, Newa, Tamuwan, Magarat and Tharuwan do the ethnic groups after which the states are named make up more than 50 percent of the population.

There are also indications that support for ethnic federalism is being received from some West European countries. Such support is being channelled through INGOs, and in some cases, directly through aid agencies. It’s possible that assistance may also go to some groups advocating “Free Tibet” which work towards loosening Chinese control over Tibet. Although the central government in Kathmandu may be against such support, the possibility of federal states adopting a different policy can’t be ruled out. There is likely to be scepticism in China regarding some provisions of ethnic federalism in Nepal.

As a country which brokered the 12-Point Accord between the seven political parties and the Maoists in 2005 which made federalism in Nepal possible a few years later, there seems to be mixed feelings in India. While federalism based on geography may lead to development in the country, it could be a matter of concern for India if it were to generate conflict. As India has an open border with Nepal, it may seem that the “Ek Madhes Ek Pradhes” idea, meaning one single state in the southern part of Nepal along the Indian border, may be favoured by India as manifested by the support it received from Madhes-based parties. However, it seems unlikely that a single state could be created along the Indo-Nepal border, and it is more probable that there will be two states at least.

The main question is how India’s security interests would be affected by a federal Nepal. If internal security and police were to be entirely under the state governments, it is possible that such activities as circulation of counterfeit Indian currency and terrorism against targets in India using Nepali territory may be more difficult to control in a federal than a unitary Nepal. Much will depend upon the division of powers between the states and the centre and what get’s written into the constitution.

Posted on: 2012-03-29 09:21

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