Today’s Chaos in Nepal (TCN), Episode 2 – Politics and Blockade

Oct 14 –  The blockade continues and yesterday there was yet another earthquake aftershock.  My Buddhist classes cannot now be held in seclusion at the cave where Guru Rinpoche meditated before bringing Buddhism to Tibet because no cooking gas is left out there.

What is the blockade about?  The Constitution reverses a commitment made when the Hindu monarchy fell.  Electoral districts in the new secular, democratic republic were to be based on population.  Close to half of Nepalis, the Madhesi, who live in the south (the Tarai) where most of Nepal’s food is grown had never been represented.  The Tarai was operated like a colony.  And hill people who, like Doma’s family, are not Hindu were also always marginalized.

The Constitution set by men in the high caste minority who are determined to remain in control defines electoral districts not by population but geography.  They gerrymandered the districts to include enough territory north of the Tarai so all but Province 2 will have enough high caste voters.

Nepal Electoral Districts

The Madhesi began protesting when rumors about the broken commitment emerged.  Their protests turned violent when the Constitution was published.  They began blockading trucks that bring fuel and other essentials from India.

Nepal’s politicians promptly blamed India.  All Nepal’s fuel comes from the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) and they are filling only a small percentage of Nepal’s tankers.  The IOC must be acting on orders from the Indian government but its officials say truck drivers just decided it’s too dangerous to cross the border until Nepal’s politicians subdue the protesters.

Why would India do that?  Partly because they believe Nepal’s marginalized people should be granted equal rights.  More pragmatically because if Nepal suppresses the protests by force, the country could be destabilized and China’s influence on Nepal greatly increased.

The Nepali politicians’ appeal to patriotism – India is threatening our sovereignty! – is proving quite effective, especially in the Kathmandu Valley where there is a long history of prejudice against Indians.  Diverting the blame enables them to focus on jousting for position in the new government.

The “gentleman’s agreement” among leaders of the three big parties to form a coalition government broke down when the leader of the India-friendly traditional party began campaigning for a government of his own party led by him.  The two China-friendly, nominally Communist parties made a new deal resulting in one of them being elected Prime Minister.

In the absence of a government that can act on the blockade, only 10% of the usual supply of gasoline is coming in.  These people were told they could buy 5 liters today.  They queued overnight and into this afternoon.  It looks like they will get none.

Empty Kathmandu Street

That street is usually jammed with vehicles.  Now, motorbikes are lined three deep along the roadside as far as the eye can see.  The white taxi almost hidden behind the pedestrian walking down the road must have queued for hours to get ten liters.  There are no buses to be seen.

So why do I love it here?  Nothing works dependably, it’s poor, dirty, crazy crowded and corrupt.

Doma’s mom’s Tibetan astrology calendar says I have much in common with my long deceased mom. Life was hard for us with very little money when I was a kid in England right after WW2. My mom made our life happy, though, in that tiny remote house with no water, electricity or gas. The cheerfulness of people here in face of constant difficulty must remind me of how she made that time happy.

Classes start tomorrow.  Even the less intense schedule and environment we’ll have instead of 6 am to 9 pm in the sacred cave will be transformative.  And I’m ready!

5 comments on “Today’s Chaos in Nepal (TCN), Episode 2 – Politics and Blockade

  1. Nov 26, 2015 – With a steep cut in the import of petroleum products from India, the government has decided to distribute fuel to public and emergency vehicles only. With this decision made my Commerce Ministry and Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC), private vehicles and taxis will be barred from fuel distribution.

    “With the current reserve we are unable to distribute fuel to private vehicles,” said NOC spokesperson Mukunda Prasad Ghimire, “We have decided to grant fuel only to hospital and emergency services.
    Meanwhile, NOC has said it has stopped distributing fuel from its Thankot depot and will sell petroleum only through refuelling stations after being criticised for failing to ensure fair distribution of petroleum products.

    With NOC’s new plan, public vehicles would be provided with 15-20 litres of petroleum based on their registration numbers (even or odd). While a microbus/jeep would get 15 litres, mini buses would get 20 litres and big buses 30 litres of fuel every alternate day.
    Two- and four-wheelers belonging to media persons would be provided 3 litres and 10 litres of petrol every Friday.

    — Kathmandu Post

  2. And in yesterday’s Kathmandu Post – “The business community has demanded the government declare a state of national emergency to deal with the ongoing economic crisis.

    “… They suggested the government waive VAT and other surcharges on the imports of petroleum products, and exempt demurrage charges on imported goods, warehouse rent and parking charges. They also requested the government to exclude airfare cost while evaluating customs charges of goods imported by air. [MLS — and so on]

    [MLS — oh, and by the way…] “The delegation also urged the government to resolve the ongoing Tarai protest by holding talks with the agitating Madhes-based parties through a high-level diplomatic initiative.”

    I’m so naive (sigh). I was hoping Nepal’s business leaders would pressure the politicians to resolve the Constitutional issues. But of course both political and business leaders are members of the privileged elite. Business leaders see the protests as an opportunity to further their own cause, lower taxes etc. They don’t want what’s wrong with the Constitution to be fixed but the Madhesi to be talked into abandoning their cause.

  3. “Leaving aside the pros and cons of India’s siege on Nepal, there can be no argument that 28 million Nepalis are in the throes of a severe nationwide humanitarian crisis.

    “You can argue about whether or not this is a real Indian blockade or a make-believe one. One can discuss the merits of the Madhesi cause, and if India should be backing it so openly. Whether the excessive use of force by state security was provoked can also be debated, as can the extent of public support in the Tarai for the prolonged shutdown.

    “But, all said and done, whatever the cause, there can be no argument that Nepal’s 28 million people are in the throes of a severe nationwide humanitarian crisis. Hospitals are running out of emergency medicines, patients are dying in ambulances stuck at barricades, and nearly half the country’s schoolchildren in the Tarai have not been able to attend classes since August…

    The country hasn’t gone completely belly-up only for two reasons: remittances from the estimated 4 million Nepalis working outside the country, and because of smuggling across the open border….

    The rulers of Nepal and India are waiting for the other to blink first. Nepal’s prime minister seems oblivious to the anger on the streets of the Tarai over his suppression and apathy, and seems to be hoping that the longer the blockade continues, the more hostile Nepalis will be towards India…”,2706

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