By Charu Kumar Kasturi
The Narendra Modi government today pitched an all-party mission to Nepal to bridge relations after months of strife, amid efforts by New Delhi to itself don a fresh hat - of a peacemaker between Kathmandu and Madhesi protestors.
The proposal, made by foreign minister Sushma Swaraj in the Rajya Sabha, represents a shift in the government's strategy on the crisis in ties with Nepal - at their lowest in 25 years - over a tussle between Kathmandu and the Madhesis, the people in Nepal's plains, on a new constitution.
Multiple government-to-government parleys have failed to resolve the tension, fuelled by Nepalese allegations that India is enforcing a blockade against the land-locked nation to coerce it into accepting Madhesi demands.
India has repeatedly rejected those allegations, arguing that the Madhesi protestors inside Nepal's borders are preventing trucks from India from crossing over. But India's strategic establishment is also acutely aware that it is losing the perception battle against Kathmandu as Nepal heads into winter without essential supplies - fuel, medicines and food.
"I would urge the House to consider the merits of a visit to Nepal by an all-party delegation," Sushma told the Rajya Sabha. "The government will be guided by the sentiments of the House."
Sushma's decision to reach out to Parliament comes at a time India, which was backing protestors' demands for amendments to the constitution, has begun nudging both the Nepal government and Madhesi activists to work towards a compromise deal.
The foreign minister had met her Nepalese counterpart and deputy Prime Minister Kamal Thapa here yesterday, and pressed for an early conclusion of negotiations with the Madhesi protestors. "He assured me there has been progress in the dialogue on the contentious issues," Sushma said. "This gives us hope that an early resolution would be found."
Thapa, too, hinted at a conciliatory tone with his hosts, according to two officials familiar with the conversation between the Nepal leader and Sushma. "We do have internal problems," one of the officials quoted Thapa as telling Sushma. India has long argued that Nepal needs to look within for a solution, but Kathmandu has so far blamed New Delhi.
New Delhi has at the same time quietly begun nudging the Madhesi groups to accept a compromise and withdraw their blockade once a deal is struck. The protestors are demanding the reinstatement of proportional representation up to 45 per cent in government jobs, delimitation of election constituencies according to population and not area, full citizenship rights for children born out of mixed Indian-Nepalese parentage, and the redrawing of state boundaries in the plains.
The Telegraph, December 29, 2015