Nepal & Bhutan Brief (23/15)
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Political Developments:

No Consensus As Yet To Resolve Tarai Crisis:

1. Nepal Parliament, on December 28, began discussion on the Bill on First Amendment of Constitution even as lawmakers from agitating United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) continued with their sloganeering in the well of the House. The Bill was registered by the previous Nepali Congress led government on October 7 but it took nearly three months to begin discussion on it due to disagreement between ruling alliance and the UDMF.

2. The Bill was taken up for discussion in the parliament in accordance with the cabinet decision of December 20, in a bid to convince the agitating UDMF of its seriousness to address their concerns but it failed to persuade the Front to accept the government’s decision to review provincial boundaries through some political mechanism. Speaking at the Reporters’ Club, on December 21, UDMF leaders said that the cabinet decisions were incapable of solving the current crisis. They also said that the government was unwilling to keep its various promises including free treatment to the injured and compensation to those deceased in the protests. The government should decide to endorse the 11-point demands of the Front, they asserted. The UDMF has been demanding proportional inclusion in all the bodies of the state, including the Nepali Army and other security forces, delineating the constituencies on the basis of population only so that Madhes could get their due share in the Parliament.

Protests to Continue Till Demands Are Met: UDMF

3. UDMF has decided to intensity its protest programmes. In a statement released on December 18, the Front said that it had held 15 rounds of talks with the major parties in the past but these did not lead to any meaningful conclusion due to lack of seriousness on the part of the state. The press release added that the major parties, instead of rewriting and amending the anti-people and non-inclusive constitution, tabled the Constitution Amendment Bill to mislead the public. The Front clarified that the Bill was aimed at diluting the provision by creating 17 clusters, which was against the past practices. It also said that the Bill proposed to delineate election constituencies on the basis of population and geographical characteristics keeping the structure of the 75 districts intact which was against the federal concept, driven by the ‘unitary’ mindset that favoured one ethnic group. Tarai Madhes Democratic Party leader Haridayesh Tripathi said that the major parties were not at all serious about finding a negotiated settlement of UDMF demands. He said that the Front had no plan to lift or ease the blockade at entry points from January 4 as reported in certain media quoting TMDP chair Mahatha Thakur.

India Welcomes Amendment Bill:

4. Meanwhile, India welcomed Nepal’s decision to advance the Constitution Amendment Bill in order to ensure proportional inclusion and election constituencies on the basis of population, and resolve the current crisis in Tarai-Madhes region. In a statement on December 21, Indian Ministry of External Affairs said, “Government of India welcomes these developments as positive steps that help create the basis for resolution of the current impasse in Nepal.” The Ministry urged the Nepali stakeholders to now demonstrate the necessary maturity and flexibility to find a satisfactory solution to the constitutional issues through constructive dialogue in an agreed time frame. “We are confident that a return to normalcy in Nepal would create a more secure and predictable climate for unimpeded commerce between our two countries”, the statement said.

Prime Minister Accuses India of ‘Cheating’ Nepal:

5. During a meeting of Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and the UCPN-Maoist, on December 28, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli accused India of ‘cheating’ him by not reopening custom points along the Nepal border despite an understanding. After Deputy Prime Minister Kamal Thapa’s recent Delhi visit the Oli government had claimed that misunderstanding with India had been removed and Delhi had supported Thapa’s four-point road map aimed at resolution of Madhes crisis. Subsequently, the Oli cabinet passed a three-point proposal and handed over the same to the UDMF. After DPM Thapa’s second visit to Delhi, PM Oli was hopeful that the customs points will reopen and the government moved the constitution amendment process. He accused India of ‘acting like Nepal’s enemy’.

Tension and Clashes Continue On Indo-Nepal Borders:

6. Sadbhawana Party Chairman Rajendra Mahato, one of the key leaders of the agitating UDMF, was injured in a clash with police at Rani customs point, near Biratnagar, on December 26. As many as 34 persons, including 14 police personnel and 20 demonstrators, sustained injuries in a clash in Janakpurdham on December 28. This incident followed by another clash between the activists of the Samyukta Loktontrik Madhesi Morcha (SLMM) and the police at Janakpur, on December 29, in which at least 100 people, including 45 police personnel were injured, created a tense situation at Janakpur. Desperate protestors of the UDMF organised a lathi rally in Birgunj on December 30, which was participated by around 3000 UDMF cadres. The rally was organized to protest against arrest of some of its cadres on December 29. While cadres of the Madhesi parties hurled stones at the residence of former Prime Minister and CPN-UML senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal in Gaur of Rautahat, the cadres of UDMF barged into the premises of Nepali Congress party office at Kalaiya and dismantled the statue of late BP Koirala. They hurled petrol bombs at the BP Memorial Building and attempted to set it on fire.

External Relations:

China; Thapa Assured of another Fuel Grant:

7. Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa returned after a five-day visit to Beijing on December 30 with an assurance from China of further grant of fuel worth RMB 10 million, which according to Nepali Oil Corporation officials, is about 1.4 million litres. This will be China’s second installment of fuel grant to Nepal since October, when the northern neighbour had extended 1,000 metric tones of fuel worth RMB 10 million to address Nepal’s fuel crisis. The visit, however, fell short of striking the much expected deal related to long-term import of petroleum products from China and other agreements related to trade, transit and investment. The much-awaited Nepal China petroleum trade deal could not be signed at the government-level during the official visit of Kamal Thapa to Beijing, as the Chinese authorities could not decide on Nepal’s proposal to waive tax on fuel. DPM Kamal Thapa claimed that his visit had contributed to clearing the way for forging economic ties with China for Nepal’s economic and infrastructure development. The DPM added that deals on petroleum import, trade and transit, and Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement were likely to be inked during Prime Minister Oli’s upcoming visit to China likely between mid-February and early March.

8. Kamal Thapa’s visit to China came at a time when Nepal was facing severe fuel shortage due to blockade in Tarai since September. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang told reporters that Beijing was assessing how it could support Nepal in addressing its energy needs. He said that China had a strong desire to see peaceful, stable and prosperous Nepal and assured Thapa of support for Nepal’s development endeavours. The two countries also agreed to upgrade and make operational existing border points and develop other crossing points to promote connectivity. China also agreed to give priority to reopen Arniko Highway, which had been disrupted since the April 25 earthquake. DPM Kamal Thapa told Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that Nepal would waive visa fees for Chinese tourists. Thapa was reciprocating China’s gesture of lifting of travel advisories issued in the context of earthquake in Nepal with immediate effect.

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