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No big brotherly approach on Nepal, want early solution, says Sushma

Source: PTI
Last updated on: December 07, 2015 20:33 IST
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Rejecting the allegation of adopting "big brotherly" approach towards Nepal, India on said it respects its sovereignty and wants to see the neighbouring country itself resolve the present crisis through consensus as violence could have impact even on India.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj rubbished the charge that India was imposing a blockade of supplies even as she asserted that Narendra Modi government would follow the policy of the previous government with regard to Nepal.

Replying to a debate in Rajya Sabha on India-Nepal relations during which members expressed concern over the deterioration in ties, she said the government shares their sentiments as also the worries of Nepal which has been hit by a blockade of supplies from India due to an agitation by Madhesis over the newly-adopted Constitution.

"Still a way can be found... We are doing the same... We want to see a resolution through consensus so that supplies could be restored at the earliest," Swaraj said adding India has conveyed this the Nepal government as well as the agitating Madhesis. "We hope some solution will emerge in 5-7 days," she said.

To the allegations that India was adopting a "big brotherly" approach, the minister said, "instead, we are adopting an elderly brother's approach, a caring and sharing approach."

Rejecting the charge of interference into the neighbour's affairs, she said, "Nepal is a sovereign country and we respect its sovereignty. We are not prescriptive but only give advice."

"Like elder brother, our attitude is that of caring and sharing and not of showing arrogance, which a big brother does," Swaraj said.

Allaying apprehensions voiced by Janata Dal-United leader Sharad Yadav, the external affairs minister said there is no need to have any doubts over the government's intentions.

"The present government will also follow the same path on which previous governments have handled Nepal. There is no difference between the deeds and actions of the government. This government does what is speaks," she said.

She said India is worried also because if the agitation by Madhesis turns violent, it will affect this country.

"We told them this that if there is any violent agitation, then India's peaceful border with Nepal will be restless and this could affect India's relations with Nepal...We told them, this border of ours at least is peaceful. We do not want this also to be volatile," she said.

During her speech, Swaraj attacked Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar for making some adverse comments about India's role and for suggesting that rather than the External Affairs Minister, somebody "authoritarian" was dictating the policy, an apparent attack on the Prime Minister.

"Mani has the habit of creating rifts. He has tried to create a rift between me and my leaders.. He also tried to create rift with Nepal," she said.

She also took exception to Aiyar's remarks that an Indian delegation should go to Nepal and convey that the "Modi government rather than India" was behind the situation.

Countering the charge that India was blocking supplies to Nepal, Swaraj said routes have been closed because of the protest by Madhesis in which India no role.

"Who can be so foolish to turn goodwill into hostility? How can we collect lakhs of people for protest?... We are keen to send the supplies," she said, while telling the members not to accept versions to the contrary.

"We are not inhuman... 11,206 trucks, loaded with supplies, are waiting at the Raxaul-Birganj border post. They are not able to move forward because of the protest and we are not allowing them to come back, thinking they could get some chance to proceed," she said.

At the same time, she said, India is looking at alternative routes to send supplies like medicines. 864 trucks have gone into Nepal from one such route yesterday, compared to 450 trucks which usually go.

She said clearing of the routes is not in the hands of India. "We can push the supplies either by firing at the protestors or crushing them under the trucks. Both are not desirable," Swaraj said, adding "we are trying to find a political consensus."

Swaraj said the government was willing to send a Parliamentary delegation to Nepal. "We share your sentiments... Government shares the sentiments of the House. We are also concerned with the atmosphere there and hope a solution is found out," she said.

"We are moving forward to a solution through mutual talks so that Madhesis also get justice and the people of Nepal who are suffering due to the crisis of commodities also get relief," she said.

The external affairs minister said India was particularly keen to send medicines to Nepal even by air and had asked the Nepal government to send a list, which has not come so far.

Hitting back at Congress for questioning the government's handling of the situation, Swaraj said such a blockade had taken place earlier also during Rajiv Gandhi's tenure which lasted for over a year between March 1989 and June 1990.

Responding to Congress leader Renuka Chowdhury's claim that Indo-Nepal relations were cordial during the United Pradesh Alliance government, the external affairs minister said "the fact remains that for 17 years, no Indian prime minister went to Nepal, out of which there was your government for 10 years."

She said Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to Nepal soon after taking over and said India favours a Federal, Democratic Republic of Nepal.

At the same time, she said Nepal had "suddenly" adopted the Constitution "in two days without any debate", making two amendments in the interim Constitution of 2007, which made the Madhesis to feel that they have lost all rights in that country.

She said India had been engaged with all political parties of Nepal in the framing of the Constitution since January this year but was surprised when it was suddenly announced in August that it had been adopted.

India then told Nepal to nullify the two amendments before promulgation of the Constitution and the then Prime Minister Sushil Koirala had seen reason in this and done so.

Rejecting the charge that India had sent its Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar as if he was "Lord Curzon", Swaraj said he had gone only to convey concerns that if the agitation turns violent, it would affect India too.

She also rejected JD-U member Pavan Varma's allegation that the MEA and the embassy were not on the same page, saying both have been working in tandem.

Swaraj was very appreciative of the "balanced" speech made by Congress leader Karan Singh as also Pavan Varma, even though the latter had made some "taunts" too.

Taking strong objections to remarks by Communist Party of India-Marxist's T K Rangarajan, Swaraj said on the one hand he was saying that India is not doing anything and at the same time he was alleging interference by India.

Earlier, cutting across party lines, members pitched for ensuring immediate supplies of essential goods to Nepal and asked the government to improve the ties.

Initiating the discussion, Pavan Varma of the JD-U questioned the role of diplomacy and wondered what went wrong after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's successful visits to the Himalayan country in August and November last year.

Questioning why India sent its Foriegn Secretary to Nepal on September 18, 2015 two days after the Constituion was adopted despite knowing the criticality, he demanded to know "did the PM himself invest sufficient energy to see that the impass does not continue".

Stating that given the PM's activism why was there not any all-party consultation despite the fact that many political leaders have excellent relationship with Nepal.

He also alleged that there were parallel establishments in the foreign office, ministry of external affairs who were particularly negotiating and said were these individuals as powerful as the MEA.

Cautioning that it is like "playing with fire", he asked why India raised the Nepal issue in the UN when it shared century old "roti-beti" relations with Nepal and did not need any third party mediation, he said if the the matter is left like as present China may take advantage of it.

"China is attempting to penetrate the Himalayas", he said adding it has signed an agreement to connnect Tibbet with Kathmandu with rail and take advantage of the worsening Indo-Nepal relations while land-locked country like Bhutan was watching too.

Cautioning against "big brotherly" and "intruder's" approach towards Nepal, Verma sought introspection as to what went wrong in India's approach and asked for a "friendly" relation with the sovereign country.

He said as per UNICEF about 3 million children in Nepal were facing dealth threat due to lack of essential goods supply, he said warning that if the situation is ignored India will create a bedrock of problems and relations with leaders will suffer for generations.  

Karan Singh (Cong) said it is "truly tragic that our relations have reached such a stage" that anti-India sentiments are fuelled in Nepal which is "astounding".

Observing that "It is a subject of great anguish and distress that people are suffering there despite age-old ties", he said it is "most unfortunate" that there is no national consensus in Nepal and Madhesi leaders feel that if present Constitution continues their identity will be at threat.

He said it is unfortunate that India is blamed for blockade which is being done Madhesi community who are protesting against present constitution there and have crippled supplies to the nation.

It was "unwise" and undiplomatic of India to send foreign secretary there at the last moment when Constitution was passed, Singh said, adding the "euphoria" generated by the prime minister's visit disappeared.

Terming the crisis in Nepal as massive humanitarian problem too apart from political, he stressed the need for immediate intervention in Nepal and airlifting of the medicines.

Immediately ensure supplies to Nepal before children start dying there due to lack of food, he urged the government.

He said India-Nepal share special relations and 50,000 Gorkhas are serving in the India Army of which 25,000 are from Nepal while there are two lakh Gorkhas in Nepal drawing pension from the army.

At the same time, he appealed to all sides in Nepal to show flexibility saying India has deep sympathy with people there.

Sharad Yadav (JDU) India and Nepal share "roti-beti" relation and Nepal has stood by India at the time of need and India should also come to the rescue of infants who face death threat there.

Ravi Prakash Verma (SP) said the magnitude of the tragedy in Nepal is much higher than it faced during the earthquake and questioned as to why the provisions changed overnight in the Constitution asking government why it failed to contradict the reports that India was behind Madhesi movement.

"Thirty lakh children could be critical in Nepal", he said questioning who should be blamed and whether the Indian diplomacy has failed. 

Image: Sushma Swaraj responds to criticisms of India's Nepal policy in Rajya Sabha. Photograph: PTI

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