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India - friend or foe?

January 14, 2001

Nepal news


And so it has come that brothers must fight each other. The land is shrinking and the population is rising.

Reading of the recent disturbances against India, I am writing to you with a heavy heart. I know that you have many grievances against our neighbour and there is good cause to be alarmed by his actions. But I am saddened by the personal violence against individuals who were not responsible for the dilemma we face.

I suppose this has come about because the root causes of our differences with India have never really been addressed. 12 years ago, when we called for border controls to stem the flow of immigrants, the matter was clear. Today's situation was entirely predictable. India is a massive nation with a billion people. Whilst our entire population moving to India would not make a tiny spot of political difference to Delhi, just 1% of the rapidly rising population of India would swamp us if they decided to move here. And Nepal is a very attractive country for Indians to move to. It is still relatively clean, sparsely populated and wonderfully beautiful. And, although we might never see it ourselves, it has a growing economy with lots of opportunity for the newly wealthy classes of Bombay and Delhi to invest in.

Many of you explained your personal anger about the situation during my travels. Rising prices of essential commodities such as sugar and gas have been forced on us through local factors in the Indian economy. Any inflation there will have a direct effect on us here. Traders and shopkeepers have told me how their businesses cannot compete with the buying power of larger mainly Indian companies. Workers have told me how many employers often favour Indian employees when it comes to taking on labour. That problem is worsened because the Indians have a larger educational system and tend to be more qualified. And the key staff of many Indian companies tend to be Indian whatever the qualifications and suitability of a Nepali employee. Wealthy Indian companies with heavy American involvement dominate highly lucrative sectors of the market, such as pharmaceuticals and soft drinks. And there are even accounts of electoral malpractice involving the short-term immigration of Indian citizens in order to support pro Indian candidates in Nepali elections. In short the majority of our citizens seem to feel the current system of open borders between the two countries is a bad deal for Nepal.

But what can we do about it? We live in an international economy affected by events all over the planet. Modern life demands fuel. We cannot move anywhere nor do anything without it now. And our fuel must come overland to reach us or else we could not afford it. As a landlocked country we are entirely dependent on our neighbours with ports. There should be an international law against such circumstances. Maybe there should be a free right of passage through India rather like the laws about ancient footpaths crossing your land. But as yet there isn't. We are a tiny country in a world that sees only military force as being aggressive. Economic brutality is never considered at the Court of Human Rights or the United Nations as being a just cause for grievance. As I wrote a few weeks ago, the global system revolves around an Economic Imperialism just as exploitative and all controlling as the old Military Imperialism it succeeded. Today's occupying forces are not soldiers in scarlet uniforms but hoards of Pepsi Cola signs, Bollywood films and bank offices. We are effectively an occupied nation and we have to find the strength to restore our culture and as much independence as the global system allows other nations.

But that strength should come from our government and not our brothers on the streets. The Government are our chosen representatives and they should listen to our grievances. Something has to be done about the inequality of the open border system with India. It cannot be right that our people face the prospect of minority status in their own country. So long as India remains in its present form there must be an equality of Indians coming into Nepal with those Nepalis going into India. But it should not be for us to fight that struggle. That is the role of our leaders for they are surely more responsible for the situation than those luckless Indians who lost their lives a few weeks ago. Surely the matter must be raised at a special SARC council. We are not alone in this problem after all. The sheer size of India relative to all the other nations in our region has resulted in a mono-political culture as well as many other difficulties. Bhutan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and even the masses of Bangladesh and Pakistan are all swamped by the reality of India. It is still an Empire and not yet a Nation. Delhi has taken over the old British system of direct sovereignty over all the old Indian States without regard that modern effective political integration is much more Federal in nature. It needs to decentralise its power more and allow much greater regional autonomy within its borders. Only then will the region be at peace and face the joy of greater unity and prosperity. Europe has shown the path towards effective political integration and the entire region has the opportunity to learn from that experience. So this issue does not only concern our own Nation but all the peoples of the region. We have a right to expect a well-structured and efficient regional system and our government should not fear to fight for the equality and fairness that we and so many millions of ordinary citizens from Kashmir to Tamil Nadu seem to yearn for. For it can never be bad politics to speak in the name of the people.

With my best wishes to you all,