The political parties of Nepal have a love-hate relationship with India. When in opposition, the parties are against India and its policy towards Nepal, but their stance changes once they are in government or are trying to enter a government. The about-turn the Maoist party took from an anti-Indian stance when they had to garner Nepali people’s support, to their pro-Indian status now when they are in power, illustrates the phenomenon. Every political leader and party of Nepal, either overtly or covertly, wants to have a good relationship with India because of the influence that India has over Nepal. As for India, it has always been criticized, even by Indian intellectual and academicians, for playing the ‘big-brother’ role in Nepali affairs. In short, India’s role in Nepal is criticized as ‘hegemonic’ and Nepal’s condition is often labeled ‘over dependent on India’.
Putting aside the state-to-state relation between Nepal and India, this article is focused on discussing people-to-people relation of Indian and Nepali citizens at the local level. This relationship can be observed at various places along the 1,700 km boundary between Nepal and India, but for my study, I chose Ward number 6 of Alau VDC, which lies near the dry port in Birgunj. I don’t claim that the selected case is representative of all other relationships between Nepali and Indian people of border areas. Nevertheless, it is an interesting case and is surely not an exception.
|No Man's Land being used as road. Photo by: Dr. Uddhab Pyakurel|
Ward number 6 of Alau VDC in Birgunj faces an Indian village named Siwantol in Haraiya. There is no dashgajaa between the two villages. The no man’s land, which stretches between the villages along their length, is used as a road.
Nemilal of Siwantol, Haraiya in India, works as goods-loader for Pashupati goods carrier, a Nepali company. Hakim Miya of Alau in Nepal works as a builder in India. Sanjay Kumar Das’ maternal-uncle lives in India, whom Das visits regularly. When disputes arise between people of the two villages, the local community addresses them rather than people rushing to security forces or other government bodies to solve the problem. These examples show that there is a harmonious relationship between the people of Nepal and India in bordering areas. This could be because many of them are related, either by marriage, or by business, or by the compulsion to co-exist.
People from both sides seem to have respect and a soft corner for each other. In particular, Indian people do not exhibit that ‘big-brother’ syndrome towards Nepali people that their state does towards Nepal. Nemilal of Siwantol has sympathy towards the difficult life of Nepali people, in comparison to that in his village just 18 feet away. The provision of ration cards, loans for building house, free education, etc. have made life of the Indian people easier, whereas Nepali people continue to suffer from poverty, lack of services, and most importantly, government neglect.
Most important of all, both Nepali and Indian people seem to be less worried about the feeling of nationalism. The local people seem unaware of discussions over nationalism that perennially exists between Nepal and India. They are so little bothered about nationalism that they don’t even care about the eroding pillars that demarcate Nepal and India. Perplexingly, Armed Police Force (APF), deployed to guard Nepali boundary, does the same.
Nepali people in the ward are not happy with the crawling rate of development in their area. Yogendra Mali, a former employee of Nepal government, is furious about Nepal government’s nonchalant attitude towards people in border areas. Mali explains that Nepali people envy the progress made by their neighbors on the other side of the road. According to Mali, just a decade ago, life on the Nepali side was easier, but now the situation has changed.
Contrary to the tumultuous state-level relationship between Nepal and India, fueled by opportunistic leadership in Nepal and the ‘hegemonic’ role that India enjoys to play, people-to-people relation between Nepal and India in the border areas is cordial. The mutual respect and acceptance between people in the border regions is because of geographical proximity, socio-cultural affinity and ethnic and linguistic similarities. The Nepali and Indian governments need to take this relationship into consideration while formulating foreign policy. To go a notch higher, the governments can handle the disorderly relationship between the two states with the help of the good relationship between their peoples in border areas. On the part of Nepal, political parties should stop using the Nepal-India relationship as a tool to gain political mileage. It is the political parties of Nepal that are the most responsible for Nepal’s ‘dependence’ on India and India’s ‘hegemony’ in Nepal.
Published in Republia: http://myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news_id=55060