October 8, 2015


[Nowadays, Nepal suffers at the hands of India as the latter has imposed so far an 'undeclared' blockade. And, the is not the first time the imposing big-brother, southern neighbour is doing so against the small Himalayan country and her people. Here is a shared post today with Republica, from Kathmandu, carrying an interview with one of the country's former prime ministers Kirti Nidhi Bista. The Himalayan Voice agrees with what the former prime minister has said, “ This is the time for Nepali leadership to prove its loyalty to the country. It should not be sending Nepalis in Indian and British armies. No Nepali should shed blood for the interest of another country. We have lost hundreds of thousands of Nepali soldiers for India and UK. This must stop now. Nepalis should fight till the end to protect the sovereignty and independence of their country. Look, India uses our soldiers in the frontline of battle against Pakistan. And it imposes blockade on Nepal in return. So I ask Nepali leaders not to bow down before India. Death would be more dignified than surrender.” – The Blogger] 

At 90, Kirti Nidhi Bista, a three-time prime minister of Nepal, including during the first Indian economic blockade of Nepal in 1969, looks his age. He is also rather forgetful. But whenever the talk turns to matters of Nepal's sovereignty and independence, he lights up. Mahabir Paudyal caught up with him at his Gyaneshwor residence to get his insights into the first blockade in 1969. What does he make of the two subsequent blockades (1989 and right now)? And how does he evaluate the evolution of Nepal-India ties since his time?

You were the prime minister when India imposed its first economic blockade in 1969. What was your reading of it?

The blockade followed the decision of my government to remove India's military mission in Nepal. There were Indian army personnel stationed at northern check posts on the border with Tibet and there was an Indian militarily mission right in front of the central zoo, in today's Staff College at Jawalakhel. I removed them all. I had strong support of King Mahendra. But the blockade was not so severe. It was meant to teach Nepal a lesson and prove that India was a power to be reckoned with. Back then we didn't have good relation with China. So it was hard, but not as hard as it is today.

How did your government resolve the crisis?

The 1969 blockade did not fray Nepal-India ties. When I visited India later in 1972, we had already become good friends. I invited Indira Gandhi to Nepal and later she invited me to Delhi. She gave me the best hospitality. She expressed her concern during our 1972 meeting. "Prime Minister," she asked me, "why did you remove the Indian military missions in such a public manner? We could have done it diplomatically."

I replied that it was never meant to humiliate India. Nepali people wanted check posts and military missions removed. We did what they wanted. But this did not mean we were hostile to India and friendly with China. I convinced her that with that the move would elevate Nepal-India relation to a new level. I also told her that India does not need to be scared of our ties with China.

China is our neighbor, just like India, I said, and our relation with China will help increase mutual understanding. She was convinced. Our relation with India after that was smooth. Our embassy in India had organized a reception and Mrs Gandhi came to attend it, even by skipping her cabinet meeting. She told me a new era of friendship would begin. So the 1969 blockade did not really disturb India-Nepal relation.

How did King Mahendra diversify Nepal's relations with rest of the world?

Nepal's former PM Kirti Nidhi Bista
King Mahendra was perhaps the boldest and wisest king ever. Had it not been for his guts Araniko Highway would not have been built. Nor would we have been able to establish diplomatic relations with other countries like China. There were prime ministers who said Nepal did not need any embassy except in Delhi. Mahendra would not listen to them. He started a new era of diplomatic relations with the rest of the world.

The problem today is our leaders cannot reach out to China, fearing India's ire. If we ask for help from China, I am sure it will offer us all kinds of assistance. We are suffering such a cruel blockade. Why can't they internationalize it? We have Chinese railway just a few kilometers from Nepal border.

What about 1989's blockade? What led to it?

I was not the prime minister at that time. So I do not know in detail. But India-Nepal relation soured after Nepal imported weapons from China. It made India angry. King Birendra may have done this on someone's advice.

How did Nepal cope with 1989 blockade?

The blockade of 1989 was crippling, perhaps worse than today's. Despite this King Birendra took a firm stand. He did not give in. Today we have many things we did not have in 1989—infrastructure, telecommunication, industries run by private sector and so on. But we were not as dependent on India for food grains as we are today. China helped us generously. It supplied us fuel from Tibet. And other countries also helped. China has always been a good friend of Nepal. It has always respected our sovereignty and territorial integrity. The only mistake it made vis-à-vis Nepal is on Lipulekh. I have written about it in your newspaper. I hope China will abrogate the Lipulekh agreement.

What do you think India wants from Nepal? Why a blockade every few decades?

Since 1950 India has not been treating us as equals. India was a British colony for about two centuries. We have always remained an independent nation. India is now free but it wants to colonize Nepal. It should shed this colonial mindset. I am worried that Nepali leaders have sold their souls. So they do not speak up against Indian highhandedness. They can assert independence of Nepal even without fanning enmity with India.

India wants to take our security system under its control and use our natural resources to its advantage. The ongoing unrest in Tarai has raised several questions. Let us not forget that Madheshis are Nepalis. Maybe there are some ill-intentioned leaders who want to harm this country. But largely Madheshis love Nepal. They don't want Madhesh to be merged with India, as some suspect. So fear of India annexing Nepal is baseless. No country can occupy another country in this day and age. International community won't stay silent if India tries to do so.

India wants to establish absolute dominance over security establishment and water resources of Nepal. I think it has its eyes on Saptakoshi. This blockade is a strategy to achieve these two goals. I fear that India will get its way. It wants Nepal as an independent and sovereign country only in name, even as it controls every sector.

How do you suggest our political leadership should deal with the current crisis?

This is the time for Nepali leadership to prove its loyalty to the country. It should not be sending Nepalis in Indian and British armies. No Nepali should shed blood for the interest of another country. We have lost hundreds of thousands of Nepali soldiers for India and UK. This must stop it. Nepalis should fight till the end to protect the  sovereignty and independence of their country. Look, India uses our soldiers in the frontline of battle against Pakistan. And it imposes blockade on Nepal in return. So I ask Nepali leaders not to bow down before India. Death would be more dignified than surrender.

But is there still not a way out.

Nepal should reach out to ChinaChina has always helped us in need. It offered us a big help during 1989's blockade. The only mistake of China in Nepal is on Lipulekh and I hope it will correct it. China helped us build various sugar and paper factories. Now they are all gone. If we had capitalized on this Chinese gesture and diversified our trade we would not have to see this day. From what I read in newspapers I gather China is ready to open more routes with Nepal. But I hear that Nepali leaders are not responding because of Indian pressure.

At this hour they should show some courage to reach out to China. They should stop hiding in corner like a mouse. It's time for them to roar like lions. Yes, we should still try to be a good friend of India. But with its highhandedness and attack on our sovereignty and independence, we should fight.

India claims the new constitution does not address the concerns of Madheshi people.

Constitution is the internal matter of NepalIndia has no business telling Nepal what it should be like. Some of the demands of Madheshi people—like proportional representation and inclusion—are genuine. To that extend it is fine. But some leaders are being used by India to take absolute control over Tarai plains and all our resources. Nepalis must be aware and should not succumb to this dirty design.

Earlier you said international community will come to Nepal's rescue. But the international community has been largely silent.

You should first understand response of the international community. Except India all others including the UN, the USChinaFrance and the UK have welcomed Nepal's constitution. That means they have endorsed it. When they say they welcome Nepal's constitution they are indirectly opposing Indian blockade. In diplomacy not everything is said openly. They have recognized that constitution making is essentially an internal matter of Nepal. If India continues to make us suffer, international community will not stay quiet. Let us bear this pain, let us be resilient. We have borne the suffering caused by earthquake. We need to bear with India's highhandedness as well. The world will eventually speak up for us.

How do you think Nepal-India relations will evolve in the days to come?

Ultimately, Nepal will have to maintain good relation with both India and China. But each country should regard other country as an equal. While maintaining relation with India, we must not compromise our sovereignty and independence. Now India has subjected Nepalis to unimagined suffering. Nepal should try to mend relation with IndiaNepal should convince India that it is in India's interest to have good relation with Nepal and to let it remain a sovereign and independent country. To continue with Nepal's glorious history of an independent country, we should be prepared even to die.

At the same time, Nepal should ask China for help. I am sure it won't say 'No.' But often we fail to utilize Chinese help. Back in 1972 I had visited China at Prime Minister Chou En-lai's invitation. King Mahendra had built East-West highway. King Birendra wanted similar road to be built in the mid-hills. So the king had sent a proposal to China through me. I discussed the proposal with Chou En-lai.

He took it in good spirit and assured me that China would help build the highway. But things changed later because of our inability to take a firm stand. China had gotten the contract through a global tender. Everything was settled. But when it came to signing the agreement, we balked, again because of Indian pressure. This hurt China badly. The Nepali minister in charge was equally hurt and he resigned over the issue. So long as we continue to succumb meekly, we will suffer.