Students protest near the Indian Embassy against the blockade of cargo trucks along the border with India in Kathmandu on Monday.
At first India was publicly unhappy with the new constitution that its Himalayan neighbor passed last week. Then Indian trucks carrying cooking fuel, gasoline, salt, sugar and rice stopped crossing the border with Nepal after local protests erupted against the new charter.
The result: There is now a groundswell of anger against India in Nepal, a country still struggling to recover from the devastating earthquake in April that killed over 9,000 people and left tens of thousands more homeless.
The Nepali people are accusing India of punishing them by deliberately blocking the supply of essential goods. What makes matters worse is that the landslides caused by the earthquake have destroyed alternate supply routes from China and increased the landlocked nation’s reliance on imports from India.
People in Nepal are calling it the “unofficial economic blockade by India.”
On Monday, Nepal’s Home Ministry said the country is facing an “emergency” situation in fuel supply. Long lines are a common sight at gas stations across the country. Angry protesters are shouting anti-India slogans on the streets. Nepal’s cable television association has stopped showing 42 Indian news and entertainment channels across the country because of rising anger among the people.
Indian officials say that there is no official embargo and that the truck drivers carrying goods are afraid of going into Nepal because of the violent demonstrations by the ethnic minority groups living in the country’s southern plains. The groups, considered close to Indians, are seeking greater political power in the new constitution.
Dozens of people have been killed in the protests. “The reported obstructions are due to unrest, protests and demonstrations on the Nepalese side, by sections of their population,” Vikas Swarup, India’s foreign ministry spokesman, said last week. But analysts in Nepal contest the Indian statement.
The head of the Nepal Workers and Peasants Party, Narayan Man Bijukchhe, said India has declared a “communal war” with Nepal. The former attorney general in Kathmandu, Yubaraj Sangraula, called the lack of supplies “an act of aggression.”
The shortage of fuel and goods has brought back horrific memories for many people in Nepal who suffered an official economic blockade by India in 1989. New Delhi shut down border crossings into Nepal and cut off links to an Indian port after a trade dispute. That blockade lasted 13 months.