New Delhi really doesn't like Nepal's new constitution. This much has been made evident over three separate statements issued in the last few days, one of which pointedly made the displeasure clear by only noting – not welcoming – the document. India's unhappiness comes from its belief that the new constitution doesn't fairly treat the citizens of Nepal who live just across the Indian border. And, directly or indirectly, India's position has been translated into pointed developments on the ground: The famously open border is now shut.

Under normal circumstances, Nepal and India have, for the most part, an unmanned open border. That means people and goods are usually able to cross over with ease, not requiring any specific documents to move from one country to the other. There are, however, checkposts for bilateral trade that could close if necessary. That eventuality seems to have come.

Over the last few days, reports in Nepal's newspapers have suggested that India has actively shut down movement of all goods on the border, with suggestions that India's checkposts are insisting on cumbersome security checks that prevent routine cargo from crossing. This is important because the Himalayan country is heavily reliant on goods coming from India, with more than half of all of its imports coming from across the border. Some have even suggested this blockade on the border is causing shortage of petrol and other commodities not just in the plains, but up in the Kathmandu valley as well.

Nothing official

India, however, insists it is not responsible for the halt in movement of goods. A statement put out by the Ministry of External Affairs' spokesperson on Friday made New Delhi's position clear.
"We have seen reports of obstructions at various entry-exit points at the India-Nepal border. The reported obstructions are due to unrest, protests and demonstrations on the Nepalese side, by sections of their population. As was already said on 21 September 2015, our freight forwarders and transporters had voiced complaints about the difficulties they are facing in movement within Nepal and their security fears, due to the prevailing unrest."

The spokesperson's statement goes on to reiterate the reason for which India is unhappy with the constitution, saying that problems in Nepal are "political in nature" and that they should be addressed with "broad-based ownership and acceptance." The blockade is also being attributed to political parties that claim to represent the Madhesi people, who live in Nepal's plains and are ethnically and linguistically similar to the Indians on the other side of the border. MEA's reference to "broad-based" ownership is a nod to these parties, who, New Delhi believes, have been given short shrift by those who live in the hills.


India insists it has nothing to do with the blockade, saying it is purely being caused by the Madhesi mass movement that has sprung up on the Nepali side of the border. But the combination of New Delhi's terse statements and its proximity to the Madhesi parties are likely to unfortunately make things even harder for the people of the plains in Nepal.

They have always been seen as something of a fifth column, closer to New Delhi than to Kathmandu, which is why the constitution was skewed against them in the first place. Seeing India pull out its relatively big diplomatic guns to help their cause by interfering in a Nepali process is unlikely to endear the Madhesi population to the rest of the Nepali polity anytime soon.