Onlinekhabar caught up with veteran political leader, foreign affairs expert, Fulbright scholar and former foreign affairs minister and water resources minister Prakash Chandra Lohani. Excerpts from the interview:
In defence of the Mahakali Treaty
Nepal and India signed this treaty when I was the foreign minister. In fact, this treaty is beneficial for Nepal. For full realization of this benefit, there’s a need to build the Pancheshwor project. This treaty has a provision whereby Nepal and India both get equal amount of water for irrigation purposes: 1200 cu sec each. India has already been getting 800 cu sec through the Sharada barrage, meaning it will get only 400 cu sec more, through this treaty. It insists it should get 1200 cu sec through the river. After signing the treaty, India realized that the deal is more beneficial to Nepal, so it’s been hesitating to implement the same.
When I was foreign minister, our ties with India were very cordial. That was also the time when IK Gujral was the prime minister of India. During bilateral exchanges, India used to raise security concerns.
On one such occasion, I said in response to Indian concerns: We are ready to allay your security concerns, but Nepal will not allow Indian security personnel in uniform no matter what.
As a landlocked nation, access to the sea is very crucial to us. When I was foreign minister, I managed to reach an agreement as per which India agreed to give Nepal access to the Indian port via waterway. The deal says the onus is on Nepal to choose a river course that will connect Nepal with the Indian port. But India was clever enough to point that it is ready to give access to the Indian port and not the sea. That agreement must still be there, in the archives.
Another milestone: I convinced India to let Nepal engage in trade with Bangladesh via the Indian territories. When India raised security concerns, I told them they could escort Nepali vehicles through Indian territories up to the Bangladesh border. They finally became ready to let Nepal use their territories to engage in trade with the third country.
On the blockade
Apparently, Nepali leaders did not keep the pledge they had made during their visits to New Delhi in the run-up to promulgation of the constitution. (The BJP), citing Bihar assembly elections, had requested them to keep the promulgation on hold for some time. But our leaders paid no heed. This hurt Indian sentiments. They felt hurt because politicians had been serving their interests. Also because our relations with India were very cordial. When our politicians refused to heed an advice coming from none other than Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s own emissary, India probably got angry and imposed a blockade against Nepal.
On the ‘China card’ charges
We have historic relations with both India and China. The charges that we often play the China card, mostly during the times of crises, are untrue. We are not a card-playing nation, we only play marriage. We should expand our ties with both the neighbours instead of relying on one neighbour only.
On Madheshi demands
Madheshi people are also Nepali people. Their demands are not non-negotiable. Their demands are not something that cannot be addressed. But while redrawing provincial boundaries, the centre should desist from imposing its will and hear from the local people on what they want. There’s a need to go to these people and know which province they want to be a part of.
Madheshi sentiments have been hurt because the state listened to hill people’s voices regarding one province soon after they went for protests. On the contrary, the state did not seem to have bothered to address Madheshi people’s demands. This hurt Madheshi people.
Madheshi people’s demand for representation on the basis of population is not unjust. However, population is not the only criteria for representation in the Parliament. Regardless of population, even sparsely populated districts like Manang will have one lawmaker to represent it in the Parliament.
On economic revival
The Nepali economy is resilient. The tourism industry is resilient. Once this blockade ends, I hope the economy to bounce back. I am hopeful that this crisis will end soon and we will see better days. We should not be pessimistic.
On inundation of Nepali territories, resulting from India-built structures like high-elevation roads:Nepal should raise its concerns when construction of such structures is underway, instead of staying silent.