India-Nepal relationship is turning out to be rather fragile. Months after India's overwhelming support to Nepal during the earthquake, and a year after PM Narendra Modi's visit to Kathmandu in August last year, bilateral ties are deteriorating faster than anyone expected.

At the heart of the current souring of ties is Nepal's new constitution, which India feels gives the Madhesis a raw deal. Many say the bilateral relationship has touched the lowest point since the blockade of 1989.

Nepalese are angry because Madhesi agitators are blocking supplies on "dasgaja" (no-man's land lying between the two countries). They describe it as an "undeclared blockade of Nepal by India".

In protest, they regularly hold anti-India protests and burn Modi's effigies, whom they had earlier accorded a hero's welcome. This has embarrassed Nepalese PM Sushil Koirala (who resigned late on Friday) more than anyone else.

His party, Nepali Congress, is often derided as "India's lackey" by Communists. On Thursday, Koirala asked fellow Nepalis to refrain from burning Modi's effigies and holding anti-India demonstrations.

Earlier, Nepal's ambassador to India Deep Upadhyaya also tried to pacify the people by dismissing reports of any Indian blockade.

Many trace the genesis of the problem to Modi's desire to visit the terai town of Janakpur — where Sita was supposedly born — at a time when parties were fighting over the demarcation of provinces.

The Indian PM cancelled the trip that would have otherwise been interpreted as a ratification of the Madhesi cause.

In his address to the Nepalese constituent assembly, he had called for a constitution based on consensus. Differences between hill Nepalese and Madhesis grew further when Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) and Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) pushed for a constitution without the participation of terai-centric parties, who had already quit the house. Despite this, Madhesi representatives of the three national parties voted in favour of the new constitution, which was promulgated by Nepal's President Rambaran Yadav, a Madhesi. Hillleaders took exception to the way India tried to push the case of Madhesis. Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal had then retorted, "We cannot be anybody's yes men." Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) leader K P Oli, tipped to succeed Koirala as PM, also disapproved of India. "It's strange that our neighbour hasn't welcomed our constitution when the entire world has done so," he had remarked.

Many in Nepal did not con done the way some Indian Hindutva leaders talked about making their country a Hindu state.

Considering BJP's proHindu leanings, the Nepalese, by and large, expect it to be softer than the Congress, whose government had shut down 20 of the 22 entry points in 1989 following a dispute over trade and transit treaties. This followed after India objected to the import of weapons from China by Nepal and King Birendra reportedly turned down Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi's invitation for breakfast in Islamabad for reasons of protocol.

Ironically, it was during previous NDA rule that India and Nepal saw some turbulent moments. This was despite Vajpayee government's decision to invite Birendra to the 1999 Republic Day parade as chief guest.

On Christmas-eve in 1999, the hijacking of IC-814 from Kathmandu to Kandahar briefly soured the bilateral ties. A few months later, a Delhi-based English-language magazine published "Nepal Game Plan", a dossier allegedly prepared by Indian intelligence agencies that named a host of Nepalese politicians, entrepreneurs and elites as ISI collaborators.

This left Nepal seething with anger for a long time.

By the end of 2000, anti-Indian riots broke out following rumors of Bollywood star Hrithik Roshan making disparaging remarks about Nepal.

So, it would be a mistake to believe that India-Nepal ties will never really sour because Nepal and India are Hindu majority nations.

Courtesy Times of India