Indian diplomats in Kathmandu have asked Nepal’s Madhesi leadership to drop their demand for changing the Constitution and participate in the second phase of local elections next month, a move being seen as a dramatic U-turn on a policy crafted over two years. New Delhi however insists its old policy of broader constitutional accommodation is intact, but Madhesi leaders, who expressed dismay at what they said was a betrayal, told Indian media that the “advice” came from the “highest levels” of the Indian establishment. A misreading, misinterpretation of the message and there is no shift in India’s stand, say sources in New Delhi. After Nepal promulgated the Constitution in September 2015, the country has witnessed a standoff between Kathmandu and parties of the Terai, the plains that border India. The Madhesi parties argue that the Constitution eroded political representation and affirmative action; and created provinces in a way that would dilute political power of the plains. India has maintained the need to bring in amendments to address the demands of all political stakeholders, including the Madhesis. New Delhi’s strong stance saw ties take a hit with the previous KP Oli government. But a change in government with the election of Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” as prime minister and an alliance between the Nepali Congress and the Maoists improved bilateral ties. The rest of the international community in Nepal, which often looks to India for the lead, is also confused. A Western diplomat averred: “India often conveyed to us that a constitutional amendment must come before constitution implementation, as a prerequisite for stability. But we sense a shift.”

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