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Burning Issues

[Burning Issue] India-Nepal Relations

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Introduction

Nepal has once again raked up the border issue in Pithoragarh district by claiming three villages in the Kalapani area, raking up an issue that reared its head last year when Kathmandu published a new map showing India’s Lipulekh, Kalapani, and Limipiyadhura as part of its territory. The move comes in the context of the country’s ongoing census.

Let us learn about the India-Nepal relations in detail.

Nepal: India‘s immediate Himalayan neighbor

  • Nepal and India share an open border of about 1,880 km (1,168 miles).
  • The two countries have finalised maps covering 98% of the boundary, but the Lipulekh pass, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura in western Nepal are among the areas that remain contested.

Various outstanding issues

[I] Issue of Simultaneous floods in Bihar and Nepal

  • Some of Nepal’s biggest river systems originate in the Himalayan glaciers which then flow into India through Bihar.
  • During the monsoons, these river systems flood causing many problems for Bihar.
  • It is a necessity that there is process-driven coordination between the Centre and the Government of Bihar to handle the flooding in Nepal’s Terai and North Bihar (largely the Mithilanchal region).

Which are those flooding rivers?

  • Nepal’s three biggest river systems—Kosi, Gandaki and Karnali—originate in the high mountain glaciers, flow through the country and then enter India through the state of Bihar.
  • During the monsoon season, these river systems often get flooded due to heavy rains/landslides in Nepal which create floods in India’s most flood prone state—Bihar.

Measures: Joint flood management program

  • As part of the long-term measures to address the problem of massive and recurrent floods in Bihar, the Joint Project Office (JPO), Biratnagar, was established in Nepal in August 2004.
  • It aimed to prepare a detailed project report to construct a high dam on the Nepal side (on the Kosi, Kamla and Bagmati rivers).
  • Despite the best efforts made by the Government of Bihar, the task remains unaccomplished even after 17 years.
  • The Central Water Commission (CWC) has convened several meetings with Nepali Authorities.
  • However, what is evident is Nepal’s lack of prompt reciprocation. India has long-standing water sharing issues with Nepal.

[II] India-Nepal Border Issue

Construction of an 80-km-long road through the Lipulekh Pass got the 2 Himalayan neighbors into the fighting arena. The road was constructed with the purpose to reduce the travel time for Indian pilgrims visiting the religious shrine at Kailash-Mansarovar in Tibet. Nepal claims it to be a violation of its borders.

So, what is the issue?

  • The inauguration of the “new road to Mansarovar” by India has strained the relations between Nepal and India.
  • While India argues that Kalapani is a part of Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district, Nepal claims it falls in its Darchula district.
  • The 1816 Sugauli Treaty between Nepal and British India placed all the territories east of the Kali (Mahakali) river, including Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipu Lekh at the northwestern front of Nepal, on its side.
  • Lipu Lekh pass is 4 km northwest and Limpiyadhura 53 km west of Tinker pass. The borders of Nepal, India and China intersect in this area.
  • Given the situation in 1961, Nepal and China fixed pillar number one at Tinker pass with the understanding that pillar number zero (the tri-junction of Nepal, India, and China) would be fixed later.

Why is Lipulekh important for India?

  • For India, the Lipulekh pass has security implications.
  • After its disastrous 1962 border war with China, it was concerned about a possible Chinese intrusion through the pass and has been keen to hold on to the strategic Himalayan route to guard against any future incursions.
  • The link road via Lipulekh Himalayan Pass is also considered one of the shortest and most feasible trade routes between India and China.
  • The Nepalese reaction would probably have triggered in response to Chinese assertion.

Various facets of India-Nepal ties

1. Cultural ties

  • While enjoying their own peculiarities, both India and Nepal share a common culture and ways of life.
  • Religion is perhaps the most important factor and plays a predominant role in shaping the cultural relations between these two countries, marked by a cross country pilgrimage on Char Dham Yatra, Pashupatinath Temple and some Buddhist sites.
  • A considerable section of Nepalese comprises of Madhesi population which has familial & ethnic ties with states of Bihar, UP.

2. Strategic ties

  • Nepal is a buffer state between India and China.
  • Several Nepali Citizens are also deployed in Indian defence forces as well.

3. Political ties

  • Constitutional turmoil is not new in Nepal. India has played a vital role in the democratic transition in Nepal against the monarch King Gyanendra.
  • Nepali Congress (NC) is one of the country’s oldest parties which supports relations with India, but the communist parties show a tilt towards China.

4. Economic ties

  • Nepal is an important export market for India.
  • Himalayan rivers flowing through Nepal can be used for Hydroelectric power projects which will benefit border states of UP, Bihar and other adjacent areas.
  • There are three major water deals between Nepal and India, namely the Kosi Agreement, the Gandak Treaty and the Mahakali Treaty. India also exports Power to Nepal.
  • Also, Nepal is the largest borrower of Indian Currency in South Asia.

India’s importance to Nepal

  • India is the nearest foreign employer to Nepali Citizens, which provides various avenues of work and ease in assimilation into a foreign culture.
  • Nepal’s reluctance to Mandarin has overturned several Nepali students into Indian universities.
  • India is the only potential neighbour who could harness Nepal’s hydropower.
  • Moreover, Indian tourists are the major movers of Nepal’s tourism sector.

Major Irritants in bilateral ties

1) Nepali nationalism and Anti-India sentiments

  • Anti-India Sentiment in Nepal is largely politically motivated as it is wrongly perceived as India’s backing to Monarchy.
  • The widening gap in understanding each other’s concerns has helped feed Nepali nationalism and create a dense cloud of distrust and suspicion between the two countries.
  • The gap widened after India chose to impose an economic blockade in response to Nepal’s sovereign decision to promulgate a democratic constitution.

2) China factor

  • Increasing Chinese presence in Nepal is one of the major concern for India. China’s move to extend the rail link to its border with Nepal can reduce its dependence on India.
  • Fundamentally these Chinese agencies are building up anti-India sentiments in Nepal.
  • Nepal’s assent for “One Belt One Region” (OBOR) initiative of China is viewed by India with suspicion.
  • Nepal has been slowly fallen prey to China’s inroad debt trap policy.

3) India has ignored the changing political narrative for long

  • The reality is that India has ignored the changing political narrative in Nepal for far too long.
  • For too long India has invoked a “special relationship”, based on shared culture, language and religion, to anchor its ties with Nepal.
  • The 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship which was sought by the Nepali authorities in 1949 is viewed as a sign of an unequal relationship, and an Indian imposition.

4) Open borders

  • The issue of open borders has also been a point of debate in Nepal in recent years- Nepalese people argue that India is benefiting more from it than Nepal.
  • It has an open border with India which leads to problems such as illegal migrants, counterfeit currency entry, drug and human trafficking.

5) Madhesis Issue

  • Madhesis share extensive cross-border ethnic and linguistic links with India. India’s involvement in Nepali politics and the upsurge in Madhesi have deep roots in history and unless resolved.
  • Madhesis protest and India’s blockade soured the relations for the worst.

Way Forward

  • In the best spirit of friendship, Nepal and India should restart the water dialogue and come up with policies to safeguard the interests of all those who have been affected on both sides of the border.
  • It is time the two friendly countries come together and assess the factors that are causing unimaginable losses through flooding every year.
  • The onus is on India to rethink on a long-term basis how to recalibrate its relationship with Nepal provided Nepal should not ignore its relations with India.
  • Broader engagement from both sides is essential towards finding a solution that satisfies both sides.
  • There are many possible modalities. Maybe it could include joint military deployment, special access rights for Nepali citizens or even a free-trade zone with China.
  • The India-Nepal border issues appear more easily solvable, so long as there is political goodwill and statecraft exercised on both sides.
  • The way to move forward is to formally approve the strip maps, resolve the two remaining disputes, demarcate the entire India-Nepal boundary, and speedily execute the work of boundary maintenance.

Conclusion

  • Water cooperation should drive the next big India-Nepal dialogue, and despite the challenges, wisdom should prevail to turn the crisis into an opportunity, for the sake of development and environmental protection.
  • The Indian road was not built overnight and the Nepal government was surely aware and monitoring the situation in Kalapani over the preceding months and years.
  • As both countries are laying claim to the same piece of land, the time has come for both countries to sit for talks to solve this issue.
  • India may continue to defuse the crisis through back channels but this is no longer sustainable as the dispute had become a “permanent irritant” after Nepal’s new map.

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