[Sansad TV] Diplomatic Dispatch: Nepal Elections and India

Context

  • Nepal’s next government is beginning to take shape.  The elections have provided a complex, fragmented mandate. Political stability could be elusive.
  • In this article, we will focus on the outcome of the recent Nepalese elections and their implications of newly elected govt on ties with India.

Nepal politics and India

  • Sher Bahadur Deuba-led coalition is likely to form the next government in Nepal. This government is likely to enable smooth ties with India.
  • The Rakhi Diplomacy initiated by Deuba’s wife, was one of the landmark development for India.
  • The former prime minister KP Sharma Oli was “pro-China”.
  • Even before Oli began his first term in October 2015, India and Nepal had a bitter falling out over Nepal’s new constitution.

India-Nepal Ties: A quick backgrounder

  • Ancient ties: The relationship between India and Nepal goes back to the times of the rule of the Sakya clan and Gautama Buddha.
  • Cultural relations: From 750 to 1750 AD period saw a shift from Buddhism to Hinduism in Nepal and witnessed widespread cultural diffusion.
  • Diplomatic ties: The India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950 forms the bedrock of the special relations that exist between India and Nepal.

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.

 (2) Strategic ties

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

(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. India is Nepal’s largest trading partner.
  • Himalayan rivers flowing through Nepal can be used for hydroelectric power projects which will benefit Border States of UP, Bihar and other adjacent areas.
  • Also, Nepal is the largest borrower of Indian Currency in South Asia. Nepal has escalating trade deficit with India.  

(5) Connectivity

  • The 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship was sought by the Nepali authorities in 1949 to provide for an open border and for Nepali nationals to have the right to work in India.
  • The BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) in which Nepal is a partner will permit the member states to ply their vehicles in each other’s territory for the transportation of cargo and passengers.

(6) Multilateral and Regional Fora

  • Both Nepal and India work in tandem in the United Nations, Non-aligned Movement and other international fora on most of the important international issues.
  • Both countries have been deeply engaged in the regional and sub-regional frameworks of SAARC, BIMSTEC and BBIN for enhancing cooperation for greater economic integration.

China’s role in Nepal – A matter of concern

  • Once considered a buffer state between India and China, Nepal is now showing an inclination towards Beijing.
  • China is trying to stimulate and tempt Nepal with multiple aids, economic growth and acquisition.
  • China has overtaken India as the largest source of foreign direct investment with the annual development assistance being worth $120 million.

Indo-Nepal Border Disputes

India and Nepal share about an 1800 Km long border. There are 2 major border or territorial disputes:

(1) Kalapani

  • The Kali River in the Kalapani region demarcates the border between India and Nepal.
  • The Treaty of Sugauli signed by the Kingdom of Nepal and British India (after the Anglo-Nepalese War) in 1816 located the Kali River as Nepal’s western boundary with India.
  • The discrepancy in locating the source of the Kali River led to boundary disputes between India and Nepal, with each country producing maps supporting their own claims.

(2) Susta Region

  • It is about 140 sq. km of land in Uttar Pradesh at the Nepal border in the Terai area. India has control of the territory. Nepal claims this territory.
  • The change of course by the Gandak River is the main reason for disputes in the Susta area.

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).

Why Nepal is Important to India?

  • Buffer to China: It acts as a strategic buffer against the aggression of China.
  • Pakistan factor: peddling of FICN, drugs and terrorism through the Indo-Nepal border. It makes the cooperation of Nepal important.
  • Common culture: There are huge Nepali communities in Darjeeling and Sikkim. Many marital relations across the border exist.
  • National Security: There is a lot of interdependence. Gurkha Regiment in Indian Army is known for its valiance.
  • Energy Security: Nepal has the potential of 80 GW of hydroelectricity. But only 600 MW potential is realized so far.

Major irritants in bilateral ties

  • 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.
  • China factor: Nepal’s assent for the ‘One Belt One Region’ (OBOR) initiative of China is viewed by India with suspicion. It has been slowly fallen prey to China’s inroad debt trap policy.
  • India’s perception of Nepal: The reality is that India has ignored the changing political narrative in Nepal for far too long.
  • 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.
  • Madhesis Issue: Madhesis share extensive cross-border ethnic and linguistic links with India. India upset that the final draft of the Constitution did not include the marginalization concerns of the Madhesi and the Tharu.

Way Forward

  • Dialogues: 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.
  • Investments: TheBilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) signed between India and Nepal needs more attention from Nepal’s side.
  • Sensitization: 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.
  • Strengthening Economic Ties: The power trade agreement needs to be such that India can build trust in Nepal.

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