Foreign Policy Watch: India-Nepal

Complexity of India-Nepal relations


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Treaty of Sugauli-1816

Mains level: Paper 2- India-Nepal relations

This article helps us understand Nepal’s perspective of the India-Nepal border dispute. Though the issue dates back to India’s independence, it came to dominate the political landscape in Nepal since 1990s. But there is no solution in sight. So, what makes the issue complex? Read to know…

What the border dispute between two countries is about?

  • The inauguration of the “new road to Mansarovar” on May 8 by India’s defence minister has strained the relations between Nepal and India.
  • Nepal claims that a section of the road passes through the territory of Nepal and links with the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China through the Lipu Lekh pass in Nepal.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Lipu Lekh pass is 4 km northwest and Limpiyadhura 53 km west of Tinker pass.

No progress on the solution of the issue

  • The dispute over the Kalapani area has spanned the last seven decades.
  • Both Nepal and India have recognised it as an outstanding border issue requiring an optimal resolution.
  • When in August 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi became the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Nepal in 17 years, Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala raised this issue again.
  • The two prime ministers agreed to resolve the issue on a priority basis and directed their foreign secretaries “to work on the outstanding boundary issues including Kalapani and Susta”.
  •  There was virtually no progress on the ground.

Nepal’s objection to India-China agreement

  •  In May 2015, Prime Minister Modi visited China, and the two countries agreed to “enhance border areas cooperation”.
  • The May 2015 agreement is a broad one compared to the 1954 India-China agreement “on trade and intercourse between Tibet Region of China and India”, which mentions Lipu Lekh pass as one of the six passes “through which traders and pilgrims of both countries may travel”.
  • Nepal protested against the inclusion of its territory, Lipu Lekh, in the joint statement without its consent and demanded that the two countries make necessary corrections to reflect the ground realities.
  • The protest was ignored.

Growing nationalism and distrust let to the deterioration of relations

  • The tone of Nepal-India relations appears to be dominated by frustrations of the past and traditional attitudes more than the opportunities of the future.
  • 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.
  • The current ruling Communist Party of Nepal made people’s anger over the blockade its campaign plank during the 2017 general election.

What makes the border issues complex and difficult to solve?

  • Complexity of the issue stems from the fact that the political leadership handles only a small part of this very important bilateral relationship.
  • India as a big neighbour is rarely seen grasping the psychological dimensions of the relationship.
  • Officials handling these multifaceted relations may momentarily influence the atmospherics but they rarely touch the core of these relations, let alone reorient or transform them in the rapidly changing context.
  • This is manifest in the deferring of substantive conversations on the outstanding boundary issue for decades.
  • The foreign secretary level mechanism has not met even once to discuss the border issue since its formation.
  • There are over three dozen bilateral mechanisms between Nepal and India to engage at various levels.
  • The meetings of these mechanisms are rarely regular.

Consider the question “The India-Nepal border dispute looks minor, but allowing it to fester is likely to sow the seeds of immense competition and intense rivalry in the sensitive Himalayan frontier with far-reaching geopolitical implications. Comment.”


Geography, history, and economy make Nepal and India natural partners, sharing vital interest in each other’s freedom, integrity, dignity, security and progress. People-to-people relations are unique strengths of bilateral relations. India, for it’s part and in the spirit of its ‘neighbourhood first’ policy, must start a solution-oriented dialogue and find the solution to the dispute.

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