Foreign Policy Watch: India-Nepal

For a reset in India-Nepal relations

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Treat of Sugauli in 1816

Mains level : Paper 2- Indiao-Nepal relations and territorial dispute.

Over the past few years, we have been  witness to the deteriorating India-Nepal relations. Reserves of goodwill which India had accumulated is fast depleting in Nepal. The latest issue over the map is a new addition to the decline in relations. This article stresses the need for political maturity to find the solution to the complex issue of the underlying problem.

Need for the fundamental reset in relations between Indian and Nepal

  • The immediate provocation for the contention is the long-standing territorial issue surrounding Kalapani.
  • It is a patch of land near the India-Nepal border, close to the Lipulekh Pass on the India-China border.
  • However, the underlying reasons are far more complex.
  • Yet, Nepali Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s exploitation of the matter, by raising the banner of Nepali nationalism and painting India as a hegemon, is part of a frequent pattern.
  • Which indicates that relations between the two countries need a fundamental reset.

Let’s look at the historical background of the India-Nepal border

  • India inherited the boundary with Nepal, established between Nepal and the East India Company in the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816.
  • Kali river constituted the boundary, and the territory to its east was Nepal.
  • The dispute relates to the origin of Kali.
  • Near Garbyang village in Dharchula Tehsil of the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand, there is a confluence of different streams coming from north-east from Kalapani and north-west from Limpiyadhura.
  • The early British survey maps identified the north-west stream, Kuti Yangti, from Limpiyadhura as the origin.
  • But after 1857 changed the alignment to Lipu Gad, and in 1879 to Pankha Gad, the north-east streams, thus defining the origin as just below Kalapani.
  • Nepal accepted the change and India inherited this boundary in 1947.

More past events dealing with the LIpulech pass

  • The Maoist revolution in China in 1949, followed by the takeover of Tibet, created deep misgivings in Nepal.
  • So, India was ‘invited’ by Nepal to set up 18 border posts along the Nepal-Tibet border.
  • The westernmost post was at Tinkar Pass, about 6 km further east of Lipulekh.
  • In 1953, India and China identified Lipulekh Pass for both pilgrims and border trade. After the 1962 war, pilgrimage through Lipulekh resumed in 1981, and border trade, in 1991.
  • In 1961, King Mahendra visited Beijing to sign the China-Nepal Boundary Treaty that defines the zero point in the west, just north of Tinkar Pass.
  • By 1969, India had withdrawn its border posts from Nepali territory.
  • The base camp for Lipulekh remained at Kalapani, less than 10 km west of Lipulekh.
  • In their respective maps, both countries showed Kalapani as the origin of Kali river and as part of their territory.
  • After 1979, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police has manned the Lipulekh Pass.

So, when was the issue of the origin of Kali river raised?

  • After the 1996 Treaty of Mahakali -Kali river is also called Mahakali/Sarada further downstream-the issue of the origin of Kali river was first raised in 1997.
  • The matter was referred to the Joint Technical Level Boundary Committee that had been set up in 1981 to re-identify and replace the old and damaged boundary pillars along the India-Nepal border.
  • The Committee clarified 98% of the boundary, leaving behind the unresolved issues of Kalapani and Susta when it was dissolved in 2008.
  • It was subsequently agreed that the matter would be discussed at the Foreign Secretary level.
  • Meanwhile, the project to convert the 80-km track from Ghatibagar to Lipulekh into a hardtop road began in 2009 without any objections from Nepal.

Objections raised by Nepal to the new map released by India

  • The Survey of India issued a new political map (eighth edition) on November 2, 2019, to reflect the change in the status of Jammu and Kashmir as two Union Territories.
  • Nepal registered a protest though the map in no way had changed the boundary between India and Nepal.
  • However, on November 8, the ninth edition was issued.
  • The delineation remained identical but the name Kali river had been deleted.
  • Predictably, this led to stronger protests, with Nepal invoking Foreign Secretary-level talks to resolve issues.

New map released by Nepal and issues with it

  • A new map of Nepal based on the older British survey reflecting Kali river originating from Limpiyadhura in the north-west of Garbyang was adopted by parliament and notified on May 20.
  • On May 22, a constitutional amendment proposal was tabled to include it in a relevant Schedule.
  • The new alignment adds 335 sq km to Nepali territory, territory that has never been reflected in a Nepali map for nearly 170 years.

Following issue explains why there is need for rewriting the fundamental of India-Nepal relations

1. Nepali nationalism is being equated to anti-Indianism

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi has often spoken of the “neighbourhood first” policy.
  • But the relationship took a nosedive in 2015 when India first got blamed for interfering in the Constitution-drafting in Nepal.
  • And then for an “unofficial blockade” that generated widespread resentment against the country.
  • It reinforced the notion that Nepali nationalism and anti-Indianism were two sides of the same coin.

2. China factor

  • In Nepali thinking, the China card has provided them the leverage to practise their version of non-alignment.
  • In the past, China maintained a link with the Palace and its concerns were primarily related to keeping tabs on the Tibetan refugee community.
  • With the abolition of the monarchy, China has shifted attention to the political parties as also to institutions like the Army and Armed Police Force.
  • Also, today’s China is pursuing a more assertive foreign policy and considers Nepal an important element in its growing South Asian footprint.

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.
  • India remained content that its interests were safeguarded by quiet diplomacy even when Nepali leaders publicly adopted anti-Indian postures.
  • Long ignored by India, it has spawned distortions in Nepali history textbooks and led to long-term negative consequences.
  • For too long India has invoked a “special relationship”, based on shared culture, language and religion, to anchor its ties with Nepal.
  • Today, this term carries a negative connotation — that of a paternalistic India that is often insensitive and, worse still, a bully.
  • 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.
  • The purpose of the treaty was to continue the special links Nepal had with British India and it  provides for an open border and right to work for Nepali nationals
  • Yet, Nepali authorities have studiously avoided taking it up bilaterally even though Nepali leaders thunder against it in their domestic rhetoric.

Consider the question, “Examine the issues that have been testing the old ties between India and Nepal.”

Conclusion

The urgent need today is to pause the rhetoric on territorial nationalism and lay the groundwork for a quiet dialogue where both sides need to display sensitivity as they explore the terms of a reset of the “special relationship”. A normal relationship where India can be a generous partner will be a better foundation for “neighbourhood first” in the 21st century.

Subscribe
Notify of
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments