Foreign Policy Watch: India-Nepal

[oped of the day] India, Nepal must seek mutually acceptable solutions to controversy over new map


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Indo-Nepal relations : Kalapani area


Recently, India released maps that showed Kalapani at the India-Nepal-China trijunction to the north and Susta to the south as Indian territory.

Boundary challenge

The notion of boundaries as lines drawn on a map is significant in the Subcontinent. Here, the empires and kingdoms shaded into one another across ambiguous frontiers.

Indo-Nepal boundary

    • Neither country has allowed a political boundary to interrupt the age-old traffic of people
    • People shared ties of kinship, religion, and culture. 
    • This is being threatened by territorial nationalism on the Nepali side and a security state on the Indian side.
    • The two countries have settled about 98% of their common border and these are reflected in the 182 strip maps initiated by them. 
    • More than 8,500 boundary pillars have been installed, reflecting the agreed alignment.

Nepali side

    • Kathmandu Valley remains the crucible of Nepali politics and the arbiter of its domestic and foreign policies. 
    • In Nepal, political groupings try to project bullying and overbearing India to present themselves as custodians of national interest. 
    • Recent demonstrations in Kathmandu show how Left competed with Nepali Congress to oppose India.

Issue over maps

    • These maps have nothing to do with Nepal. 
    • They were published to reflect the recent bifurcation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) into the two new Union Territories of J&K and Ladakh. 
    • There was no change in the depiction of the India-Nepal boundary.
    • The perception was created that the publication of the new map was a departure from the past and constituted cartographic aggression. 

Nepal – rhetoric

    • Most of the time, the Nepali side raises such issues for rhetorical purposes but is uninterested in following up through serious negotiations. 
    • The same happened with Nepali demands for the revision of the India-Nepal Friendship Treaty. 
    • The Indian side agreed in 2001 to hold talks at the foreign secretary-level to come up with a revised treaty. Only one such round of talks has taken place.

Kalapani area

    • In the past, Nepal has claimed territory in the Kalapani area and Susta as its own. 
    • The two sides agreed that these differences should be resolved through friendly negotiations. These talks are yet to take place.
    • The Kalapani controversy has arisen due to a difference in perception over the real and primary sources of the Mahakali river. 
    • The Treaty of Sugauli concluded in 1816 that locates the river as the western boundary with India but different British maps showed the source tributary at different places. 
    • Then the state of cartographic science and less-refined surveying techniques creates these problems. 
    • With regard to Susta, the problem has arisen as a result of the shifting of the course of the river. 
    • There are only two ways to deal with this challenge — either to accept a shifting border as the river itself shifts or to agree on a boundary which remains fixed despite changes in the course of the river. 

Indo-Nepal relations: Pipeline

    • The Motihari-Amlekhgang pipeline for safe, secure and assured supply of petroleum products to Nepal was launched. 
    • These supplies were trucked across the border in the past.
    • There were frequents incidents of pilferage and contamination in transit and interruptions due to natural disasters or roadblocks during political protests. 
    • This is a demonstration of what cross-border cooperation can achieve to benefit both countries. 

Bilateral relations: People-People

    • There are six to eight million Nepali citizens living and working in India. 
    • They enjoy immense goodwill and a congenial and friendly environment wherever they are. 

Way ahead

India could regularly offer to take up outstanding issues bilaterally even though the Nepali side may wish to side-step.

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