India-Nepal relations

1st June – India-Nepal relations

For a reset in India-Nepal relations

Once again, the India-Nepal relations have taken a turn for the worse. The immediate provocation is the long-standing territorial issue surrounding Kalapani, a patch of land near the India-Nepal border, close to the Lipulekh Pass on the India-China border, which is one of the approved points for border trade and the route for the Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra in Tibet.

Historical Background –

  • 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. The British Survey Maps later identified the origins of Kali as just below Kalapani. Nepal accepted the change and India inherited this boundary in 1947.
  • The Maoist revolution in China in 1949, followed by the takeover of Tibet, created deep misgivings in Nepal, and India was ‘invited’ 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.

A mutual understanding –

  • 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 By 1969, India had withdrawn its border posts from Nepali territory.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. In actual practice, life for the locals (Byansis) remained unchanged given the open border and free movement of people and goods.

When did the issue arise?

After the 1996 Treaty of Mahakali (Kali river is also called Mahakali/Sarada further downstream) that envisaged the Pancheshwar multipurpose hydel project, the issue of the origin of Kali river was first raised in 1997.

Bilateral mechanisms –

  • 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 (in the Terai) 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.

What has changed now?

  • 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. However, the matter remained pending despite reminders from Kathmandu.

Resurgence of Nepali nationalism –

  • By April 2020, Mr. Oli’s domestic political situation was weakening. The re-eruption of the Kalapani controversy, when Defence Minister Rajnath Singh did a virtual inauguration of the 80-km road on May 8, provided Mr. Oli with a political lifeline.
  • 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. The new alignment adds 335 sq km to Nepali territory, territory that has never been reflected in a Nepali map for nearly 170 years.

The China angle –

  • 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.
  • Today’s China is pursuing a more assertive foreign policy and considers Nepal an important element in its growing South Asian footprint.

Way forward –

  • The complexity underlying India-Nepal relations cannot be solved by rhetoric or unilateral map-making exercises. Such brinkmanship only breeds mistrust and erodes the goodwill at the people-to-people level. Political maturity is needed to find creative solutions that can be mutually acceptable.
  • 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.

SourceThe Hindu

QUESTION – Discuss the several dimensions that have contributed to the flaring of India-Nepal border tensions. Why there is mistrust between the two-neighbours despite cordial relations at the cultural level?

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