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Sunday, April 11, 2021

Indo-Nepal relations worsen: Issue explained in 10 vital Q&A

India-Nepal bilateral ties are entering a deep freeze. The situation is turning serious as Nepali border guards gunned down an Indian civilian and injured two others in Bihar on Friday. The same day, Nepal approved its new map with three Indian territories claiming to be its own.

Reacting to Nepal’s move, India said “this artificial enlargement of claims is not tenable”. The friendly Indo-Nepal relations are seeing a paradigm shift as Kathmandu crossed red lines.

Let’s discuss the issue through 10 direct questions

1. How did it all began?

India’s defence minister Rajnath Singh virtually inaugurated an 80km road at Liphulekh Pass in the Himalayas connecting to the border of China. This enraged the Nepali government and they protested immediately, claiming that the road passes through their territory. However, India has been controlling the territory for over 60 years now. The route to Lipulekh Pass is important as thousands of Indians take this route to reach the holy Mount Kailash every year. Even China recognised India’s sovereignty in the region in a 2015 statement and both countries agreed to boost trade ties through this path. No idea what suddenly made Nepal angry, did their domestic turmoil play any role? Maybe.

2. Why did Nepali guards open fire at Indian civilians?

According to BSF, it was a local issue. A 45-year-old Bihar resident crossed over and went to the neighbour’s territory to talk to his Nepali daughter-in-law. A row began when Nepal border guards objected. Eventually 30 Indians got into the clash with the Nepal guards who gunned down an Indian. The BSF said the situation was normal now, APF reported.

3. How did the border dispute enrage Nepal?

The Indian road in the Kalapani region was nothing new. It was built for years and Nepal was well aware about the construction work. Following Article 370’s revocation in 2018, India published its new map and included several regions claimed by Nepal into it. Nepal didn’t react then. But this time they took the issue up politically and publicly as Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli was already under pressure for various domestic reasons. So India’s May 8 announcement came a gift to Nepal to begin a rift with us. Nepal has already started an anti-India movement called #BackOffIndia which is trending on social media.

But dear Nepal, do you remember that it was India (and NOT China!) that launched Operation Maitri in April 2015 to offer rescue and relief measures following a devastating earthquake in your land?

4. Is China playing a role in this?

For now, China’s not poking its nose into this. The Dragons didn’t create this dispute between India and Nepal either. India always knew that the issue may not go down well with Nepal PM Oli and thus the bilateral ties would suffer. But Rajnath Singh still went on with the Liphulekh Pass road announcement on May 8 as he wanted to give the nation a “positive news” amid lockdown and corona scare.

5. Can this dispute damage the Indo-Nepal relations permanently?

Well, time will say that. But no doubt the present situation is complex. India had to declare its hold in Himalayan region as the Chinese were moving large number of troopers there amid the ongoing pandemic crisis. But it would be a mistake for India to consider Nepal as a “pro-Chinese”, “puppet government” that can be easily dealt with anytime, anyhow.

Also, in 2015, the Eminent Persons Group from both India and Nepal prepared a report on how to boost the bilateral ties. Both Modi and then Nepal PM Deuba showed confidence in the report then. But submitted in 2018, India hasn’t yet accepted the report as it didn’t feel confident about some expert recommendations. This withdrawal by India didn’t go well with Nepal. It’s unfortunate that India couldn’t proceed with something initiated by itself.

6. What is India doing to settle the tension?

India has so far remained silent. And this is a matter of concern. Besides expressing displeasure over the charged up political environment in Nepal, India hasn’t made any official statement on this.This might hamper the future of our natural friendly ties with Nepal. Both the PMs had a friendly phone call in April only. But now it seems India’s silence is speaking volumes. It’s hard to say why is India silent but this definitely shows that India isn’t comfortable to deal with the Nepal issue right now.

7. What’s India’s stance on Nepal PM?

It seems that India is losing confidence in Nepal PM Oli. This dispute has been continuing for a while now but none of the country heads have initiated any talks. We don’t know what’s the actual reason, whether it is Oli’s bashing of India’s national symbols, or his pro-China attitude. But this is evident that India is not keen to start a dialogue to resolve the bilateral ties.

8. Will India accept the new Nepal map?

Very unlikely. India will not accept the new map of Nepal, especially not under any compulsion. Though Nepal is trying to force India to do so by getting approved its new map, garnering China’s support and highlighting this issue before the United Nations, PM Oli knows that it is difficult for him to make India accept their demands. This is why Nepal always prefers a diplomatic dialogue.

9. Are the two nations talking?

No. And for now, it seems neither India or Nepal is interested to talk to each other to resolve the issue. For India, it could be two major crises at hand now, first Covid-19 and then military stand-off with China. So Nepal is not a priority for India now. For now, India is interested to see how Nepal’s politics play out in the days to come. India may think let’s get over with the other two problems first.

10. Will the dispute end soon? What if it’s not?

It is better that India and Nepal starts a dialogue and this dispute ends soon. Because the more it delays, the easier it is for China to poke its nose into this and offer support to Nepal. Indian diplomats wouldn’t ever want that to happen. Indo-Nepal relations have always been friendly and cordial. There could be the Kalapani dispute between us, but as we all know still it is a better bilateral relationship than it is between India and China.

So let’s hope for the best because we Indians with over 3 lakh Covid-19 cases and Chinese military spread across the Himalayas don’t want another problem to crop up now. Let there be peace. Amen!

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