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Friday, April 16, 2021

What will the future bring for Indo-Nepal relations?

Tensions have been brewing between the two neighbours India and Nepal for the past six months, and have intensified quite recently with the neighbours vocally taking potshots at each other for quite some time now. What will the future bring for Indo-Nepal relations? Will the relations get tenser or will they become better with time?

Nepal Prime Minister KP Oli’s rhetoric of late has been accusing its neighbour of spreading the novel Coronavirus in the country by allowing patients to enter Nepal through illegal channels. In his first address to the Parliament after the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, Oli had even said the “Indian virus looks more lethal than Chinese and Italian now”. During that same address, Oli released a new political map of Nepal showing areas of Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura as a part of its territory, and also sought constitutional status to the newly released map.

What is happening?

India renounced the new map because it felt that the move had not taken into account the historical evidence. The Government of India also said that this step violated the bilateral understandings. “Such artificial enlargement of territorial claims will not be accepted by India. Nepal is well aware of India’s consistent position on this matter and we urge the Government of Nepal to refrain from such unjustified cartographic assertion and respect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement. The longstanding dispute on Kalapani had resurfaced in November 2019 when India released a new political map of India after the abrogation of Article 370.

The Indo-Nepal relations have once again taken a turn for the worse — the immediate provocation being the long-standing territorial issue surrounding a patch of land near the border close to the Lipulekh Pass on the India-China border — Kalapani, which is one of the recommended points for border trade and the route for the Kailash-Mansarovar yatra. But, the underlying reasons are not so easy to understand. Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli exploited this under the banner of Nepali nationalism painting India as the authoritative ruler. Oli said the “Indian virus looks more lethal than Chinese and Italian now”. This is part of a pattern that repeats often which indicates that relations between the two countries need a hard reset.

What about Indo-Nepal relations?
Valley on the Annapurna circuit between Marpha and Kalapani, Nepal (Photo: shutterstock.com/German Globetrotter)

What is the Kalapani conflict?

The Nepal government claimed that the Lipulekh Pass belongs to them according to the aforementioned Sugauli Treaty of 1816. The Treaty identified the River Kali as the demarcation of Nepal’s boundary with India. The many tributaries of the river meet at the much-discussed Kalapani. India acquired the border with Nepal, set up among Nepal and the East India Company in the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816. Kali waterway established the limit, and the region to its east was Nepal. The question identifies with the starting point of Kali. Close Garbyang town in Dharchula Tehsil of the Pithoragarh region of Uttarakhand, there is a juncture of various streams originating from north-east from Kalapani and north-west from Limpiyadhura. The early British overview maps distinguished the north-west stream, Kuti Yangti, from Limpiyadhura as the starting point, however after 1857 changed the arrangement to Lipu Gad, and in 1879 to Pankha Gad, the north-east streams, consequently characterizing the source as just underneath Kalapani. Nepal acknowledged the change and India acquired this limit in 1947.

While Nepal claims that the origin of the river is in Lipulekh Pass hence is citing territorial rights to it, India claims that Kali begins in Kalapani as this is where all its tributaries merge and say that the area to the east of it is theirs. India has been a key development partner for Nepal which received immense support and also solidarity from not just the people but the Government of India as well in propagating its home-grown peace process and even in the process of writing the Constitution through the elected Constituent Assembly not very long ago. India promptly offered to help after the destructive earthquakes in Nepal in April-May 2015. The Government of India has also been essentially supporting Nepal’s rebuilding efforts.

The Indian association started in 1952 with the development of an air-strip at Gaucharan. Since then, India has been helping primarily in the areas of infrastructure expansion and capability development of human resources in Nepal. This has helped supplement the developmental aims of Nepal. India’s economic assistance to Nepal has grown a lot in the past few decades, more so since the multiparty democracy was restored in the 1990s.

What to do about the relations?

As concurred during the State Visit to India of the then Prime Minister of Nepal Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ in September 2016, a Nepal-India Joint Oversight Mechanism has been comprised co-led by the Foreign Secretary of Nepal and the Indian Ambassador to Nepal to survey the advancement made and resolve issues in the execution of the undertakings under India’s financial and improvement participation.

The Lipulekh Pass fills in as a significant vantage point for India to monitor China’s developments. The pass likewise fills in as an exchanging course among India and China just as a pioneer course to Tibet. The re-emission of the Kalapani discussion, when Defense Minister Rajnath Singh did a virtual initiation of the 80-km street on May 8, gave Mr Oli with a political help. A resulting remark by the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), General Manoj Naravane, on May 15 that “Nepal may have raised the issue at the command of another person” was obtuse, given that the Indian COAS is additionally a privileged general of the Nepal Army and the other way around, featuring the customary ties between the two militaries.

PM Narendra Modi has regularly talked about the “area first” approach. He began with an exceptionally effective visit to Nepal in August 2014. Yet, the relationship took a crash in 2015 when India previously got accused of meddling in the Constitution-drafting in Nepal and afterwards for an “informal bar” that produced far-reaching hatred against the nation. It strengthened the thought that Nepali patriotism and against Indianism were two of a kind that Mr Oli abused successfully.

The critical need today is to stop the talk on regional patriotism and lay the basis for a tranquil discourse where the two sides need to show affectability as they investigate the details of a reset of the “unique relationship”. An ordinary relationship where India can be a liberal accomplice will be a superior establishment for “neighbourhood first” in the 21st century. Moreover, demonetisation was a hit to Indo-Nepal relations as Nepal had Rs 33.6 million Indian cash in its conventional bank channels alone. A fringe question, left unaddressed when Nepal is diminishing its financial reliance on India with the assistance of China, could drive Kathmandu further into the arms of Beijing, just as welcome China to intercede on the issue.

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