Friday, 12 April, 2024

Encroachment On Kalapani Debunking Some False Arguments

Ritu Raj Subedi


Nepal-India relations have been strained again after the latter published its controversial map incorporating Nepal’s Limpiyadhura, Lipulek and Kalapani into its territory. In its second map, it has omitted the Kali River that borders Nepal and India according to Article 5 of the Sugauli Treaty. The second map has further fuelled suspicion and resentment among the Nepalis. India released the new map to legitimise the changed status of Jammu and Kashmir but it got hoisted by its own petard. Its latest hegemonic drive triggered strong reactions in Nepal, creating unprecedented level of national unity over the issue that has been largely neglected by the Nepali state for decades.

Bold remark
A by-product of Sino-Indian war, the Kalapani issue, like other bilateral irritants, has been an albatross round the neck of Nepal-India ties that are sound at the people-to-people level but often go sour at the political level for it continues to let loose its colonial instincts hurting the small neighbour time and again. Now the infringement of Kalapani has come to a head, with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli declaring that Nepal will get back the territory through diplomatic measures. He has already asked the Indian government to withdraw its army from Kalapani area. This is perhaps the boldest remark by a Nepali PM since India encroached upon the Kalapani region from 1962.
PM Oli, who swept to power largely on the nationalist plank from the three-tier elections in 2017, will go down in history as one of the strongest PMs if he succeeds to peacefully sort out the current crisis in favour of the country. He enjoys support from all political parties, including main opposition Nepali Congress and Madhes-based ones, civil society, media and commoners to start tough negotiations with the southern neighbour. PM Oli had convened an all-party meeting to solicit the views of all stakeholders who had unanimously urged the government to restore the state’s sovereignty in those areas. Despite this positive development, questions still persist regarding the diplomatic prowess of the Oli administration: Will it take the bull by the horns or just backtrack from its promise under the duress of bullying neighbour?
As the Kalapani issue has become more sensitive among Nepalis, fake narratives have been constructed especially from the Indian establishment and intellectuals to weaken evolving domestic consensus to end the thorny matter once and for all. India’s Nepal expert SD Muni, in his recent article published in Prabhat Khabar, claimed that the Kalapani controversy has come into limelight after PM Oli announced that Kalapani was Nepal’s territory, demanding the withdrawal of Indian security forces from there. This is simply a mistaken viewpoint. PM Oli’s comment on the heated subject came only after political parties, students and civil society groups hit the streets, shouting the slogan ‘Back off India.’ Before Oli made his uncompromising statement, main opposition NC leader Sher Bahadur Deuba had accused PM of dilly-dallying to air his views on the national issue and capitulating to the Indian regime.
Nonetheless, Deuba’s hypocritical position gives rise to another false narrative, leading the people up down the garden path because his party never raised the issue of encroachment of Nepal’s border and land by India especially after the advent of multiparty democracy in 1990. Such a matter was almost a taboo within the NC that effectively lost nationalistic credentials with the demise of its founding leader BP Koirala. Now the NC comes to senses on the contents of nationalism following its election debacle in 2017 that largely resulted from its failure to object to the 2015 Indian blockade.
Another deceptive discourse is heaping scorns on king Mahendra over the ‘loss’of Kalapani. Some claim that Mahendra sold Kalapani to India to win the latter’s backing for partyless Panchayat system. Of course, Mahendra was an autocrat who nipped a democratically elected government in the bud but there is a lack of concrete evidence to prove Mahendra as ‘traitor monarch.’ He had taken many audacious moves that angered India but protected Nepal’s territorial integrity. It was only with his instruction and support that his trusted prime minister Kirtinidhi Bista demonstrated guts to send back Indian armed forces deployed on Nepal-China border. If Mahendra had bartered Kalapani with Indian regime, the latter would have surely produced the documents to this end, making Nepal’s efforts to practically possess the Kalapani area extremely difficult.
Some media and so-called experts are describing Kalapani, Lipulek and Limpiyadhura as ‘disputed territories.’ This is a grossly faulty approach. These territories fairly and squarely belong to Nepal. By terming them disputed zones, they are undercutting the country’s confidence to negotiate on this matter. The idea that Nepal should invite a third party to negotiate between the two nations is equally erroneous. Media reports cited Indian authorities stating that Nepal had invited China to mediate on Kalapani dispute. This is another mala fide attempt intended to fog the issue.
In order to divert the international attention from the Kalapani issue, Indian media circulated manipulated news, probably based on planted events, claiming that the people launched protest rallies and burnt the effigies of the Chinese President in Nepal’s several Terai districts against the infringement of the country’s territory by China. South China Morning Post lifted the same story form The Times of India to turn away the global readership from the current reality and mood sweeping across the Nepali state. The accusation prompted the Chinese embassy here to issue a statement refuting the reports of Indian media.

Given that both Nepal and India have strong governments led by strongmen – Oli in Nepal and Narendra Modi in India, there is high probability of the resolution of this tricky bilateral issue. PM Oli should take initiative himself and hold talks with Modi for this case is unlikely to be solved through the diplomatic offensive taken at bureaucratic or ministerial level. Modi himself claims that he seeks to revive the ancient Hindu and Vedic civilisation of Indian sub-continent that was impaired by the Westernisation project spanning millennia. Nepal is another civilisational state where many Vedic mantras and verses were created. Can saffron lover Modi muster courage to set aside the narrow geopolitical imperatives and embrace even an ounce of Vedic wisdom to iron out this border dispute with Nepal?

(Deputy Executive Editor of The Rising Nepal, Subedi writes regularly on politics, foreign affairs and other contemporary issues)