MAP represents location and description of the earth or some parts of the earth. Map provides better ways to show territorial description of the land quickly. It is said that 'objects which thousands of words become unable to describe are clearly shown on the map'. Border maps (strip-maps) show generally half a kilometer width tract of territory each on both the sides. If there is dispute over some parts of the border land, larger scale map of that area can play important role to delineate the disputed area. In this aspect, maps are unavoidable materials to settle the border issues. Some maps become reliable while some others may not be. If the maps are not reliable on desired accuracy, they contradict with each other, leading to the 'Battle of Maps.' Latest dispute Recently, a new round battle of maps between Nepal and India has come to the fore. India published a 'Political Map of India' on November 2, 2019 that had depicted encroaching on the north-western border of Nepal. On the map, Nepal's Lipulek-Kalapani-Limpiyadhura area was enclosed within India's frontier. This had led to raids on 372 square kilometres of Nepali territory. Protests against the Indian map swept across Nepal, with political leaders, civil society members, students, experts, scholars and media persons showing strong objection to it. Following the publication of the new Indian map, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli called an all-party meeting on November 9 to discuss the matter. The meeting, attended by opposition leaders, former prime ministers and ex-foreign ministers concluded that the Kalapani region is Nepali territory and any such border-related issue should be resolved through dialogue and mutual understanding on the basis of historical documents and proofs. The meeting unanimously decided to take up the issue to Indian PM Narendra Modi. The border dispute got more intense after India 'inaugurated' the Kailash Manasarovar link road that passes from Dharchula of India to Lipulek pass, a Nepal-China border point, on May 8. This set off another cycle of protest in the country, resulting in an unprecedented unity among Nepalis. Recently, President Bidya Devi Bhandari, while presenting government’s policies and programmes in the Federal Parliament on 16 May, reiterated that it will issue a new political map incorporating Limpiyadhura. She said: ‘Lipulek, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura are ours and appropriate diplomatic measures will be adopted to resolve existing issues.’ A meeting of the Council of Ministers held on 18 May 2020 decided to publish new ‘Map of Nepal’ which includes Lipulek, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura areas within Nepali territory. Accordingly, Minister for Land Management officially released new map entitled ‘Political and Administrative Map of Nepal’ on 20 May. Researchers and study makers understand that Nepal’s new map came as a counter to the new political map of India, published unilaterally by India on 2 November 2019, cartographically encroaching upon the border of Nepal. It has been regarded as a ‘Battle of Maps’ between Nepal and India. The Nepali territory of Lipulek-Kalapani-Limpiyadhura was forcibly occupied by Indian forces after India was defeated by China during India-China border war in October/November 1962. This area has been located strategically as well as very sensitive. Now it has become Kailash Manasarovar pilgrimage route through Lipulek. It is an area of significant importance to expand trade and commerce between India and China via Lipulek. At the same time, it is the shortest link route from Indian capital Delhi to Lhasa of China via Taklakot and Shigatse. After Lhasa, one can travel with an express way to Beijing and various parts of China and other countries. This is not the first time that the ‘battle of maps’ occurred between two countries. A meeting of the joint boundary task force between India and Nepal was held on Kalapani issue in Kathmandu from 2 to 7 July in 1997. At the meeting, Nepal presented a map published by British Survey of India in 1856 AD and proposed to be adopted as official map to resolve the Kalapani issue. As a counter to Nepali side, India pleaded that 1856 map has not been prepared on the scientific basis. It has no control points. So this map could not be adopted as the basic material. Instead, India forwarded a map of 1879 and insisted that it should be taken as the official map. But Nepal did not accept India’s proposal. Nepal put forth the encountered version that 'map prepared in 1879 is a ‘baseless’ material and it cannot be accepted as official map. On that map, Kalapani area of Nepal has been shown cartographically inside India completely as if it belongs to India. According to the Sugauli Treaty, Nepal's western border must be the river but not the watershed range of the hillock, as drawn on this map. Therefore, Nepal is not in a position to accept that map as basis or official material.’ As a consequence, it created a battle of maps between Nepal and India. Since then ‘battle of map’ started between Nepal and India regarding Kalapani border issue. The latest ‘battle of maps’ roared following the publication of new Indian map of November. So Indian and Nepali maps overlapped on the Lipulek-Kalapani-Limpiyadhura area. Spirit of mutual friendship The River Kali is the western boundary of Nepal according to the Sugauli Treaty-1816. On the basis of maps and documents of that period and spirit of the treaty, the river originating from Limpiyadhura could be determined as the principal river. Limpiyadhura- Kalapani- Lipulek, located east of the river depicted on the historical maps, is considered to be Nepal's territory. But India has not yet agreed on it. Whatever it may be, the map battle should never be turned into armed warfare between two countries, However, Indian Army Chief General Manoj M Naravane on 15 May said ‘Lipulek Pass is not a dispute and Nepal has raised the matter at the behest of someone else and that is very much possibility’ might have indicated China. Now the battle of maps between two countries should be reconciled in the spirit of mutual understanding, friendliness and good neighbourhood that the both nations enjoy since the ancient times. Nepal-India relations are not confined to political and diplomatic level but the peoples of both nations have sound social, cultural and economic ties which must not be forgotten as two sides sit for arduous negotiations to sort out this long-running dispute.
(Shrestha is the former Director General of Department of Survey)