Friday, 12 April, 2024

Resolving Nepal-India Stand-off

Uttam Maharjan

Nepal and India are close neighbours. They have political, social, economic and cultural relations. Their 'roti-beti' relations are unique in the world. However, in recent times, the relations between the two countries have gone sour on an unprecedented scale. The contributing factor to the fraying of the relations is the border issue. The main border issue is related to Kalapani, Lipulek, Limpiyadhura and Susta. At present, Nepal and India have a stand-off over Kalapani, Lipulek and Limpiyadhura.
The border dispute over Kalapani, Lipulek and Limpiyadhura arose in November 2019 when India released a new political map incorporating the said Nepali territories in the course of updating the status of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as Union Territories. As soon as the map was released, Nepal vigorously protested the Indian move and tried to solve the issue through diplomatic negotiations. But India did not respond to Nepal's overtures. If anything, India inaugurated a link road to Mansarovar in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China on May 8, thus further incensing Nepal.
Protest letters
Moreover, in 2015 India and China inked a pact regarding the using of the Nepali territory of Lipulek as a trade route. Nepal sent letters of protest to both India and China. India did not respond to the letter but China said that if Lipulek belonged to Nepal based on factual evidence, then it would review the pact. But due to unwillingness on the part of India to review the pact, nothing has happened in this regard.
As India was dodging the talks with Nepal to sort out the border issue, Nepal summoned up its courage to release its own map incorporating Kalapani, Lipulek and Limpiyadhura on May 20. And an amendment to Schedule 3 of the Constitution was endorsed by Parliament on June 13, revising the country's map on the coat of arms (national emblem). In fact, the recently revised map is not a new map. The map incorporating Kalapani, Lipulek and Limpiyadhura was there till 2032 B.S., when the territories were removed from the map at the behest of the Panchayati rulers. They intended to include the territories again in the map after consultation with India.
Nepal and India share a 1,880 kilometre-long border. Twenty-seven districts of Nepal are coterminous with India. Out of these, India has encroached upon 72 places of 23 districts. Kalapani, Lipulek and Limpiyadhura have been controlled by India since 1962. In a similar vein, Susta has also been controlled by India. Nepal falls back on the Sugauli Treaty of 1816 when there are border issues. As per the Treaty, the Mahakali River is the western border between Nepal and India and the land lying east of the river belongs to Nepal. The source of the Mahakali River is Limpiyadhura. But India is not ready to accept this historical fact and claims Kalapani, Lipulek and Limpiyadhura as its own.
India considers Kalapani a strategic point. When India got defeated in the Sino-Indian War in 1962, Nepal allowed India to station its troops in Kalapani for some time for the latter's security. This good-neighbour gesture on the part of Nepal has turned out to be a bane for the country. Now, India claims that Kalapani, along with Lipulek and Limpiyadhura, as its own despite the well-known fact that these areas have been controlled or occupied by India since the 1960s. Control or occupation does not mean legal possession.
Nepal and India are both members of the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement. On a regional scale, they belong to the SAARC and the BIMSTEC. India has been assisting Nepal in development endeavours for decades. Nepal is grateful to India for such generous assistance. Despite such good relations, India shows a big-brotherly attitude towards Nepal from time to time. Taking advantage of the porous border between the two countries, India has been infringing upon Nepal's land as if it were receiving a recompense for the assistance it has given to Nepal.
Whenever there is a crisis in the relations between the two countries, India tends to abuse or intimidate Nepal. This time around, India's Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane accused Nepal of claiming Kalapani, Lipulek and Limpiyadhura at the instigation of somebody else. Likewise, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath went so far as to threaten Nepal that Nepal should contemplate what the future of Tibet had become and should not commit a mistake as Tibet did.
It is a no-brainer that India always wants Nepal to be at its beck and call. The hegemonic policy of India towards Nepal from the Nehruvian period down to the present period has not changed. In fact, India wants to maintain its hegemony in the whole south Asian region. Due to this character, the relations of India with other south Asian countries are not sound. In recent times, the Sino-Indian relations have taken a knock as proved by the skirmish in the Ladakh region involving Indian and Chinese soldiers. Similarly, India has been at enmity with Pakistan for years.
It is not that no efforts have been made to solve border issues. The joint technical committee of Nepali and Indian officials has been discussing the border issues since 1998. But the concrete outcome is yet to emerge. The EPG report, which was finalised in 2018, contains recommendations or suggestions on reviewing Nepal-India relations in the changed regional and global context and border management. The report has not been accepted by India yet. Nepal always believes that border issues or other conflicts between the neighbours should be settled amicably through negotiations. But India has been evading the negotiations because it must know that Nepal has strong historical and other evidences in support of its claims to Kalapani, Lipulek and Limpiyadhura.

Diplomatic move
Nepal should, therefore, take diplomatic and political initiatives to convince India to sit for negotiations to resolve the border issue. For this, Nepal should show diplomatic tact, savoir-faire and strong negotiating skills. Nepal should also collect all documents, historical, political and otherwise, in corroboration of its claims. Although there are other options like internationalisation of the issue, diplomatic and political negotiations are the best option towards resolving the long-festering border issue.

(Former banker, Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000.