Friday, 12 April, 2024

Talks Key To Solve Border Dispute

Tirtha Bhattarai


As corona virus plagues not only Nepal but also the whole world, new developments in Nepal are very encouraging from the nationalistic point of view. Nepal recently updated its political and administrative map including Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipulek area, which were missing in the previous maps due to historical faults and negligence of both Nepal and India. This has caused tremors in Nepal-India relations compelling both nations to review their relations in view of the occupation of the areas by India in western Darchula of Nepal.
When Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli announced in the parliament on May 19 that Nepal would issue a new map including those areas and take diplomatic initiatives to resolve the longstanding issue between Nepal and India, it gave a boost to Nepali nationalism and his declaration was supported by one and all. Two days afterwards, Nepal's Minister for Land Reforms and Management Padma Kumari Aryal made public the updated map that incorporated the areas that are presently occupied by India in contravention to the Sugauli Treaty that clearly states that the area east of Kali River belongs to Nepal. Now the parliamentary process is underway to amend the constitution to endorse the new map. The main opposition Nepali Congress has already decided to support the statute amendment proposal.

Widespread support
These developments have received widespread support among Nepalis living all over the world and boosted the nationalist image of the PM Oli-led government. PM Oli had raised his nationalistic stature by standing up to the economic blockade the southern neighbour imposed on Nepal over some contents of new constitution in 2015. The area that belongs to Nepal was occupied by India during its war with China in 1962, but was overlooked by Nepal may be because of the then rulers' friendly gesture to India or because of no knowledge of the far-flung areas which is quite remote from the capital Kathmandu.
To think that India did not know this is unlikely for a country so conscious of its borders and has fought wars with China and Pakistan over the same issue. Indian army stayed in Nepali territory deliberately and may be it thought it can continue its occupation because of its size and influence over Nepal and also in the backdrop of the instability prevailing all these years in Nepal. Nepal never got time to think about its borders as it took many years even to get a constitution through a constituent assembly and was embroiled in internal armed conflict spanning over a decade.
Due to Nepal’s prolonged instability and lack proper geographical awareness, India made attempts to strengthen its presence there thereby issuing its new map in November last year including Nepal's territory. Nepal protested it but it was very weak in the backdrop that Nepal was more engaged in resolving internal problems, and India continued to build road to link Chinese border via Lipulek pass. The issue got intensified when Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh recently inaugurated the road to Lipulek pass via Nepal's territory amid the corona crisis.
When the road was inaugurated, Indian media was euphoric that the road might give them upper hand to hit China if war breaks out. But Nepal's stance on the issue and its protest and subsequent publication of new map has dampened their jingoistic jubilation. The Indian media has shown their own weakness and lack of study of history and objective facts relating to Nepal-India relations. India should know that Nepal was the country which was never colonised and is renowned worldwide for its nationalist spirit.
Indian media has made Bollywood heroin Manisha Koirala their target for her tweet regarding the new map of Nepal. The Indian media criticised her and made a mockery of her film career in India. In fact, her grandfather, a veteran Nepali Congress leader and former Prime Minister Bishweswor Prasad Koirala and many other Nepali leaders both democratic and communist had fought for Indian independence alongside the Indian people to drive away the British then ruling in India. It should be noted here that like Manisha works in India, many Indians work not only in USA but also in Nepal.
Indian army chief Manoj Mukund Naravane’s comment that Nepal was acting on someone else's behest indirectly hinting at China on this issue, drew flak in Nepal, and was seen as an immature comment of an army general of a big power. Reacting to this, Nepali Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali had suggested that it was not good for a professional army general to talk about political matters. Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ishwor Pokhrel also said the Indian army general's statement was an insult to Nepal's history.

Positive note
After Nepal issued the new map, India in a statement said it would not accept it, but there is a positive note in it that India wants to resolve it through dialogue. It is just what Nepal wants and has already sent diplomatic notes to India to resolve the issue through dialogue, and dialogue is the only solution rather than playing blame game with each other. India and Nepal are linked by history, culture and religion and have many things to share including in cooperation in harnessing Nepal's immense hydropower resources and there are possibilities that Nepal can be the bridge for trade between India and China.
Indian media should create proper environment for talks between the two countries instead of accusing Nepal of working at the instigation of China. And India as a world power led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi should show its magnanimity towards its smaller neighbour not only for Nepal-India relations but also for the peace in the whole of South Asia and for the cooperation between India and China as well.

(Bhattarai is the former editor and chief reporter of RSS and writes on national and international issues.