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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 72

India- Nepal Trust Deficit

By Rattan Saldi - Syndicate Features

KPS Oli government’s cartographic exercise to check-mate political rivals at home and to please the Marxist patrons across the snow capped Himalayas has sliced away some parts of Pithoragarh district of India’s Uttarakhand province, and added to Nepal landmass. It has evoked sharp reaction in New Delhi. And the Indian foreign office dubbed the move as ‘artificial’ enlargement of claims, not based on historical facts or evidence and ‘not tenable.’ The Oli move ‘violated the understanding’ between the two countries to hold talks on outstanding boundary issues.

The new Nepal map has sailed through the country’s parliament without any hiccup whatsoever. The time taken to conceive the ‘inclusions’ and to get parliamentary approval is less than a month. Well, when nationalism is invoked even by a prime minister with his back to the wall, as is the case with Prime Minister Oli these days, no politician will dare to go against the tide whatever be her/his reservations. Saner elements will bid for their time to turn focus on realpolitik. In the Nepal milieu when such time will arrive is difficult to crystal gaze.

Sarita Giri did not want to wait for the appointed day. So, when Nepal Parliament took up the Oli constitution amendment, she tabled her amendment to retain the old map, saying that Nepal has no evidence to claim the Indian pockets. The Speaker over ruled her contention. Sarita walked out in protest, earning the wrath of her Janata Samajwadi party, which, like other Opposition parties - Nepali Congress and Rashtriya Prajatantra Party, has closed ranks with the treasury benches.

Result: a whopping 258 votes in favour in the 275 - member House of Representatives. There were fifteen abstentions – four because they are in jail on criminal charges, and eleven because they did not turn up for reasons unclear as yet. Their absence made no difference to the vote anyhow. The amendment forms part of the Statute book after unanimous nod by the Upper House, the National Council and prompt approval by President Bidya Devi Bhandari.

The 335 sq. kms, the Oli government is claiming, is in close proximity of India- Nepal-Tibet trijunction. It is naturally of strategic importance to India. Indian security forces are camping in the area since 1962 war with China. More over the area forms part of the India-Tibet trade route and helps the Hindu pilgrims to reach Kailash Mansarovar.

When Nepal released the revised map on May 20, 2020, India called for restraint against ‘unjustified cartographic assertion’. And hoped that Nepal’s leadership would create a positive atmosphere for a dialogue.

The Kalapani row escalated after India threw open an 80-kilometre-long road from Dharchula town (Uttarakhand) to Lipulekh Pass on the way to Kailash Mansarovar. Indian defence minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated the road through video conference on the 8th of May.

Nepal objected to the new road but India justified its action, saying that the road was a work in progress for the past 12 years. It follows “the pre-existing route” used by the pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar. Now with new alignments here and there for the road, the pilgrimage will become more comfortable and convenient. It is good for the Tibet bound traders and locals as well, so goes the Indian contention. Capping the arguments is the claim: “It lies completely within the territory of India.”

Some seven months ago, in November 2019 to be precise, India unveiled a new territorial map to reflect the new Kashmir reality – two union territories carved out of the frontier province. Nepal leadership was upset. Sporadic anti-India demonstrations broke out in Kathmandu and elsewhere in the country. All because India’s new map included Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh as its sovereign territory based on its old map.

Kathmandu demanded urgent Foreign Secretary level talks. New Delhi was willing for a dialogue. Not immediately, though. “Once the Covid- 19 pandemic was behind us, we can have talks”. India stuck to its stand: “Our map accurately depicts the sovereign territory of India and in no manner, it revised our boundary with Nepal.”

Nepal too is in the grip of the pandemic. The mounting positive cases exposed the Oli regime to charge of mishandling the situation. Ruling NCP reverberated with the demand for Oli’s resignation. But the Prime Minister deftly turned the tables on his opponents within and outside. Returning to the nationalism plank that had gifted his party a near two-third majority in the 2018 parliamentary election, he upped the ante on Kalapani. All sections of Nepalese polity fell in line with him on the border row with India.

Encouraged, Prime Minister Oli fast tracked map revision. Yet, doubts appear to have persisted on historical facts and evidence ranging from Sagauli Treaty of 1816, the origin of the dispute and later records. So much so, just four days before Parliament gave its approval to the new map, Nepal government returned to the drawing board. And set up a team of experts to collect historical facts and evidences. Chinks in the Oli armoury? Well, tempting to conclude so because if Nepal is so sure of its claims right from the outset, where is the need for a fact-finding mission now?

The Kalapani dispute is a long-standing issue between India and Nepal. It keeps popping up after long intervals of silence. It never appeared as intractable nor were the tones in Kathmandu as strident as today. Both countries have a well-established border dispute resolution mechanism, which has had a 98 percent success rate over the years.

The Kalapani row too could have been referred to the same process particularly during the period between May 18 when Oli Cabinet approved the new map and June 13 when Parliament gave the go ahead for the map. This was not the case.

The dialogue process looks difficult to kick start after so much water has flown into the Mahakali river. But Nepal and India cannot afford to allow the relations to drift. It is a responsibility history has cast on both nations. Not only cultural, historical and religious linkages, people-to-people ties demand a return to the talks table.

Geographically India is close to Nepal as a supplier and as a market. Well, it may have been accused of acting like a big brother in the past. But it has not allowed the present map row to stand in the way of helping Nepal to fight Covid-19. It supplied nearly 25 tons of medicines to treat corona patients, taking in its stride the charge levelled by none other than Prime Minister Oli himself that India is exporting deadly corona virus to the Himalayan nation.

Stay Safe, Stay at Home, Stay Informed, But Don't Forget to Wash Your Hands.

- Asian Tribune -

India- Nepal Trust Deficit
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