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Historic India - Nepal Relations Under Attack By The Vested Interest

After the feverish and desperate statement by Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oil on India, Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali stepped in his effort to neutralize the unwarranted and vicious attacks on India. What transpired PM Oli who is also the Chairman of Nepal Communist Party to loudmouth unethical statement against India, making it to be a serious fault line of long standing relations.

Photo Credit : BW

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After the feverish and desperate statement by Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oil on India, Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali stepped in his effort to neutralize the unwarranted and vicious attacks on India. On Monday, he said: "The border issue between India and Nepal should not impact other dynamics of their bilateral ties."  He hoped that the dispute would be resolved through diplomatic efforts.

Speaking at the national Assembly, he said: "We are confident that the dispute would be resolved through diplomatic efforts. No move capable of causing implication on Nepal-India multi-dimensional relations will be taken. The border issue should not undermine the overall status of Nepal's ties with India." 

The statement by foreign minister comes in the backdrop of the series of verbose by PM Oli while he was addressing Nepali Communist Party, referring to an alleged “plot” to overthrow his government remarked: “It is unthinkable… the things that are happening in Delhi against the amendment to the Constitution… Listen to the Delhi media. Look at the meetings being organised in India." In his words of desperation, he add: “You all must know Nepal’s nationalism is not that weak that outside forces will be able to topple it.”

Nepal's Parliament recently unanimously passed the Second Constitution Amendment Bill guaranteeing through the constitutional amendment that features areas of Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura along with border with India in Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district. The dispute just focuses less than 50 km of area in the district of Pithoragarh in Uttrakhand. While Nepal shares 1751 km border with largely spread across Sikkim, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand state of India. 

Reacting to Kathmandu's move, Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava countered this unilateral act initiated by PM K P Oli stated "this artificial enlargement of claims is not based on historical fact or evidence and is not tenable. It is also a violation of our current understanding to hold talks on outstanding boundary issues."  Again responding to the questions from media, he added: "The road follows the pre-existing route used by the pilgrims of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra."

The India-Nepal border issue began to escalate on 11 May when Nepal foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali personally handed over a diplomatic note protesting a new road constructed by India, whilst he told Nepali parliamentarians that Nepal cannot wait till the end of the COVID-19 crisis to hold boundary talks. Next, Nepal’s foreign ministry reported that Gyawali summoned the Indian ambassador, Vinay Mohan Kwatra, for a meeting and handed over a diplomatic note that “conveyed Government of Nepal’s position on boundary issues”.

In November 2019, Nepal also sent a verbal note to India MEA highlighting the new map by India. Tension began after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, on 9 May, inaugurated the newly constructed 80-km Kailash Mansarovar Yatra route in Uttarakhand built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). Nepal also set up a security post in the area and shots were by fired by Nepali Army from their check post, killing a Indian civilian. According to a local eyewitness account, the group of Indians were farming in the area were fired upon. 

The India- Nepal border dispute and the unwarranted urgency 

The issue is about Limpyadhura is an interesting development as the border conflict centers around the origin of river Kali. The dispute is over the Kalapani-Limpiadhura-Lipulekh trijunction between Nepal-India and China (Tibet). Situated on the banks of the river Kali at an altitude of 3600m, the Kalapani territory lies at the eastern side of Uttarakhand state in India and Nepal’s Sudurpashchim Pradesh in the West. Lack of consensus about the origin of river Kali is all also about the shifting instance of the origin and historical evidence. Though it never became the hotbed of dispute and effectively has no implications due to free and open cross border movement between the citizen of Nepal & India since time immemorial. 

India inherited the boundary with Nepal, established between Nepal and the East India Company in the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816. Kali river constituted the boundary, and the territory to its east was Nepal. The dispute relates to the origin of Kali. At Garbyang village in Dharchula Tehsil of the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand, there is a confluence of different streams coming from north-east from Kalapani and north-west from Limpiyadhura. The early British survey maps defined the north-west stream, Kuti Yangti, from Limpiyadhura as the origin, but after 1857 changed the alignment to Lipu Gad, and in 1879 to Pankha Gad, the north-east streams, locating the origin as just below Kalapani. Nepal accepted the change and India inherited onward. Again in 1923, the terms were accepted by both government, maintaining the same origin and border status.

It is to be noted that in 1927, first Nepal map released by Nepali PM Shamsher Rana, Kalapani is not the part of Nepal. Onward so, there is no Limpiyaadhura in Nepal map since then. In a very strange case, since more than 150 years, Nepal suddenly brought out Limpiyaadhura.

What happened within Nepal Communist Party?

Conflicts were clearly visible in the Nepal Communist Party and the government in Kathmandu when Party demanded that under the declaration of 'one person one post' PM Oli must hold only one position- either PM or Chairperson in early May. Ex-Prime minster Madhav Kumar Nepal was also pushing PM Oli to give up one post under the mutually agreed deal within the Nepali Communist Party. Other two most senior ladears - Pushapa Kumar Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal hold Co- Chair.

Situation has come to the point where PM Oli would not call a meeting of Standing Committee so these members of the ruling party called meeting without the consent of PM Oli on 7/8 May.

After the Nepal Communist Party meeting, the standing committee of the party was to meet on 7 May, which was postponed. The reason being the unwillingness of party Chairman K.P. Oli to conduct session. Standing Committee is the highest body which has the power within Communist party to remove the prime minister.

The ruling party has 174 seats in the 275-member parliament (121 of CPN-UML and 53 of the Maoist Centre). There was intense faction-fight among these parties and the Maoists threatened to withdraw support if their demands are not met with.

At the same time, Chinese ambassador to Nepal, Hou Yanqi called meeting with PM Oli, Prachand, and Madhav Nepal separately. Chinese ambassador pretended to show it as Covid-19 related meeting concerning Nepal but it was soon evident the blatant interference in Nepal's internal politics. Meeting held separately with senior leaders of Nepal Communist Party was to avert the crisis against PM Oli and neutralize the democratic voices within the Party. Such unprecedented scale of interference by Chinese diplomats were also reported and criticized by Nepali newspaper.

It is important to note that on the evening of 27 April, Chinese President Xi Jinping called Nepali President Bidhya Devi Bhandari as due to protocol, he must call President of Nepal first. 

Kalapani issue and beyond

To solve border and other bilateral issues, there are already established mechanism at highest level. India and Nepal In the 3rd and 4th Joint Commission with Indian Nepal at foreign minister level, both parties agreed on Susta kalapani issue. But Limpiyadhura is all together new claim. It was not even part of the last Joint Commission meeting with Foreign Ministers of India & Nepal. Limpiyaadhura and Lipulekh are below the kalapani towards Indian side of the movement.

There was agreement until now that India and Nepal will sort out these two issue at Foreign Minister Level. Map from Indian side are ready with 98% except these two issues. While Joint Commission meeting was to be held between the foreign secretaries anytime, PM Oli instigated Nepali Communist Party’s call for jingoism, in the poverty-stricken and under developed nation of South Asia which is also teetering under the impact of Covid-19. The unwarranted urgency and unethical remarks by a prime minister K P Oli  is certainly not going to seen as accommodating by Indian establishment. It was no coincidence that while China was raging war with India at LAC in the union territory of Ladakh, Nepal PM Oli chose the moment of histrionic verbose and remarks against India whilst shoving the newly created artificial map that includes Lipulekh, Limpiyaadhura and kalapani through parliament for approval.

India is Nepal's largest trade partner and the largest source of foreign investments, besides providing transit for almost entire third country trade of Nepal and  40 per cent of investment in Nepal comes from India through 150 Indian companies. Total bilateral trade in 2018-19 reached INR 57,858 cr (US$ 8.27 bn). The total economic assistance earmarked under ‘Aid to Nepal’ budget in FY 2019-20 was INR 1200 crore. 

According to the official data, nearly eight million Nepalese citizens live and work in India. The two countries also have solid defence and trade ties. About 32,000 Gorkha soldiers from Nepal are serving in the Indian Army.

It is unthinkable that India and Nepal can not resolve minor border issues. The current political impasse created by PM Oli is the one-upmanship and his dangerous liaison with vested interest. He will not be allowed to erase history of goodwill and trust between two nations.