Nepal’s New Map – India’s Concerns

Why in news?

Nepal’s Oli government has passed the constitutional amendment ratifying a change in its map which includes India’s territories in Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district.

What is the dispute over?

  • The new map includes Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura, territories that India controls. [Click here to read on Kalapani territorial issue]
  • The territorial dispute stems from the fact that Nepal claims the land to the east of river Kali, which forms its western border.
  • As per Kathmandu’s understanding, the river originates from Limpiyadhura in the higher Himalayas.
  • It is thus said to give Nepal access to a triangular-shaped land defined by Limpiyadhura-Lipulekh and Kalapani.
  • India opposes the notion and says the origin of the river is much further down (to the east), which reduces Nepal’s territorial demand.

What is the recent trigger?

  • While the issue is an old one, it resurfaced in 2019. [Click here to know more]
  • In 2019, New Delhi published new political maps to reflect some changes.
  • This was following the decision on 5 August 2019 to reorganise the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
  • Nepal objected to this depiction of disputed territory.

How are the responses?

  • In 2000 and 2014, India and Nepal agreed to hold talks about Kalapani and Susta, without much success.
  • [Susta is a disputed village near Bihar on which both India and Nepal stake a claim.]
  • Matters became worse when India’s Defence Minister inaugurated a surfaced road over the Kalapani territory.
  • When Nepal protested, Indian Army Chief, General Naravane, suggested it was at the “behest” of China.
  • Lack of diplomatic manoeuvring to allow a step back from the tensions is primarily widening the rift.
  • New Delhi contends that it was willing to discuss matters “at a mutually convenient date.”
  • Kathmandu says that India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has rejected two dates suggested by Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  • It is said that India had routinely dismissed requests from the Nepal Ambassador for a meet with the Foreign Secretary.
  • The MEA said Kalapani talks could wait until both countries had dealt with the coronavirus pandemic first.
  • This further enraged the Oli government in Nepal.
  • For India, the timing with India-China border stand-off further adds to the belief that Oli is backed by Beijing.

How does the future look?

  • Regardless of the accusations on who is more responsible for the downslide in ties, Nepal’s quick move on the amendment leaves little space for diplomacy now.
  • The fact that the vote was unanimous implies the futility on India’s part to portray Mr. Oli alone as wholly responsible.
  • The Indian government has in the past not hesitated to take tough measures.
  • E.g. the 2015 blockade that severely affected land-locked Nepal
  • The Oli government seeks to build its legacy by overturning what it calls “unequal” agreements made by the earlier monarchy.
  • It could thus reverse old commitments on open and unsecured border posts.
  • In turn, it could cause a security nightmare for India if Nepal opens up other parts of their long boundary.
  • Both sides moved quickly to manage the recent fallout of border firing by Nepali police on a group of Indians that left one dead.
  • The same readiness is needed now to manage the fallout of the recent amendment vote.
  • Both sides should cooperate to preserve the once celebrated “special” relationship between India and Nepal.

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