Freshly erupted border disputes between India and Nepal has once again locked both the Himalayan neighbours in an assertive cartographic and diplomatic battle. Tensions have been simmering ever since Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated an 80 km road to ease the journey of pilgrims reaching Kailash-Manasarowar in Tibet. This all-weather road which leads up to the Line of Actual Control(LAC), passes through territory where both regions exercise overlapping claims. The main bone of contention relates to the disputed Lipulekh and Kalapani region. Both the countries share an approximately 1,800 km long border and have had their fair share of border issues, most of which have been solved through established dialogue. However, the conflict surrounding the Kalapani issue lingers on.
It is known for a fact that according to Article V of the Sagauli Treaty that was signed in 1816 between Britain and Nepal, the Kali river was considered as the legitimate demarcation between both countries- areas lying to the west of the Kali river belonged to India, while the Eastern sector was Nepalese territory. However, over the years, the river has not only changed its course, but birthed a significant number of territories. This has paved the way for assertive cartographic conflict between both regions. And now, with the construction of a motorable 80 km road, Nepal accuses India of encroaching upon her territory and sovereignty.
The amicable relations between the countries traces back to the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship. Hostilities related to border disputes have erupted even earlier and have been solved through negotiations. However, the recent past is suggestive of a thaw in bilateral Relations. Ever since Nepal accused India of enforcing a trade blockade (2015) and the release of a new political map of India following the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A, a severe paradigm shift has emerged in bilateral ties.
Another aspect has been argued with regards to Nepal's sudden assertive approach to the border dispute. Prime Minister Oli faces severe internal opposition within his Nepal Communist Party that has been pushing for leadership. Hence, the Kalapani dispute brings him some political dividend to consolidate his political endeavor while also uphold the sovereignty and integrity of the country.
While already grappling with a pandemic and severe impacts on the fiscal front, none of the Himalayan countries are in a position to engage in a scuffle. Moreover, Nepal's growing proximity to Beijing can bring about a new set of problems for both countries. Stretching the issue further is in the interest of neither nation. Therefore, a legitimate way forward seems to abandon any assertive approach and rather resolve disputes amicably through dialogue and negotiations.
The primary aim of this webinar is to scrutinize the key issues, emerging trends and changing dynamics in the bilateral relations, in the backdrop of recent disputes. This will help in understanding the current and future course of relationship.
Professor, Centre for Inner Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Dr. Meena Vaidya Malla-
♦ Dispute is normal, it’s a common phenomenon, the problem is with how they are managed. Disputes needs a lot of diplomatic practices. ♦ Boundary disputes are very common among the neighbouring countries.
♦ Nepal is linked with India on three sides and has a mostly open border which is largely unregulated.
♦ Nepal stands for soft power policy for settlement of international disputes.
♦ Nepal is clear on the historical evidences regarding the territory of Kalapani based on various evidences like agreements, memos etc and now it is up to India to convince Nepal through evidences on India’s claim.
♦ At this juncture, the two countries need to rebuild trust and faith in each other’s sovereignty, integrity and the right to self-determination
♦ Avoidance and inaction make the issue more complicated.
♦ Bilateral discussions and negotiations, accepting the jurisdiction of each other based on the spirit and principles of international law.
Dr. Sangeeta Thapliyal-
♦ During the discourse of all disputes, one has heard that there is a close socio-cultural linkage. However, many also say that socio-cultural linkage rhetoric is just a cliché.
♦ The speaker highlighted the historical cultural linkages between the two countries, ranging from free movement, matrimonial alliances between the political elites as well as the commoners.
♦ Nepalis settlements in India are just not a phenomenon near the borders and the close cultural linkages do not fade away when we move away from the border.
♦ Religious tourism is another aspect highlighting the strong cultural linkages between the two countries, India go to Pashupatinath, Muktinath etc continuously even during wars.
♦ There are sister-city agreements between cities like Kathmandu-Benares, Janakpuri-Ayodhya.
♦ Even when political relations were at low ebb, socio-cultural relations have been emphasized by the leaders of both the countries.
♦ However, increased socio-cultural linkages have also created complexities in form of blurred national identities and confusion in sphere of national loyalties which are now judged based on familial ties and a phenomenon of ‘Us vs them’ have become apparent.
♦ Close socio-cultural do not signify similar foreign policy goals or strategic interests. During 1950s, India and Nepal both had similar strategic concerns emanating from Communist China, but the changed political context has led too divergence in strategic interests.
♦ The social linkages are fading as the newer generations prefer western universities for higher studies. Present Indian politicians, bureaucrats and policy planners today downplay the cultural similarities between the two countries.
♦ India fears that overemphasis on the social cultural ties as a historical reality would be misinterpreted in Nepal. Most foreign policy makers in India use the prism of realism and national interest and are not overwhelmed by the religious and cultural similarities.
♦ Numerous people all over both countries have family links across the borders.
♦ We tend to generalize relations and highlight only the strains while simultaneously cooperation is also taking place in the relationship. When leaders are unable to take leadership, then people-centric connectivity can play a positive role.
Dr Mallika Shakya-
♦ When we talk about where the India Nepal relations are at today, the media dialogue is mostly about the tensions related to the new cartographic map which has sent shockwaves across the borders. But the dispute should not be looked at just an issue over the Kalapani territory, and the way we are today is a function of what has happened over the course of last 10 years. There is so much about the internal party politics that also creates a new discourse.
♦ The issue of Social Justice of Women or Justice for Women bifurcated the two sides after the Citizenship Amendment Bill in 2015 where India and Nepal took different stands. It is important to understand if this was a trade-off, and if it was a trade-off, then was such trade-off necessary.
♦ India Nepal relations are highly influenced by the type of dialogues taking place across the borders and how political platforms and media legitimize it. We need more channels of expressions between the countries going beyond the space of foreign policy experts.
Ms. Nayanima Basu-
♦ India has never said that it will not discuss the issue of Kalapani and it has always stated that it is a disputed territory.
♦ When Nepal had objections on India’s trade route through Lipu Lekh, India took it into considerations and the trade route project was not implemented.
♦ My question is what can be the way forward, what is it that the two countries would want from a dialogue. And what happens if there is a split in the party and if the support for the map amendment which is present at the moment changes.
Ms. Shivanee Thapa Basnyat-
♦ The present ongoing bitterness can get detrimental if a positive intervention is delayed. The claim that Nepal is raising this issue on behest of someone else has opened up a new dimension in the discourse of India Nepal relationships. This has been perceived as a question on the sovereignty of a nation.
♦ A lot of older generation Nepalis have studies in Indian higher education institutions, a lot of Nepali politicians have participated in the Indian freedom struggle and there are many similar sagas. But there is a bitterness at the present moment that has restrained common people from sharing their feelings on social media.
♦ The old bond is gradually fading away, and the reason is multi-dimensional, ranging from global dynamics to domestic ones. Nepalis are looking for new destinations for education and tourism. Hence, Nepalis are gaining new perspectives and gaining more skills. China’s tourists have become the second largest cluster and more Chinese cities are directly connected to Nepali cities now.
♦ Internal discourse and external demand is directing Nepali foreign policy at the moment. The current government with its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy was seen as a ray of hope in Nepal, but right now a crisis of confidence has sort of happened. In the current times when the geopolitical dynamics are shifting but the economic is at a pivot, there needs to be new channels of discussion and all we need is intent and synergic acts to get things back on track. It is also important for Nepal to understand the changed geopolitical dynamics and evaluate newer ways of diplomacy.
Ms. Smita Sharma-
♦ There are three points we need to look at, at this point of time where the current issues have blown due to the undercurrents for long that have now manifested themselves in the worsening of ties.
♦ Domestic happenings in Nepal, KP Oli’s party, handling of COVID situation.
♦ Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi considered as a strongman and a nationalistic leader
♦ The phenomenon of a New Nepal, the change of mood across streets in Nepal.
♦ Prime Minister Narendra Modi cannot be coerced into changes as he understands that he is in position of strength due to not much opposition against him in India politically.
♦ Anti-India card with the communists is not new. From time to time, the leaders in Nepal, Mr. Prachanda and Mr. Oli have taken different stance and there is a lot of dynamics related to internal power gain.
♦ Today, there is an issue with China and the rest of the world. China has raised a new problem with Eastern sector in Bhutan which was accepted to be settled. What has happened in Galwan has changed the relations between China and India and this will surely have an impact with any third countries.
Ms. Shristi Kafle-
♦ India and Nepal have very good relations in terms of economy and connectivity; however, political issues today have overshadowed this.
♦ Since 2015, when India imposed an economic blockade, certain perceptions in Nepal have been affected. China’s influence is not just high in Nepal, but there is a global rise in China’s influence.
♦ The role of media is very important in creating a certain type of narrative among the common people as it can give directions to the political institutions to be diplomatic and reconciliatory rather than being provocative or creating bitterness.
♦ China shouldn’t be seen as a threat between India-Nepal relationships and the steps Nepal has taken is for protecting its own sovereignty, so dialogue remains the most important factor.
♦ The relationships between nations should not change with changes in government.
♦ Gone are the days when Nepal used to be said a yam between two boulders, Nepal is now a vibrant bridge.
♦ The current incidents have opened up new avenues of discussion.
♦ Kalapani remains a disputed territory. India-Nepal relations should not be governed based on this piece of land.
♦ India cannot be forced on the negotiating table. It is a new India and it is a new Nepal. Steps should not be taken unilaterally.
♦ We need to consider how the post-COVID world will look like. We cannot change our neighbours and geography.
♦ India has been slow on delivering its promises that is one dimension that India has been lately trying to improve and that’s the sphere where the two countries need to build on.
♦ Foreign Secretary level meetings should be held as soon as possible, even if in the virtual mode.