Nepal neither de facto controls these territories, nor does it have clear documents to establish it de jure status in its favour.
The foreign policy of Nepal is getting embroiled into the complex web of geopolitical rivalry between India and China. “We have witnessed this earlier in the case of the Maldives and Sri Lanka. Domestic elites are divided in their loyalties to external powers,” experts opine.
Says Prof Rajan Kumar, School of International Studies, JNU, Delhi, “India used to be the hegemonic player in South Asia two decades ago. But politics has become bi-polar with the increasing role of China in the region. China has invested heavily in ramping up the infrastructure of these countries, and a section of its political and academic elite has turned favourable to such projects. In India, this is often interpreted as an attempt of encirclement by China.”
“In Nepal, the situation is worse because the ruling party has an ideological affinity with the Chinese Communist Party. The redrawing of the map which includes Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura could not have come at a worse possible time. Indian soldiers were in a standoff with the Chinese soldiers in Ladakh. Nepal could have shown some sensitivity given the deadly confrontations taking place between the two countries. Instead, it tried to humiliate India further by passing a unilateral resolution on the border. This was a premature and a miscalculated move by the incumbent regime.
Nepal neither de facto controls these territories, nor does it have clear documents to establish it de jure status in its favour. The border issues between the two countries should be resolved amicably through diplomatic negotiations,” Prof Rajan opines.
Adding, “The incumbent regime made the mistake of putting all its eggs in the Chinese basket. Ever since the economic blockade of 2015, the Communist Party of Nepal sought to ratchet up the anti-India sentiment to mobilise its nationalist population. It became the main poll plank in the last election. The regime came to power with a promise that it would cut Nepal’s dependence on India.”
“The statement of prime minister K P Oli that India may try to topple the government is pre-emptive and meant to appeal to his electoral base. It is well-known that a rift and factionalism is brewing up within the ruling party. Recently, Oli was criticised by Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) for misgovernance and authoritarianism. The main opposition party, the Nepali Congress has been protesting against the government for corruption and pro-China policy. The statement of Oli should be seen against this context. It endorses one’s fear that he might be on a sticky wicket,” Prof Rajan concludes.
According to the former envoy of India to Jordan, Libya and Malta, Ambassador Anil Trigunayat “It is really unfortunate that the relations between India and Nepal has become strained especially as the two countries and people have always been bound by friendly, familial, special, cultural and civilizational ties and have stood for one another at all times. India has been the first responder to its neighbours in all emergencies including the earthquake and now COVID 19. It is normal that there could be some differences on perceptions as well as real issues. But between friends, they need to be resolved through trust and dialogue.”
“Recent unilateral action by Nepal to change its maps to incorporate Indian territories through its self-perceived “cartographic aggression” and stamping it as historically correct is totally unacceptable that has already been conveyed by the Indian Government. The haste with which it has been done under the pretext of India inaugurating the Tawaghat-Lipulekh to its border with China mainly use for pilgrimage for at least three decades clearly smacks of ulterior motives of the current Nepali Government that is trying to salvage itself from the growing public and political discontent in the Himalayan Kingdom,” Ambassador Anil Trigunayat observes.
In his view, “PM Oli attributing motives to India to attempt to remove him from power is simply preposterous. He chose to take advantage of India-China border tensions to prove its loyalty to the Chinese as well as to distract the attention of the public from the real issues. It is a standard political game but to try and rupture a mutually beneficial relationship without even bilateral discussion of any kind and forgetting all Indian assistance and goodwill in the past are somewhat callous.”
The only way out is the dialogue in order to address all outstanding issues and India must also try to alleviate the concerns of the Nepalese people to save and sustain this important relationship. But for this Nepal should stop provocative acts and ill-founded statements.