India last month reacted angrily to Nepal showing the three areas as Nepalese territory in the new map and cautioned the country that saying such "artificial enlargement" of territorial claims will not be acceptable to it.
By Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd)
Nepal in a show of unprecedented national unity, Opposition parties including the Nepali Congress, Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal and Rastriya Prajatantra Party voted in favour of the bill to amend Schedule 3 of the Constitution to update the national emblem by incorporating the controversial map featuring new areas of Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura along Nepal’s border with India. India last month reacted angrily to Nepal showing the three areas as Nepalese territory in the new map and cautioned the country that saying such “artificial enlargement” of territorial claims will not be acceptable to it. India has been maintaining that these three areas belong to it.
The above is something which has put the relationship on a brink between the long term friendships between the two countries — India and Nepal; as Nepal in an attempt to appease its Northern Neighbour China – through the Tibetan Autonomous Region; is putting the relationship with India on the edge. India has been in effective possession of this territory for at least sixty years, although Nepal claims it conducted a census there in the early 1950s and refers to 1815 Sugauli Treaty as legitimising its claims. But India’s new road, up to the Lipulekh pass is not an unprecedented change in the status quo. India has controlled this territory and built other infrastructure here before, besides conducting its administration and deploying military forces up to the border pass with China.
The region is of strategic importance, and the new road is now one of the quickest links between Delhi and the Tibetan plateau. In a 2015 statement, China also recognised India’s sovereignty by agreeing to expand trade through the Lipulekh pass. Finally, this is also an important route for thousands of Hindus who trek across the border with China every year to visit the sacred Mount Kailash. Given recurrent military tensions with China, the future potential of trade, and the religious symbolism of the region, India will certainly continue to exercise civilian and military control.
India engaged with China and COVID 19, has been not quick enough to deal with its neighbours as this is has been not an area of priority. Nepal’s population is divided and while the younger generation sees more benefits being aligned with China but are not seized of the long term aim of China to expand its territory by coercive means. In past India’s blockade on the landlocked country, has anti-Indian sentiments running high.
India must engage with Nepal diplomatically and engage with it as an equal. The people of both countries are engaged with each other in many ways from marriages, business and allows Nepalese citizens to work here without a work permit, which is not reciprocal. India needs to reboot its relationship with Nepal based on modern tenets of diplomacy where there are no concessions given and a Visa regime, closing down its porous border and the SSB manning the borders with Nepal be given clear rules of engagement. Any trans-border firing must have equal violence perpetuated across the border.
Nepal has to decide for itself which way it wants to go; the fling with China is a one night stand and India should retain its options with Nepal and take all actions as deemed correct; on the lines of its engagement with other countries in the SAARC region.
India needs to act more benevolent towards the only Hindu majority nation other than herself and not let the Chinese spoil the bonhomie between the two nations. Pashupatinath Temple is one of the Dhams for Hindus to visit and likewise the Nepalese Hindus who are worshippers of Lord Shiva visit Somnath amongst other temples as part of religious tourism. Perhaps we need to tackle this on more than one way to keep this relationship on an even keel, an iron fist in a velvet glove.
(The author is an army veteran. Views expressed are personal.)