Explained: Worsening India-Nepal relations, a timeline

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Introduction of Nepal’s map in Nepali Parliament can further deteriorate India-Nepal relations. There’s a need of talks between the India-Nepal governments.

The government sources on Monday indicated that New Delhi is willing to hold talks with Kathmandu on the boundary dispute. But the talks can only be conducted if KP Sharma Oli government creates a conductive atmosphere and positive situation. “Sources said feelers have been sent to the Oli government to pause the process of getting parliamentary sanction for the country’s new map and come to the table for talks”. It seems that Indian government does not want to make any  haste in taking actions against Nepal and wants to settle it by table talks. As we saw defence minister Rajnath Singh said that relationship between the two countries is not an ordinary one but is bound by ‘roti and beti’ (livelihood and marriage) and it can never be severed.

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Our relations are not only historical and cultural, but also spiritual, and India can never forget it. How can relations between India and Nepal break!
-Rajnath Singh

Background of the India-Nepal border dispute

Kalapani-Limpiadhura-Lipulekh trijunction between India-Nepal and China (Tibet) has been the matter of altercation for both the nations. It has a long history and has recently rose tensions. The region is located on the banks of the river Kali at an altitude of 3600m. The Kalapani territory lies at the eastern border of Uttarakhand and West to Nepal’s Sudurpashchim Pradesh. India claims the area is part of Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district, while Nepal believes it to be part of Dharchula district. This matter came up when India opened an 80-km road linking Uttarakhand with Lipulekh, across the disputed piece of land.

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The dispute of the territoriality of Kalapani, was first raised by the Nepalese government only in 1998. Nepal did not raise an objection when Indian military units occupied the Kalapani area during the Sino-Indian war of 1962. After this, the Nepalese government contended that the western border of the country be shifted 5.5 km westward to coincide with the borders as decided in the treaty of Sugauli. Officials in India claim revenue records dating back to the 1830s. The record shows that Kalapani area has traditionally been administered as part of the Pithoragarh district.

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The 19 century old issue

Although, India-Nepal border issue has not been a very highlighted one but it goes back to the early 19th century. This was the time when British ruled India and Nepal was a conglomeration of small kingdoms under the reign of king Prithvi Narayan Shah. In the late 18th century, Nepal was unified, its domains stretching out as far as Sikkim in the East and the Garhwal and Kumaon region of Uttarakhand in the West.

By the second decade of the 18th century, the English East India Company (EIC) too had acquired a formidable presence in the subcontinent, and had strengthened its main bases in Madras, Calcutta and Bombay. EIC as it’s  primary motive started to expand its territories. It moved till Awadh in North and came into close proximity with Palpa, an independent town within the Nepalese heartlands. Soon after, a border dispute arose between the two powers. Nepal also proved to be a barrier for EIC to conduct trade with Tibet.

On November 1, 1814, the British declared war on Nepal which  went on for the next two years. In 1815, the British general, Sir David Ochterlony, managed to annex Garhwal and Kumaon. A year later, the war came to an end with the signing of the Sugauli treaty. The treaty delimited the boundaries of Nepal, as it stands today. The river Kali marked the western border of Nepal. However, there is no clear consensus on what is the precise location of the river Kali, giving rise to the dispute over whether the land consisting Kalapani-Limpiadhura-Lipulekh is part of present day India or Nepal. From these old conlicts till now, the two countries have failed to reach a consensus.

Recent advancements

  • On May 19, Nepal says that Kalapani boundary issue has been on the bilateral agenda for deacdes. “These are our territories. We will retrieve out land. It is after India occupied this territories without any grounds that they were made to look like disputed territories,” said Nepal’s PM KP Sharma Oli.
  • On 12 June, things get heated up after one Indian farmer is killed and at least three more are injured in firing by Nepal police during an altercation with Indian farmers across the border at Sitamarhi district in Bihar. The incident comes at a time of continued tension between the two south Asian neighbours over conflicting territorial claims. 
  • On June 13, Nepal’s Pratinidhi Sabha or House of Representatives voted unanimously in favour of adopting the new map that claims part of Indian territory in Uttarakhand. The passing of the bill is expected to be a smooth affair as the ruling Nepal Communist Party holds 50 of the 59 seats in the house.
  • Nepal’s new map that claims the disputed Kalapani region, is likely to complete the legislative process within the next four days. Rajendra Phuyal, Secretary of the National Assembly secretariat tables the Second Constitution Amendment Bill, 2077 (Vikram Sambat) on Sunday when the bill was cleared unanimously for discussion.
  • India vouches for talks and so does PM Oli.
  • Meanwhile, Rajnath Singh told a Jan Samvad virtual rally of BJP workers in Uttarakhand that “if there is any misunderstanding among Nepal’s people because of the road built from Dharchula to Lipulekh, I think we can find a resolution to that by sitting together”.
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Written by Ayushman Ojha, a Journalism student at Delhi School of Journalism, Delhi University. Covers Politics, Education and International Affairs.
Edited by Lalit Kumar Singh, Ground Report (English).

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