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India-Nepal border dispute: A global flashpoint in making

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“Frankly, we do not like and shall not brook any foreign interference in Nepal. We recognize Nepal as an independent country and wish her well, but even a child knows that one cannot go to Nepal without passing through India. Therefore, no other country can have as intimate a relationship with Nepal as ours,” said India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in Parliament on December 6, 1950.

Vijay Srinivas | Ground Report

This intimate relationship that Nehru had once envisioned might cripple in the coming days as all is not well between the two nations after a cartographic disputes led to verbal exchanges at the top.

Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Oli attacked India saying “Indian virus is more dangerous than the Chinese and Italian ones.”

The scenario no doubts is snowballing into a geopolitical flashpoint in Asia after Indian Army Chief MM Naravane hinted at the role of China in exacerbating the border dispute with Nepal, and the United States asking India to “resist the Chinese aggression” after Indian and Chinese troops clashed at Ladakh where China claims that Indian troops have “trespassed” into its territory.

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The backstory

The dispute isn’t new and had flared up most recently when India published a new map showcasing the bifurcation on Jammu and Kashmir back in November last year. The map depicted Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura as part of Uttarakhand which Nepal had vehemently protested calling it “an Indian occupation of two per cent of its land”.

Current diplomatic fracas popped up after the inauguration of 80 km road by India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh which passes through the disputed territory. Nepal as an act of retaliation has released a new map that includes all the territory it claims. 

New Delhi has rejected the move saying it wasn’t based on historical facts.

The dispute

The issue date back to the British era. The Britishers ensured that the Nepali rulers’ territorial aims did not pose a threat to their imperialism in India. The Sugauli Treaty on Nepal in 1816 after a decisive victory by the British in two-years-long Anglo-Nepalese war has got a major role to play in the current tussle. The treaty claims that “the Rajah of Nepal renounces for himself, his heirs, and successors all claim to or connection with the countries lying to the west of river Kali and engages never to have any concern with those countries or inhabitants thereof.”

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But the treaty fails to come out with a concrete accord on the accurate location of river Kali which led to the dispute between two sovereign nations.

The Nepalese government citing the treaty of Sugauli wanted their western side to coincide with the borders, India argues that Kalapani has been within the limit of Uttarakhand since the 1830s.

What next?

Having seen Narendra Modi’s muscular and nationalistic politics, it’s highly unlikely to have India behave in a subservient manner with Nepal over the dispute. KP Oli on the other hand who is already buckling under pressure from dissidents within his own party seems to have an interest in raising tensions over the dispute with India. But if things go south, Oli might face a massive backlash that can take a toll on his political career.

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India’s foreign ministry while commenting on the issue had said that both nations are likely to hold foreign secretary-level discussions after pandemic ends. All eyes are now on the backchannels talks which will be crucial to maintain the balance of power with China taking an aggressive stance in the region.