The Story Behind Indo-Nepal Map Row

By: Amrisha Srivastava

Several years of congeniality between India and Nepal seems to experience dissension over the Indo-Nepal border controversy. Just yesterday, on 18th June 2020 Nepal's 59-seat National Assembly unanimously voted 57-0 and passed the Constitutional Amendment Bill regarding redrawing of the political map, which includes three Indian territories.

On May 20, Nepal’s Ministry of Land Management had put forward a revised map, which included the easternmost part of Uttrakhand as a part of Nepal’s territorial region to which, Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson, Anurag Srivastava, replied that the cartographic assertion and enlargement of territorial chains is untenable and not based on historical facts.

THE HISTORY BEHIND

The roots of this dispute date back to The Sugauli Treaty of 1816, signed between the then ruling king of Gorkha dynasty in Nepal and the East India Company. According to the treaty, Nepal’s boundary was defined by the Mahakali River in the west and the Mechi River in the east.

The Mahakali river originates from two different areas: Limpiyadhura (The eastern part of the present Uttrakhand province) and a comparatively smaller rivulet arises from Lipulekh. Since the Limpiyadhura tributary happened to be of a much larger volume, the demarcation ran along the length of it. But during the 1860s, the British suddenly brought Kalapani and Lipulekh into its territory and started considering the smaller rivulet as the demarcating factor because that area of about 335km2 was of strategic importance to carry about trade with China through the Lipulekh Pass. The monarchy did not oppose this and since then, India and Nepal have always shown Lipulekh and Kalapani in their respective maps for the demarcation.

During the Indo-China tension in the 1960s, permission was sought by the Republic of India from the Nepal monarchy to deploy troops in the now disputed area for protection, to which the monarchy complied. Since then and till now, it is the Indian troops that have been stationed in that area.

THE REASONS BEHIND THE CURRENT DISSENSION

In May 2015, China and India joined hands for the formation of a new NE trade route connecting Pithoragarh in Uttrakhand to Lipulekh. Nepal opposed both the countries as it claimed that the route lay within the boundaries of Nepal and the matter cannot be discussed without its participation.

In November 2019, with the revocation of Article 270, the Central Government revised the political map of India and included the protruding triangle-shaped tip of the disputed area till Kalapani.

On 8th May 2020, the Ministry of External Affairs introduced the formation of an 80km long Kailash-Mansarovar Yatra Marg via Lipulekh Pass, for the pilgrims, which shortened the former 5-day trek to a 2-day trek. Since then, Nepal has been shimmering in discontentment and said that India should have consulted Nepal before building the road but the Ministry of External Affairs stated that the area comes completely under India’s boundary, hence there was no need for diplomatic discussions. This led to protests in large numbers in Kathmandu with the hashtag #BackOffIndia trending in Nepal.

On 20th May 2020 Nepal released its new political map which brought the entire dispute to light. With both the Lower and the Upper House voting in the favour of inclusion of the country's new political map in its national emblem on 13th June and 18th June respectively, the Bill awaits President Bidhya Devi Bhandari's approval.

IS CHINA BEHIND IT?

The situation acquires a further impediment with China’s intrusion into the LAC and Nepal being ruled by a Communist Party which has, in the recent past, reached out to China for investment and better connectivity. On May 15th, 2020 Army Chief M.M. Naravane remarked that Kathmandu might be acting on “behest of someone”.

To the above statement, the Nepal Defence Minister reacted, “Such a statement is an insulting statement made by ignoring Nepal's history, our social characteristics and freedom. With this, the Indian CoAS has also hurt the sentiments of the Nepali Gurkha army personnel who lay down their lives to protect India. It must now become difficult for them to stand tall in front of the Gurkha forces”

Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli of Nepal further made an allegation that India is responsible for the spread of Covid-19 virus in Nepal. He also said that the virus from India is more acute and fatal as compared to the one from China.

This leads us to ponder if the ruling Communist Party in Nepal is inclining towards China.

THE CONSEQUENCE

The dispute is bound to approach with its own share of assortments of consequences. The strain in the relations between Nepal and India is the most pronounced aftermath. This also makes us question our faith in New Delhi’s approach towards the matter. If the situation worsens, is India capable of fighting on three different fronts simultaneously, namely LOC, LAC, and Kalapani? What effect would it have over the people of both the countries living in the other nation for the need of employment, housing and many other issues? We are yet to know.