Nepal has once displayed belligerence on the Kalapani territorial dispute at the tri-junction of India, Nepal and China in Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand state in India and Dharchula district in the far western region of Nepal. A new political and administrative map of the Himalayan nation issued on 20th May by the Communist government of Nepal has raked up the latest controversy. The new map approved two days earlier by Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli’s cabinet shows Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh areas as Nepalese territory. However, these areas are parts of the sovereign Indian territory in the map issued on 2nd November 2019 by New Delhi after reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh into Union territories.
Both India and Nepal, are close friendly neighbours having strong social, cultural and economic bonds. The controversy over Nepal’s claims of a small but strategic tract of land in the close proximity of River Kali originating from Kalapani area in the Himalayan region has heightened tensions. Its genesis lies in the Sagauli Treaty of 1816. According to Article 5 of the Sagauli Treaty signed between the Kingdom of Nepal and the British East India Company on 2nd December 1815, which came into force in March 1816, all territories west of River Kali formed part of India and on the East side these remained with Nepal. Therefore, River Kali became the border between India and Nepal near India-Nepal-China tri-junction. Furthermore, the Mahakali Treaty signed between India and Nepal on 12th February 1996 to develop Tanakpur Barrage and the Pancheshwar Hydel Power Project recognises in its preamble that ‘the Mahakali River is a boundary river on major stretches between the two countries.’ The Treaty was ratified by two thirds majority with Communist support when Nepali Congress was in power in Nepal.
There are no disputed areas in India’s possession. The Indian state and central governments levy land revenue and other taxes and the border along the tri-junction is manned by Indian security forces. Nepal had raised objection to the map issued by India in November 2019. India officially clarified that ‘the map accurately depicts the sovereign territory of India. The new map has in no manner revised India’s boundary with Nepal.’ However, a resolution was adopted in Nepal Parliament to settle the issue with India diplomatically and amicably. The two countries had agreed to hold Foreign Secretary level talks but these could not materialise.
Indian Defence Minister Raj Nath Singh inaugurated the 80-kilometre long stretch of road constructed by India connecting Lipulekh with Dharchula town in Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand on the 8th of this month. The road was constructed to ease the flow of trade and pilgrimage to Kailash-Mansarovar in the Autonomous Region of Tibet. This sparked off protests by Nepalese Parliamentarians from both opposition and ruling parties and the general public. Nepal raised the issue at the diplomatic level too with New Delhi. India expressed its willingness to hold talks over the issue once the Covid-19 pandemic was over. The two countries have been hit by the pandemic. India, in fact, send aid, medical supplies and a medical team to Nepal, when the corona outbreak was reported in that country.
Surprisingly, Prime Minister K P Sharma ‘Oli’ said in Nepal’s Parliament that Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipulekh are parts of Nepal and they would get them back at any cost. He disclosed that his government was in touch with China over the issue.
India has refuted Nepal’s charges and categorically said that Nepal’s map is not based on historical facts and evidence. Such artificial enlargement of territorial claims is unacceptable to New Delhi.
Mr. Oli also blamed India for the spread of Covid-19 in Nepal saying that the virus was more acute in the people returning from India than China or Italy. This statement was uncalled for and is baseless. However, the Nepal Prime Minister’s words cannot be dismissed lightly by India as it implies his inclination towards China. Also, it is intended to raise ultra-nationalistic rhetoric in Nepal. It could also be to save himself from internal threats within his own Nepal Communist Party. India should remain vigilant.
However, as both countries share centuries of friendly ties, they should try to resolve the issue amicably at the earliest.
Script: Rattan Saldi, Political Commentator