India-Nepal border tensions have caught national and some international attention. There are reactions and suggestions from both sides. Indian diplomats and commentariat have not yet brought up the coincidence of timing of China’s incursion into Ladakh and Nepal bringing up a new map to show parts of territory under Indian occupation as theirs. It befell our Army General to say with uncanny candour that Nepal is raking it up at the behest of China. The General’s conjecture cannot be controverted as this is an issue settled in 1816. Furthermore, India has not encroached into it now and has been in occupation of the patch of land Nepal is showing it in their new cartography.
Indubitably, Nepal’s new map is objectionable. New Delhi needs to sort this out downplaying the special relationship it accords to Nepal. Kathmandu needs to be told in no uncertain terms, if they do Beijing’s bidding, India will retaliate. Nepal will find it hard to live in antagonism to New Delhi. It is a country sandwiched between two big neigbours which are only two gateways for Nepal to the world. The route to mainland China is remote and tortuous, and the long border with India is close and accessible. Almost all of Nepalese trade passes through India, although China wants to build connectivity up to Kathmandu. Hence Nepal’s dependence on India is total in addition to deep cultural ties and the special relations between the two countries.
Kathmandu has sought to play the balancing game between India and China for quite some time, but not successfully. Then, China came of age in its economy, thanks to the western countries seeking to exploit the tight governmental controls and the cheap labour. Beijing tempted Kathmandu with financial support and contribution, provided money and weapons to the communists to overthrow the monarchy and unseat the Nepali Congress from its pre-eminent position in Nepali politics.
Besides, Beijing is drawing Nepal into its debt-trap. The strategy it follows is to ladle out money to a country as loan, and when they cannot repay, ask them to kowtow to Beijing. The Nepali Prime Minister KPS Oli, a hard core communist seems to have gone into Chinese lap. He has ideological links with the authoritarian communist party of China. When communism has collapsed all over the world, except in China, communists thrive in Nepal as they get handsome material support from Beijing.
To be sure, the current dispute kicked off by Nepal is to appease Beijing by putting pressure on India. China is soon becoming an international pariah. But it is the second biggest economy in the world; it is trying to cling on to its influence with talons of aggression as well as desperation. In Asia-Pacific, Beijing wants to be the supreme leader, even if US sphere of influence could cover the rest of the world. But New Delhi stands in its way as it is now courted by the West as a countervailing force to Beijing in the region. Kathmandu under the communist Prime Minister is playing into the hands of China.
Let us look at the dispute historically to debunk Nepal’s claim. After the fall of Mogul rule, the brave Gurkha rulers in Nepal became quite powerful. They expanded their territory into Avadh in North, Sikkim in the North East and Kumaon in Garhwal. Their territory stretched from Sutlej river in the North to Teesta rive in the East. The British administration could not accept the expansion and drew the Nepali kingdom to a war between 1814 and 1816. Although Nepali warriors fought bravely, they lost to the superior strategy and weaponry of the British Indian army. The Nepalese signed a peace treaty at Sugauli in Champaran of the state of Bihar.
According to the Sugauli Treaty, Nepal had to withdraw from Garwal, Sikkim and Avadh. Their border shrank. The new border was drawn between Sharada river (which is called Mahakali in Nepal) and the Micchi river which originates in Nepal but merges in a river in Kishanganj, Bihar. Mahakali consists of Limpiadhura, Kalapani and Lipulekh. These are located strategically at a trisection of Nepal, China and India. India has built an 80 km-road cutting through the mountains from Dharchula in Uttarakhand to Lipulekh in order to enable devotees to go up to Mansarovar, a holy place for Indians. Earlier, they used a much longer route from Nathula in Sikkim. The road has already been built.
Kathmandu objects to the road now, and comes out with a new map to show this land at the trisection as belonging to Nepal. The land is in occupation of India. Why does Nepal claim it now? Why did they not raise objection when the road was being built? Nepal claims that Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiadhura were given to them in the Sugauli Treaty way back in 1816. How did India occupy these for last 200 plus years? This sounds incredible. If it was part of the Sugauli agreement, did British administration honour it? If not, what were circumstances that prevented Nepal acquiring these?
The current claim of Nepal relates to studying the history of this border and appreciating the subsequent developments. This can surely be ironed out, but not by the kind of language used by the communist PM of Nepal. He said tartly, “the virus coming from India is more dangerous than corona”. It was so unkind and ungrateful. New Delhi donated 2 lakh hydroxychloroquine tablets and 2 lakh paracetamol to Nepal, whereas it sold them to America and other countries.
Nepal cannot afford to cross swords with India whatever its level of support from China because of its geographical contiguity and access to the world through India. The current leadership of Nepal is swayed and waylaid by the Chinese. At the same time, New Delhi cannot afford to alienate the Nepalese. The young population is quite radical and would like their sovereignty to be upheld.
Nepal is strategically located between India and China as a buffer state, like Tibet was which was given away by Nehru in an imbecile hope of buying peace and friendship with China. Nepali Gurkhas are diminutive but doughty warriors, having made exemplary contribution to British Indian and independent Indian Army. The legendary Field Marshal Sham Manekshaw used to say in admiration of Gurkha soldiers, “if someone says he is not afraid of death, he must be an insane or a Gurkha.”
India-Nepal cultural ties are unbreakable. The Nepali citizens in India contribute considerably to India’s service sector. India has hardly thought ill of Nepal. Yes, it is accused of weighing heavy on their domestic politics, and behaving as a big brother. In cases, Indians involve in Nepali politics on their request, and what is wrong with the big brother. An elder brother loves, looks after and protects the interests of the younger brothers. India has done it so far with Nepal and others. But like the Pakistanis are looking for their roots in Turks and Arabs, Nepalese do it in Chinese, and then we are all at a loss as to who we are. Nepal must not fall into Chinese money trap and diplomatic chicanery; it is not in their long term interest, and ours.
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