India and Nepal have too much at stakes other than the border land
What is flaring up the situations over border dispute between India and Nepal?
A strong anti-India sentiment which has been building up in this land locked Himalyan nation since November 2019 seems to be drifting out of diplomatic closet and potentially threatening a special relationship between India and Nepal if not immediately addressed.
The current dispute which started over the political map seems to have blown up into a full-fledged diplomatic tussle. Indian government in November 2019 issued a political map which included the disputed area of ‘kalapani’ which irked Nepal. The map was published by Indian government after the delimitation of Jammu & Kashmir into two Union territories of J & K and Ladakh.
The issue has flared up once again. It is becoming almost a daily verbal spat between the two countries ever since chief of India Army Major General Manoj Naravane contended that Nepal raised the dispute “at the behest of an external force”, without naming China. Nepal defence Minister Ishowor Pokhrel called the statement of General Naravane as a “political stunt” and the prime minister Nepal KP Sharma Oli went ahead and said while addressing Nepalese Law makers that the virus coming from India was “more lethal” than those from china and Italy.
Since November 2019 the issue had been dealt through diplomatic initiatives although Nepal insisted on resolving the matter through bilateral talks which India had been avoiding. It was after the inauguration of link road in early May by India, which connects Darchula in district Pithoragh of Uttarakhand to Lipulekh Pass which is a shorter route to Kailash Mansarover yatra that the matter flared up again.
There were wide-spread protests in Nepal and the issue was also raised in the Parliament of Nepal. The foreign minister at that point of time had assured its law makers that the issue would be resolved through diplomatic and bilateral discussions.
Given these facts the aggression which has been expressed by the defence minister of Nepal and also the prime minister K P Oli is unprecedented and surprising given the fact that Nepal had already expressed its displeasure over the issue by calling the Indian diplomat and handing him over the ‘diplomatic note’ of protest. Earlier, Nepal had also accepted to India’s suggestion of negotiating the matter through diplomatic route once both the countries move out of the impending crises due to Covid 19.
The new flashpoint in the matter have come after Nepal reciprocated by releasing a new political map showing the territories which India had included in its map issued in November as its territory. PM Oli not only told Nepali law makers that corona virus coming from India is more lethal than those from Italy and China, he clearly blamed the rising number of corona cases in Nepal on people sneaking in Nepal from India.
Although India is trying to play down the assertions from Nepal government but a sudden and bold postures from across the Himalayan borders is surprising and worrying because the two nations have had a long and unprecedented history of bilateral cooperation and cross border understanding besides a common cultural and social relationship.
Recently the defence minister of Nepal also dragged in the Gurkha people, who he claimed have been insulted by India. He said, India, by encroaching the Nepali border have hurt the sentiments of Gurkhas who have served and contributed in protecting the borders of India since ages. This has come as a shocker to not only the Indian government but also the people of India for whom ‘Gurkhas’ have been integral to their lives and livelihood. This is for the first time that the ‘Gurkhas’ who have a considerable presence in Indian forces have been referred to in the differences between Nepal and India.
So, what is it which is raging the Nepal government? Is it something other than just the border dispute?
Is it really the case that Nepal is taking a booster from China while it takes on India and challenge and blame it for the misadventures on the border which India claims as its “consistent position” while urging Nepal to refrain from “unjustified assertion and respect India’s sovereignty”.
Relationship between Nepal and India have been on a rocky path since 2015 after Nepal was devastated by a severe earthquake and the borders were sealed between the two countries due to Madhesi movement and urgent and important supplies were held on the Indian side of borders. Truck loaded with rations and important supplies could not cross the border. It was at that time Nepal had turned towards its another neighbour, China, which lapped this opportunity to expand its strategic geo-political base in the region.
What are the reasons for India’s assessment that the prime minister K P Oli has been emboldened after the Chinese played a key role in securing his leadership within Nepal’s communist party.
There have been many such incidents in the past for India to believe so. Since 2015 China’s
indulgences in the internal politics of Nepal has considerably increased and many a times china has been found mediating between the political parties. China has been accused indulging in the domestic political processes of Nepal. During April and early May PM Oli faced a challenge to his leadership which was mediated to by Chinese ambassador Hou Yanqi who separately met former prime ministers Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” and Madhav Nepal.
Recent border skirmishes, according to experts are not much of the causes of worry because almost 98 per cent of the border disputes between India and Nepal have been sorted out barring only the ‘Kalapani and Susta’ segments. But the worrisome parts are the diplomatic tussles in the name of border issues which in reality have reasons in the geo-politics with China.
China since has been spreading its infrastructural and diplomatic wings in Nepal and consolidating its strategic presence in the landlocked region. The involvement of Chinese on compassionate ground with Nepal and bartering with it the infrastructural requirement for the geo-political reasons is what is believed to be worrying India.
It is believed that benevolent overtures of china have suitably been exploited by Nepalis leaders to achieve their political ambitions. China on its part is happy to oblige and some political leaderships in Nepal is ready accept it in order to consolidate their local political base by playing anti India card. For this, whatever suits best is to arouse emotions which have long been the basis of core of India Nepal relationships like “Gurkhas”. Mentioning of “Gurkhas” is one such political rhetoric which might have a long-lasting effect on both sides of the borders.
The ties between India and Nepal have been too strong and too old to be taken for granted by any of the countries. It is time India stop playing big brother and shed the dogma that Nepal is its geographical and cultural extension.
Nepal on its part has to realise that India cannot be replaced as an ally by any other neighbour besides acknowledging the geo-strategical importance of India as a neighbour with which it has shared long cultural, religious and historical ties.
India and Nepal have shared much more than the border trade and cultural ties, these are also the people and their emotions which needs to be kept above any things else.
Statements like the one by PM Oli and reference of “Gurkhas” by Nepalese defence minister would definitely hurt the sentiments on both sides. It is time India take a lead and extends a hand to balm the pain if any, to soothe the hurt of its neighbour for the good of the people and the region.