A Lowdown on the Indo-Nepal Tensions

Nepal’s House of Representatives on Saturday unanimously passed a Constitutional amendment revising the map on its coat of arms to include three areas of Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura that India later in the evening asserted were part of its territory. What triggered the recent wave of protests among the media, public and political elite in Nepal was first, the publication on November 2, 2019, by the Survey of India, of a new political map — eighth edition — after the change of status of J&K followed by the ninth edition on November 8.

The boundary delineation in both maps was similar, except that from the November 8 map, the Kali River’s name was deleted. This was reason enough for a highly emotional border issue to blow up. After the map misstep, Nepal asked for foreign secretary-level talks — sent three notes on November 20 and 22 and December 30 — but, according to Kathmandu, got no response from India. Second, even as the offending map issue was simmering, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, on May 8, virtually inaugurated the blacktop road connecting the pilgrimage route to Kailash Mansarovar and ancient trading point with China with Lipulekh Pass, claimed by Nepal as part of the disputed triangle of territory consisting of Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh Pass and Kalapani.

India should have let things remain undisturbed, even though the road has been under construction for more than a decade and Nepal has never objected to it. The road threw a lifeline to Oli, cornered by his party for misgovernance, political excesses, and arrogance. His SOS on May Day to China ensured he retained his party and government’s leadership.

On May 8, the controversy resurfaced when Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated a road from Dharchula in Uttarakhand to the controversial spot of Lipulekh. On May 11, Nepal issued a diplomatic note on the road to Ambassador Vinay Kwatra in Kathmandu and a similar note to the MEA in New Delhi. According to Nepal, diplomatic notes were not acknowledged. India did respond later, saying that talks could be held after the COVID emergency.

A conversation between the foreign secretaries was necessary to cool tempers while formalizing formal dates for talks. As the tensions mount at the Indo-Nepal border, reports suggest that China and Pakistan have been instigating Nepal to take action against India. Reportedly, Phanindra Nepal, leader of Unified Nepal National Front has been meeting with officials of the Pakistan and Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu for the last few months. China is looking to create trouble for India by provoking its neighbors. Both China and Pakistan are planning to open another front by provoking Nepal against India. The map row broke after India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated a road till Lipulekh which Nepal claims is its own territory.

On June 12, one Indian national was killed and two others were injured due to indiscriminate firing by the Nepal police at the India-Nepal border. The incident happened when the Nepalese Armed Police Force (NAPF) opened fire during an altercation killing one Bikesh Kumar Rai and injuring 3 other Indian nationals. One Indian was also taken into custody by the Nepali forces. While speaking to media, an eyewitness named Saroj claimed that Nepalese police dragged Lagan Kishore, the person who was detained by Nepal’s security personnel after the firing incident near India-Nepal border and was later released, into their territory from India.

Making an overture to Nepal, which is angry with India for making a road to Lipulekh Pass, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday said “if there is any misunderstanding among citizens of Nepal we will resolve it through talks; we will sit down and resolve it”. “Relations between the two nations are not ordinary, it is ‘roti-beti ka Rishta’, he said. “No power in the world can break it,” Singh said in an obvious reference to China’s growing proximity to Nepal.

On the Dharchula-Lipulekh road, he said, “The 80 km road is in Indian territory; however, in Nepal, there is a misunderstanding over this,” Singh said. “India and Nepal not only have social, cultural, historical, and geographical relations, but we also have spiritual relations. How can we forget Baba Pashupati Nath”, he said referring to the temple by the same name in Nepal. “Can anyone delink Pashupati Nath, Kashi Vishwanath, and Somnath from Amarnath? The link between India and Nepal is of a ‘different world’, no one can change the link despite wanting to do it. Indians cannot have any ill-feeling about Nepali citizens,” Singh said. The Dharchula-Lipulekh road leads to Mansarvaor (lake in Tibet), an important Hindu pilgrimage site, and reduces travel time by six days.