by Hari Prasad Shrestha 23 May 2020
In his address to the House of Representatives, Prime Minister of Nepal, KP Sharma Oli, in response to the opposition lawmakers’ queries about the government’s annual policy and program, he remembered the motto of India’s state emblem, “Satyameva Jayate” (“Only truth triumphs”), and the four-head lion figure of the symbol. He then said, “I will certainly ask: will the truth really triumph? Or the lion?” He was referring to India’s dominating attitude by the ‘lion’ metaphor.
Nepal and India again involved in a war of strong words over a road constructed by India in Lipulekh Pass. On May 8, 2020, Indian Defense Minister Mr. Rajnath Singh inaugurated the road in Lipulekh, Kalapani, stating it a pilgrimage road to Kailash Mansarovar in China.
Which road passes through the Nepalese land of Kalapani, a disputed territory agreed by both the countries. Kalapani territory of Nepal, encroached by Indian security forces in 1962, is in the northwest border with India. It has an area around half of the Indian state of Sikkim, a country occupied by India.
Kalapani has been a military strategic point for India after the war with China in 1962, and now, this territory has been an important point for the trade route between India and China.
The Government of Nepal protested through a press release about the ‘inauguration’ by India of ‘Link Road’ connecting to Lipu Lekh (Nepal), which passes through Nepali territory.
The Government of Nepal has consistently maintained that as per the Sugauli Treaty (1816), all the territories east of Kali (Mahakali) River, including Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipu Lekh, belong to Nepal. This was reiterated by the Government of Nepal several times in the past and, most recently, through a diplomatic note addressed to the Government of India dated November 20, 2019, in response to the new political map issued by the latter.
Considering this development, the Government of Nepal calls upon the Government of India to refrain from carrying out any activity inside the territory of Nepal.
The Indian side pushed back on the Nepali concerns, saying that the disputed region was “completely within the territory of India.”
It may be recalled that the Government of Nepal had expressed its disagreement in 2015 through separate diplomatic notes addressed to the governments of both India and China when the two sides agreed to include Lipu Lekh Pass as a bilateral trade route without Nepal’s consent in the Joint Statement issued on May 15, 2015, during the official visit of the Prime Minister of India to China.
On November 2, 2019, India’s Home Ministry unveiled a new political map, placing Kalapani inside the Indian borders. After massive public outcry and four days after the Indian home Ministry released the political map setting Kalapani, a Nepali territory, inside the Indian borders after creating Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as its union territories, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nepal issued a press statement, objecting to the Indian move and asserting that Kalapani is an integral part of Nepal.
Countering it, on May 18, 2020, the Government of Nepal endorses a new political map placing Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura, occupied territory by India, within its border confirming those land under Nepalese territory.
Demonstration against Indian occupation of Kalapani, held in a different part of Nepal and abroad by Nepali diaspora. Some parliamentarian in Nepal said if it would have been countries other than Nepal, it was a situation of battle, and other said, instead of always disagreeing with India in these issues, they advised to fence with barbed wire or construct a wall between India and Nepal border. Recently, Nepal set up an Armed Police Force camp near the Kalapani border.
Prime Minister (PM) KP Sharma Oli has said the road India has constructed in the Nepali territory could be leased to India, but the land cannot be relinquished.
PM Oli invited top leaders of the political parties represented in the federal parliament and former PMs to discuss the Indian construction of the road through Lipu Lekh. PM Oli assured the leaders that the government would not relinquish the land to India, according to lawmaker of Nepal Workers and Peasants Party Prem Suwal.
As a boundary expert and former DG of the Department of Survey Nepal, Mr. Buddhi Narayan Shrestha has always been critical in this issue. He has a good knowledge of historical documents, Kalapani- the disputed territory between India and Nepal belongs to Nepal.
According to him, Limpiyadhura and Kalapani areas had five villages (Garkhas)– Kuti, Nabhi, Guni, Chhanru, and Tinkar. Among these five villages, India distributed citizenship certificates and Aadhaar Cards to the residents of Kuti, Nabhi, and Guji after it established its army camp at Kalapani in 1962. It has been learned that India has provided better opportunities and reservations in administrative, political, and educational sector jobs to the people of these three villages.
However, the available evidence suggests that these people are Nepalis. In the past, people from these three villages were registered as Nepalis during a national census in the 2018 BS. Noted journalist Bhairab Risal who in 2018 BS had served as a government representative for the census in Lipulekh, Limpiyadhura, and Kalapani areas, said the people there had Nepali citizenship certificates and used to pay land revenue to the Nepal government. They had paid land tax to the Baitadi-based Land Revenue Office. Nepalese have been restricted going to the territory west of Kalapani after the Indian army stationed there in 1962.
Moreover, Army Chief of India, General M M Naravane, said, “there is reason to believe” that Nepal’s recent objection was “at the behest of someone else,” hinting at China’s possible role.
Hitting back, Nepal’s President Bidhya Devi Bhandari asserted that “Lipulekh, Limpiadhura, and Kalapani are an integral part of Nepal and concrete diplomatic steps will be taken to reclaim them.”
Presenting her government’s policies and programs at a joint session of Parliament, Bhandari said they would issue a new political map incorporating these areas.
Meanwhile, a section of Indian scholars also lambasted the statement made by the Indian Army chief. Ashok Swain, a scholar of Peace and Conflict Research who is currently teaching at Uppsala University, Sweden, wrote on Twitter, “India should start to realize that Nepal is a country and it can have its own opinion! And, Army Chief should stop speaking like a BJP leader.”
Moreover, Kathmandu summoned India’s ambassador to the country to protest the inauguration of a road in the disputed area at Lipulekh.
In a statement, the Nepal Communist Party, the country’s ruling party, said the road construction “violates Nepal’s sovereignty.”
Due to lack of evidence, India is not interested to even talk with Nepal in this issue after Nepal requested several times to India. This time also India replied to talk with Nepal after the end of the Covid19 pandemic; however, Nepal refused this Indian proposal and asked India to talk immediately in this issue.
Not only this territory of Nepal but also another borderland of Nepal called Susta, in the southern border with India, has been invaded by India. Susta territory is an area under territorial dispute currently in Tribenisusta, Nepal, and near Nichlaul, Uttar Pradesh, India. The area under discussion totals over 14,000 hectares (140 km2) and is being controlled by India.
Engaging Beijing in the Kalapani conflict will not only provide valuable leverage against India, but it will also strengthen the new partnership and test the sincerity of Beijing’s commitment. Moreover, the threat of such a move alone might be sufficient to bring India into serious bilateral dialogue.
Nepal should not underestimate the security concern of India, and India also should not challenge the sovereignty of Nepal, by occupying Nepalese territories, in the name of security concern. It is well known that around 50000 Nepalese Gorkha soldiers are protecting Indian borders, and many Gorkhas are dying in the frontline of the war of India with other countries. If India refuses or delays in returning the land to Nepal, what would be the inner psychology of Nepalese Gorkhas in India? India must understand!
‘In 2015, then Nepal prime Minister Shushil Koirala raised the Kalapani issue with India prime Minister over a telephone conversation. India canceled his scheduled visit and imposed border blockade in 2015’, his foreign affairs adviser disclosed.
India’s Nepal border blockade in 2015 was counterproductive for India, as it escalated anti- India sensitivity in Nepal. Even India nationals and opposition parties in India also vehemently criticized the blockade.
India has sorted out border problems with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. However, it is reluctant with Nepal to solve border problems. Some leaders attach open borders between Nepal and India with bread and a daughter’s relation. Yet, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka also have millions of relatives and marriages between Indian nationals and vice versa. They do not need to keep their border open for free movements of people. And, these countries have strict restrictions in providing citizenship certificates and employments for Indian border people.
The general public, politicians, and elites in Nepal have started to openly criticize India and Nepal special relationships as India always violates it. They say that now it is the right time to think about breaking a special relationship with India. They argue Nepal should start to keep a distance from India by deciding unilaterally to protect its national interest and sovereignty systematically.
First, as India refused to accept the Eminent persons’ Group report for a long time, Nepal should make public this report and implement it unilaterally. Furthermore, Nepal must introduce smart cards in the border to monitor the movement of people with India and impose work permits for Indian workers in the capital city and big cities of Nepal. If necessary, Nepal should terminate the 1950 treaty unilaterally.
Some security experts in Nepal opined that Nepal should break unnecessary military activities with India by discontinuing tradition of conferring honorary general to each other’s army chiefs, lessening military exercises, minimizing military training, and curtailing procuring arms and ammunitions.
Additionally, in economic and social aspects, Nepal should restrict buying or impose quantitative restrictions on India manufacturing items and agriculture goods, which is negatively affecting Nepal’s production and productivity.
Chinas role could be significant in resolving this issue. China and India signed a joint statement during Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China in 2015. Under article 28 of the joint statement, it is written, “The two sides agreed to hold negotiation on augmenting the list of traded commodities, and expand border trade at Nathu La, Quingla/Lipu-Lekh pass and Siphki La.”
Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, in response to a question at a regular press briefing, recently said, “The issue of Kalapani is between Nepal and India. We hope the two countries will resolve their differences properly through friendly consultations and refrain from taking any unilateral action that may complicate the situation,” However, recent developments in the Lipulekh pass of the Kalapani region give a message of intent, and not just of India. China has shown it is not ready to compromise its multifaceted relations with India for Nepal’s benefit.
The internationalization of the issue would not be easy for Nepal as China has also been attached to the border road under disputed territory. In such circumstances, China may not be happy with Nepal’s endeavor to internationalize the Kalapani issue. Nepal must be cautious and well prepared before expanding this issue.