The Changing Bilateral Relations Between India and Nepal
By Atharva Nikam
This article mainly focuses on the bilateral relations between India and Nepal. Citizens of both countries have a lot in common and share significant strategic ties. Now, these relations are under strain and the article focuses upon how the status of these relations have changed. Various recent incidents are discussed in order to prove the author’s contention.
As a major force in the international arena, India shares strategic and significant ties with a lot of countries. Nepal is one of them. It is considered to be one of the most important and closest aides of India.
There are numerous reasons which justify such deep-rooted relations between the two and some of them are stated below. India and Nepal are neighbouring countries, and therefore have similar cultures and cultural history.
Apart from this, both the countries have Hinduism as their major religion, and therefore share similar religious beliefs. Along with all such similarities, India has also contributed immensely to the economic development of Nepal. During the last seven decades of economic cooperation between India and Nepal, there is virtually no important sector in which India did not support Nepal — be it the development of roads, railways, airports, education, health or power.
However, such strong and healthy relations are gradually changing. The bilateral relations that once were a symbol of unity have now become an issue at the international level, which need to be resolved at the earliest. The author considers three issues
First is the issue over the territorial dispute of the area ‘Kalapani’. This dispute arose when Nepal included this territory in their official map.
Second is the Prime Minister of Nepal, K.P. Oli, questioning the authenticity of the birthplace of Lord Ram. This occurred when the PM publicly stated that Lord Ram was born in Nepal and not in India.
The third issue relates to the growing influence of China over Nepal. China has been increasing its presence and influence over India’s neighbours for decades, trying to deteriorate India’s ties with its neighbouring countries. Let’s look at these issues in detail.
The ‘Kalapani’ Dispute
Kalapani is an area (approximately 372 square kilometres) in the Pithoragarh district under the control of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. This area lies on the border between India and Nepal. The place was named upon the river which flows through there called the ‘Kali’ river.
In the year 1816, a treaty was signed between Nepal and the East India Company, demarcating the border between India and Nepal. The treaty was known as The Sugauli Treaty, and according to Article 5 of the treaty, the Kali River was treated as the western border between the East India Company and Nepal.
The Sugauli treaty was expected to solve the disputes regarding the mentioned territory but it didn’t. There seems to be a major confusion over the name and origin of ‘Kali’ rives, which apparently gives rise to the present dispute.
It is to be noted that the Kali river is formed by the union of mainly two rivers i.e., The Kalapani river (originates from below the Lipulekh pas- which is an Indian territory) and the Kuthi Yankit river (originates from below the Limpiyadhura range — which is a Nepali territory).
Both of these rivers have been called the ‘Kali’ river on various occasions, the reason being that these rivers have changed their courses several times, giving rise to disputes regarding the origin of the river. Thus, one can observe that the dispute is mainly because of the varying interpretation of the origin of the river and its various tributaries that slice through the mountains.
Recently, in June, the Parliament of Nepal had approved a Constitutional amendment, which added the territory of Kalapani to their official map. In the lower house of the parliament, the bill was supported by all the 258 lawmakers who were present and who voted. In the Upper House of the Parliament, the bill garnered 57 votes and none against it. This move by the legislature of Nepal has brought life to such an old dispute.
Reflecting upon the move, India’s Ministry of External Affairs said Nepal’s artificial enlargement of claims is “not based on historical fact or evidence and is not tenable”. Apart from this, the Indian officials depicted revenue records dating back to the 1830s to demonstrate that the Kalapani area had traditionally been administered as part of the Pithoragarh district. Steps taken by the Nepal legislature have narrowed the scope of discussion regarding the said issue, and thus if this constitutional amendment receives the assent of the president, then the stance of Nepal would become inflexible.
Controversy Arising Over The Birthplace of Lord Ram
The Prime Minister of Nepal stirred another controversy when he publicly stated that Lord Ram was born in Nepal. He went on to state that the Real Ayodhya lies in Nepal and not in India. The exact statement was: “The place called Thori, near Birgunj is the real Ayodhya, where Lord Ram was born. In India, there is great dispute on Ayodhya. But there is no dispute in our Ayodhya”.
PM Oli caught everyone by surprise and received huge backlash for this statement not just from India but also from the citizens of his own country as well as by his party members. Such statements by public leaders of such stature harm the diplomatic ties between countries.
This statement has hurt the sentiments of Hindus, a majority in India as well as Nepal. Consequently, protests were seen in both countries. The Opposition party of Nepal, i.e., The Nepali Congress, stated that Prime Minister Oli has “lost the moral and political basis to govern” the country.
The Increasing Influence of China Over Nepal: A Cause For Concern
As we have observed till now, the bilateral relations between India and Nepal have changed tremendously over the years. Analysing the situation closely, it has to be noticed that relations worsened when the current Prime Minister of Nepal came into power. Since then, the influence of China over Nepal has increased tremendously.
The influence isn’t just political, or social, but it is also economic. China has started investing heavily in the development projects of the country. Currently, for Nepal, China is the largest source of investment and development aid. If one takes into consideration the fiscal year of 2015–16, China pledged $57 million (6.21 billion Nepalese rupees) for 125 projects, while India only pledged $18 million (1.94 billion Nepalese rupees). Thus, one can observe that “china subsequently pursued a policy of enhancing its influence in Nepal by consolidating its economic presence”.
It has also been alleged that the recent disputes which arose between India and Nepal might be a result of excessive Chinese influence. However, there is no direct evidence to prove the same, and therefore these might only be allegations. Though we can observe that China is gaining more ground for itself in the political arena of Nepal.
Recently, the Prime Minister of Nepal faced huge differences with his party members, and additionally, the coalition upon which the government was formed was also about to break down. China has directly shown its interest by sending an envoy to solve the situation which had arisen. In a series of meetings with the leaders of both the parties in the coalition, the Chinese envoy was successful in mediating the tensions between the parties saving the coalition from a breakdown. The power of persuasion that China now holds is what makes its growing influence over Nepal a cause of concern for the Indo-Nepal relationship.
The bilateral relations between India and Nepal are of huge importance and significance. Both the countries depend upon each other for various reasons. They share cultural and historical background. India has helped Nepal tremendously in terms of investment and development aid.
In 2015, when Nepal was hit by a disastrous Earthquake, India provided every type of assistance it could. Even in the year 2020, when the whole world was, and is facing a pandemic, India had supplied Nepal a huge number of essential medicines (approximately 23 tonnes), with an aim that it would help fight the virus.
Thus, we can observe that India has been helping Nepal for decades, and the support increases manifold when the country is going through hardship. Therefore, the author believes that such strong ties should not be weakened at any costs.
“India-Nepal ties are not ordinary, we are bound together by ‘roti-beti’, and no power in the world can break it”
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(The article has been written by Atharva Nikam, Student — B.A. L.L.B (Hons)., Maharashtra National Law University Mumbai. The author would like to extend their gratitude to Prof. Varada Sambhus for her constant guidance and support in this article.)