Indo- Nepal border dispute and Indian anxiety
Within last few weeks Indian periphery in South Asia has seen heightened tensions, there was a skirmish or physical brawl between Indian and Chines troops along two spots on Indo China border,Indian Defence Minster inaugurated a road to Chinese border from India which Nepal objected to and India started announcing weather forecast for area in Azad Kashmir part administered by Pakistan.
As reported by the Nepalese newspaper the Himalayan Times, after the Indian government inaugurated a link road to connect India with Mansarovar of China via Lipulekh region, a Nepali territory, various youth organizations in Kathmandu staged protests to mount pressure on their government to take necessary steps to make India return the territory.
As the Nepalese government and netizens started objecting to Indian infringement on their territory, the internet was abuzz with trends like #HandsOffNepal and #IndiaGoBack.
Indian ministry of External Affairs was quick in responding and claiming that the road follows an existing route over which pilgrims travel to perform Yatra in Kailash Mansarovar (in China) and thus it was an Indian territory.
Many may not know that India has a historical and consistent record of such behaviour and creating border disputes with all its neighbors. As we have previously highlighted, India absorbed Hyderabad Deccan, Sikkim, Goa and Junagarh. It occupies part of Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland. It has fought wars with Pakistan and China and militarily intervened in Sri Lanka and Maldives. India has also stationed permanent forces in Bhutan, and has water disputes with Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan.
India has violated a number of treaties with its neighbors and has always deflected attention away from the opposing point of view through jugglery and Chanakyan tactics. The recent absurd Indian policy of including Pakistani administered Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir in weather bulletins is a case in point.
The Indo-Nepal treaty of 1950 is heavily tilted in Indian favour and because of her sheer size and military potential, India has violated it a number of times. Referring to Wikipedia comments, Nepalese law does not permit an open border, and Indians, by law, should not be able to buy lands and properties in Nepal or carry out businesses in their names. The 1950 treaty was signed by undemocratic rulers of Nepal and can be scrapped by a one-year notice. The treaty has been unpopular especially among Pahari segments of Nepal, who often regard it as a breach of its sovereignty.
Coming back to the Indo-Nepal row on the Lipulekh road issue, according to the Economic Times, “the genesis of the conflict is that the Kalapani region lies in a junction bordering three countries – India, Nepal and China. Nepal and India both claim this region as part of their respective territories; India as part of Uttarakhand and Nepal as part of Darchula district. Complicating the matter is the Sugauli Treaty - signed between the East India Company and Nepal in 1816 – which marks the Mahakali River as the western border of Nepal…While India maintains that the river begins in the village of Kalapani, Nepal claims that it begins from Lipulekh Pass. The contention here is that if the Mahakali river - considered the border between India and Nepal - had a different point-of-origin, the areas under the countries’ respective borders would be skewed.”
The article goes on to say, “If the river began at the point Nepal claims – the Lipulekh Pass – then the Kalapani river would stretch longer, thereby affording a lengthier border between India and Nepal and giving India’s neighbour rights over the area of Kalapani. Nepal claims that the Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani areas shown in India’s maps lie within its territory.”
The Indian attempt to nibble Nepalese territory may have far reaching consequences for Indo Nepal bilateral relations as well as Indian diplomatic credibility in South Asia as a peaceful neighbour.
India has not realized that thousands of Gorkhas serve in Indian Army and other services; like the Sikh soldiers who revolted against Indian army in 80s, these Gorkha soldiers could also feel resentment in their rank and file, and may decide to adopt the path chosen by Sikh officers and soldiers after Operation Blue Star.
India has repeatedly exploited mutual treaties and agreements with neighbors and Nepal is no exception. Almost all SAARC members, less Pakistan, have reluctantly cooperated with India because of its geographical centrality and coercive power. They may have to join hands to fight Indian aggressive posturing and arm twisting.
Why India has developed so much anxiety in the COVID 19 environment is not understood. When the whole world is focusing on fighting the menace of COVID, India has chosen a time to up the ante with three of its immediate neighbors. Is it related to mounting pressure on Modi government due to mismanagement of 140 millions of poor Indian migrant workers, some of whom are still marching hundreds of miles on foot to their homes, an economy in doldrums or a genuine security reason? Another reason for sabre rattling could be Indian tilt towards the US led coalition in the Indo Pacific and displaying it to the West that India could act as a counter balance against China.
Unfortunately the South Asian neighbors of India and even China have to live with it.