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GS-II: International Relations (India’s Neighbors, Foreign Policies and Developments affecting India’s Interests)
Nepal-India relations are deep, wide-ranging, and unique, but also fraught with complexities. Much of the complexity stems from the fact that the political leadership handles only a small part of this very important bilateral relationship. Discuss 15 marks
Dimensions of the Article:
- Political History of Nepal
- Evolution of India-Nepal relations
- Significance of Nepal for India
- Divergence between India and Nepal relations
- Way forward
Political History of Nepal
- Ancient India: The relation between India and Nepal goes back to the times of rule of the Sakya clan and Gautama Buddha. Initially, Nepal was under tribal rule and only with the coming of Licchavis rule in Nepal did its feudal era truly begin. Feudalism in Nepali society owes its origin to Licchavis.
- Medieval History: From 750 to 1750 AD was a period when Nepal came under Newari rule and they consolidated their presence in Kathmandu. This time period also saw a shift from Buddhism to Hinduism in Nepal and witnessed widespread cultural diffusion.
- From 1700 to 1951: The early 1700s witnessed a change in the Nepalese power structure. The subsequent period witnesses both monarchical and prime ministerial rule.
- From 1951 to 1959: In 1951 election Nepali Congress Party won the election and struggled for getting the power. In 1959, the confrontation between the king, Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah, and the NC reached a level where the king declared NC as corrupt, removed it from power and subsequently installed a party-less Panchayat system.
- From 1959 to 1990 (Party Less Panchayat System): This system was such where people would elect their representatives, but actual power would be wielded by the King. Thus, a highly centralised rule began from 1960. The period of party-less Panchayat System witnessed protests from NC and other sections of society.
- 1ST Jan Andolan:
- A new government was formed under Nepali Congress.
- Anti-India Movement: In 1994, the Unified Marxist Leninist Party (UML) tried to generate an anti-India feeling in Nepal. The UML began to assert that the NC is in reality controlled by Congress party of India. This led to a perception amongst the Nepali people about India’s control and interference over Nepal and its internal affairs through the NC. The anti-India plan worked in favour of UML and they succeeded in capturing power.
- Maoism in Nepal: Civil unrest gave the space to Maoist Movement in Nepal. The Maoist movement in Nepal became fully manifested by 2005. Perceiving the unrest and violence in society, King Gyanendra dissolved the Parliament again.
- 2nd Jan Andolan: 2006 Peace Accord:
- End of all violence
- Rewrite constitution again
- Conducting Fresh Election
Issues related to formation of the Nepali Constitution:
- Presidential vs Parliamentary form of Govt: Maoists favoured the Presidential system while others favoured Parliamentary system.
- Issues related to Federalism: Maoists favoured ethnic federalism while others rejected the idea.
- Madhesis issues: Madhesis are people living in South of Nepal in the region of Terai. They are people living close to the border of India. The Madhesis have always been discriminated against by Pahadis or the people living in the upper reaches of Nepal.
Evolution of India-Nepal relations
- As close neighbours, India and Nepal share a unique relationship of friendship and cooperation characterized by open borders and deep-rooted people–to–people contacts of kinship and culture. There has been a long tradition of free movement of people across the borders. To add up the formal flavour to such historic relations, the two countries established diplomatic relations on 17 June 1947.
- The India–Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950 forms the bedrock of the special relations that exist between India and Nepal. Under the provisions of this Treaty:
- Indo–Nepal national treatment, their citizens are empowered to the same privileges for property, trade and residence and movement in both countries. That means, a Nepali citizen can buy property in India while and Indian citizen can do so in Nepal if he/she so chooses. Also, an Indian citizen can reside anywhere in Nepal and a Nepali citizen too enjoys the right to residence in India under national treatment.
- Movement of Goods: The Treaty has allowed Nepal to overcome the disadvantages of being a land–locked country.
- An open border between the two countries.
- Allows Nepali nationals to work in India without a work permit, to apply for government jobs and the civil services (except for the IFS, IAS, and IPS) and also to open bank accounts and buy property.
Significance of Nepal for India
- Strategic importance: Nepal is a buffer state between India and China.
- Internal security: Nepal shares a long open border with India. There is alleged link between Naxalites and Maoist in Nepal.
- Socio-economic development of bordering states especially Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
- To counter terrorist activities close to border areas: Many hard core terrorists had been apprehended in Nepal close to India’s border.
- Nearly 30 lakh Nepalis (some 10 per cent of Nepal’s population) are employed in India; this includes some 50,000-60,000 soldiers.
- Disaster management: India can cooperate with Nepal by constructing dams on rivers which flow from Nepal to India. It will address the flood in Gangetic plain specially in Bihar.
- Hydroelectricity: Nepal has huge potential of hydroelectricity, which will fulfil the energy demand in India. Nepal is an upper riparian state and has a hydropower generation potential of around 80,000 Megawatts power. However, it has installed a capacity of around 800 Megawatts only. On an average, 15 to 18 hours of power cuts are common throughout the country.
Areas of cooperation between India and Nepal
Trade and economy:
- India is Nepal’s largest trade partner and the largest source of foreign investments, besides providing transit for almost the entire third country trade of Nepal.
- Nepal being a landlocked country, it is surrounded by India from three sides and one side is open towards Tibet which has very limited vehicular access. India is looking to develop the inland waterways for the movement of cargo, within the framework of trade and transit arrangements, providing additional access to sea for Nepal calling it linking Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) with Sagar (Indian Ocean).
- Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA):
- In June, 2015, the four SAARC nations, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) concluded a sub-regional MVA for regulation of passenger personnel and cargo vehicular traffic.
- The MVA will not only facilitate economic development and integration of the region but will simultaneously facilitate seamless movement of goods and people amongst the four signatory states. The governments will boost regional connectivity.
- Government of India provides development assistance to Nepal, focusing on creation of infrastructure at the grass-root level. The areas assistance include infrastructure, health, water resources, and education and rural & community development.
- Bilateral defence cooperation includes assistance to Nepalese Army in its modernization through provision of equipment and training.
- There have been initiatives to promote people-to-people contacts in the area of art & culture, academics and media with different local bodies of Nepal.
- India has signed three sister-city agreements for twinning of Kathmandu-Varanasi, Lumbini-Bodhgaya and Janakpur-Ayodhya.
Divergence between India and Nepal relations
India Nepal Border Issue:
- Treaty of Sagauli, 1816: The British and Nepal, after the Anglo–Nepal wars in 1814, concluded the Treaty of Sagauli in 1816. The Treaty of Sagauli was not signed by the King and thus led to troubles in later times but the Treaty established Mahakali River as a dividing line in the Western sector.
- Open Border: After Independence, India continued with the tradition of an open border and it was noted under the Indo–Nepal Friendship Treaty of 1950.
- The open border has helped domestic Nepalese people to take advantage.
- The people of Nepal, through the open border, also entered into India for economic opportunities.
- The Nepalis who come to India for work are well accepted in India and are not treated as aliens.
- Nepali citizens have important contribution in India’s security setup as well.
Recent Territorial dispute
- Nepal’s Parliament cleared a Constitution Amendment Bill that endorses the country’s new map that includes territories with India — Limpiadhura, Lipulek and Kalapani.
- The map is in retaliation of Nepal’s objection to construction of road by India from Dharchula to Lipulekh in Uttarakhand. This road connects close to the Line of Actual Control and opens a new route for Kailash Mansarovar yatra via Lipulekh pass. This will help pilgrims to avoid dangerous high-altitude routes through Sikkim and Nepal.
About Indo-Nepal Territorial Dispute:
- The disagreements between India and Nepal over the border dispute is over the regions which includes Kalapani, Lipulekh, Limpiyadhura (all three in Uttarakhand) and Susta (Bihar).
- Kalapani area is the largest territorial dispute between Nepal and India consisting of at least 37,000 hectares of land in the High Himalayas.
- It is located in the easternmost corner of Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district.
- It is a tri-junction between India, China and Nepal which is of strategic significance in South Asian diplomacy.
- Susta in Bihar is on the banks of River Gandak. The changing course of River Gandak often created issue between two countries.
- Nepal considers the 1816 Treaty of Sugauli (signed between Gurkha rulers of Kathmandu and the East India Company) as the only authentic document on boundary delineation. Under the provisions of the Sugauli Treaty, Nepal lost Sikkim, Kumaon, Garhwal and Western Terai (Flat) area. River Mechi became the eastern border with India while the river Kali (called Mahakali in Nepal) was demarcated as the north-western border.
- The Treaty of Sagauli also defined Gandak as the international boundary between India and Nepal.
- Nepal considers the source of Kali river near Limpiyadhura, which is higher in altitude than the rest of the river’s flow. Thus, all the three areas Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani are considered to the east of the river Kali.
- India on the other hand says the border begins at Kalapani which India says is where the river begins.
- Kali originates in springs well below the Lipulekh pass, and the Sugauli treaty does not demarcate the area north of these streams.
- Administrative and revenue records going back to the nineteenth century show that Kalapani was on the Indian side.
- India has controlled this territory since 1950s and built other infrastructure here before, besides conducting its administration and deploying military forces up to the border pass with China.
- China in 2015 statement also recognised India’s sovereignty over the area by agreeing to expand trade through the Lipulekh pass.
Issues in settling border dispute between India and Nepal
- China factor: The recent political map issued by the Nepal Government is seen to be the influence of China due to the two Communist governments and emerging close relations between them.
- China opening port facilities to Nepal and providing access to Trans Himalayan Railway reduces Nepal’s dependency on India and reduces the leverage that India has with the Nepal to settle the dispute.
- Interpretation of the boundary: The dispute is mainly because of the varying interpretation of the origin of the river and its various tributaries that slice through the mountains.
- Big Brotherly attitude: India’s Big Brotherly attitude towards Nepal has created a sense of insecurity in the Nepalese government and its citizens and any settlement would be seen as a weakness.
- Nepal internal politics: also pose problems as political parties flip from pro-India positions to anti-India positions.
Nepal-China Connectivity Deal
China and Nepal signed agreements for all-weather road connectivity between Kathmandu and the Tibet Autonomous Region under the Trans-Himalayan Multidimensional Connectivity Network.
Reasons behind Nepal’s growing proximity with China:
- Dependency on India– Because of its geographical constraints, Nepal has found itself heavily reliant on India, never acquiring the comparative advantage to increase exports.
- Negative perception about India- formed owing to following events:
- Nepal’s reservations towards India, due to the perceived treaty-based unequal treatment, the open border has always been a crucial area of contention.
- India’s delay in implementation of various projects in Nepal more so vis-a-vis China and its implementation of agreed-upon projects. E.g. Mahakali agreement has remained without start for over two decades.
- Potential benefits from China– Nepal’s need for China far outweighs any potential challenges in the Sino-Nepal relationship.
- Nepal views the Chinese railway as an opportunity to bring Chinese pilgrims and tourists to Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, and to the popular valley of Pokhara.
- The Chinese railway can help enhance Nepal’s overall economic capacity.
- Ideological basis– The communist parties in Nepal have favoured and consistently protested against India. This time around the Nepali Congress also favoured them.
Possible implications of the Nepal-China Connectivity deal for India
- Erosion of buffer state– In the case of an India–China war, it is uncertain whether Nepal will take India’s side as per the spirit of the 1950 treaty.
- Effect on other neighbours– including Bhutan, which also has faced similar circumstances with both India and China.
- Impact on regional groupings– Growing China-Nepal relations may become a hurdle in regional groupings like BIMSTEC in which Nepal holds a significant voice.
- Nepal cannot dispense with its reliance on India. India is and will remain vital for the country in many ways. However, India’s strategy to keep Nepal’s engagement with China to a minimum is no longer a viable option.
- India must introduce new economic, developmental and infrastructure initiatives with Nepal that will not only bring tangible benefits to Nepali citizens but also address the vulnerabilities that will emerge in Nepal as the country engages with China.
-Source: The Hindu