India and Nepal in For A Prolonged Standoff?
With both Nepal and India adopting tough postures on the
border issue, and with India suspecting the hidden hand of China in the
Nepalese stance, a prolonged stand-off between India and Nepal appears to be a
With a partisan media and intemperate politicos whipping up public sentiment in
both countries, fireworks on both sides of the divide are on the cards, making
it difficult for diplomats and their political masters to take a sober view of
the issue and have meaningful talks.
The Communist government in Nepal, led by Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli,
along with the opposition Nepali Congress, is to amend the country's
constitution to validate a new map of Nepal showing the disputed territories as
part of Nepal. The amendment is likely to be passed soon.
On its part, New Delhi has revised its earlier stand that talks could take
place after the COVID-19 crisis is solved. It is now asserting that there can
be no talks until a "positive atmosphere" is created. With India suspecting
that its arch rival China is behind Nepal's aggressive stance, chances of talks
with prospects of a rapprochement appear to be slim at this point of time.
Nepal has resurrected the issue at a time when China has been flexing its
muscles on the Sino-Indian border in Ladakh and also Sikkim, raising suspicions
in New Delhi of a coordinated move against India. But be that as it may, the
saving grace is that both Nepal and India have categorically stated that talks
alone can lead to a solution.
On May 30, the Nepalese Minister for Land Management, Padma Kumari Aryal, had
said that her government is "steadfast in reclaiming Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and
Lipulek." These places had been included in the new map the government had
published recently, she said.
"It has been proved by evidence and proofs that these territories belong to
Nepal. The Sugauli Treaty is the major evidence related to the border. It is
clearly mentioned in this Treaty that the river originating from Limpiyadhura
is the Kali (aka Mahakali) river which is the border river," Aryal said.
She pointed out that Nepal had prepared the map and carried out a survey of the
land in question before 2027 Bikram Samvat (or 1971 in the Gregorian calendar).
Aryal further said that the Nepalese Survey Department had gone to Limpiyadhura
and Kalapani in 2045 BS (ie: in 1989) for carrying out a survey in that area
but the team had to return after "obstruction by the Indian side." According to
the Minister, it was then stated that discussions would be held between the two
Meanwhile, on Saturday, the supposedly pro-Indian Nepali Congress (NC) decided
that its 63 members in the House of Representatives would vote in favor of the
allegedly pro-China communist government's proposal to amend the constitution
to legalize the updated map including (the disputed) Limpiyadhura, Lipu Lekh,
This should enable the amendment to get the require two thirds majority.
In its statement of May 9, India's Ministry of External Affairs said that it
would go for talks, but only after COVID-19 is tackled. But on May 20, it said
that the Nepalese leadership will have to "create a positive atmosphere for
diplomatic dialogue to resolve the outstanding boundary issues."
In this context Anil Giri of Kathmandu Post reported that Nepal's Ambassador to
India, Nilambar Acharya, has been having a "difficult time getting in touch
with any official at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs." According to
Giri, Ambassador Acharya has been attempting to either meet in person or hold a
phone conversation with Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and
Joint Secretary (North) Piyush Srivastava, who is in charge of the Nepal-Bhutan
desk, but to no avail.
According to Giri, New Delhi had not responded to the diplomatic note handed to
the Indian Ambassador by Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali on May 11 protesting
India's inauguration of the link road in Lipulekh.
India inherited the boundary with Nepal, as stated in the Treaty of Sugauli in
1816 signed by the Kingdom of Nepal and the East India Company which was then
ruling India. According to the Treaty, the Kali or the Mahakali river was the
boundary, with the territory to its East being Nepal, and that to its Wast
However, the dispute relates to the origin of the Mahakali river. Near Garbyang
village in Dharchula Tehsil of the Pithoragarh district of the Indian State of
Uttarakhand, there is a confluence of different streams coming from the
North-East from Kalapani, and North-West from Limpiyadhura. Early British
survey maps identified the North-West stream, Kuti Yangti, from Limpiyadhura as
But after 1857, the maps changed the alignment to the North Eastern stream Lipu
Gad. In 1879, it was changed to the North Eastern stream Pankha Gad, thus
defining the origin as being just below Kalapani.
Former Indian Ambassador to Nepal, Rakesh Sood, writing in The Hindu said that
Nepal accepted the change and India inherited this boundary when the British
left in 1947.
'The Maoist revolution in China in 1949, followed by the takeover of Tibet,
created deep misgivings in Nepal, and India was 'invited' to set up 18 border
posts along the Nepal-Tibet border. The Western-most post was at Tinkar Pass,
about 6 km further east of Lipulekh. In 1953, India and China identified
Lipulekh Pass for both pilgrims and border trade. After the 1962 war,
pilgrimage through Lipulekh resumed in 1981, and border trade, in 1991," Sood
"In 1961, Nepalese King Mahendra visited Beijing to sign the China-Nepal
Boundary Treaty that defines the zero point in the west, just north of Tinkar
Pass. By 1969, India had withdrawn its border posts from Nepalese territory.
But the base camp for Lipulekh remained at Kalapani, less than 10 km west of
Lipulekh. In their respective maps, both India and Nepal showed Kalapani as the
origin of Mahakali river and as being part of their territory."
The Indo-Tibetan Border Police has been manning the Lipulekh Pass.
The issue of the origin of the Mahakali river was first raised in 1997. The
matter was referred to the Joint Technical Level Boundary Committee that was
set up in 1981 to re-identify and replace the old and damaged boundary pillars
along the India-Nepal border. The Committee clarified 98% of the boundary,
leaving behind Kalapani and Susta (in the Terai) as being unresolved. It was
subsequently agreed that the matter would be discussed at the Foreign Secretary
However, India's project to convert the 80-km track from Ghatibagar to Lipulekh
into a hardtop road began in 2009 without any objections from Nepal, Sood
On November 2, 2019, the Survey of India issued a new political map (eighth
edition) to reflect the change in the status of Jammu and Kashmir as two Union
Territories. According to Sood, Nepal registered a protest, though the map in
no way changed the boundary between India and Nepal.
On November 8, the ninth edition was issued. Sood says that the delineation
remained the same but the name Mahakali river had been deleted.
"Predictably, this led to stronger protests, with Nepal invoking Foreign
Secretary-level talks to resolve issues. The controversy re-erupted on May 8,
when Defense Minister Rajnath Singh did a virtual inauguration of the 80-km
road. Subsequently on May 15, the Indian Army Chief, General M.M. Naravane,
alleged that "Nepal may have raised the issue at the behest of someone else."
Nepal retorted angrily and promptly produced a new map of Nepal, "based on the
older British survey showing the Mahakali river originating from Limpiyadhura
in the north-west of Garbyang. On May 22, a constitutional amendment proposal
was tabled to include it in a relevant Schedule. The new alignment adds 335 sq
km to Nepali territory."
According to Sood, this territory has never been reflected in a Nepalese map in
the last 170 years.