What is the India Nepal Border Dispute?
Why did it start? And who is right in India Nepal Border Dispute- India or Nepal?
The kind of close relations India and Nepal have shared historically has not been shared with any other country. Not only can Indians and Nepalese cross each other’s borders without a visa, but they can also reside and work in each other’s countries. But these relations have begun to sour over the past few days and years.
India Nepal Border Dispute is brewing between both countries. It has occurred for years and now is on fire.
This controversy surfaced within the Indian media when Nepal came out with its new map a few days ago. They came out with a new map of their country and within it, they included an area which they hadn’t earlier, the area which is under India’s control today. If you look at their new map, this area is a triangular-shaped disputed area in the northwestern tip of Nepal. This area is the easternmost tip of Uttarakhand. This entails an area of around 300 square kilometers.
And the northmost village/place is Limpiyadhura. The southeastern part of it is the Lipulekh pass. Gunji lies in the southwest and Kalapani in the south. So this area has been defined on the basis of these three places- Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh, and Kalapani
Nepal believes that this area rightfully belongs to Nepal whereas India believes it is India’s. Before we address the question of who is right and what the history of this land is.
First, I’d like to tell you that this controversy broke out due to two events which happened around 6 months ago.
The first event happened in November 2019. The Modi government released a new map of India, in which the region of Kalapani was claimed to be under India, which triggered the Nepal government.
Why did Nepal release New Political Map?
The second event happened on 8th May 2020, when the Indian Defense Minister inaugurated a new road. This road was around 80 kilometers along the India- Nepal border through this disputed area uptil Lipulekh. The purpose of this road was to aid the people on the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra as per claims.
Because above this disputed area lies Tibet, where the Kailash Mansarovar is situated. Before the construction of this road, the yatris had to go to the Kailash Mansarovar via Sikkim, It was a trek of 5 days. After the construction of this road, they will reach China’s border in a car, which will be followed by a mere 2-day trek. After the inauguration of this road, the Nepal government was upset as they believed that the Lipulekh pass comes under Nepal. And they also believed that if India had to construct this road, they should have consulted Nepal first and worked out an agreement before doing this.
In response to this, the external affairs ministry of India said that this area comes completely under the territory of India and therefore they did not hold a consultation with Nepal. This was not required because they had constructed a road within their own territory. But situations began to go from bad to worse when protests regarding this erupted in Nepal.
The Army chief on 15th May said :
The protests in Nepal were influenced by China.
This further upset the people in Nepal and then the Nepal government released this new map which brought the entire dispute to light.
So the question is:
Why is this disputed region actually disputed?
And which country does it rightfully belong to?
Come, let us go through its history first to know the India Nepal Border Dispute.
Our story begins in the 1800s, around two hundred years ago, when India was under British rule. The Britishers were trying to expand towards Nepal which was under a kingdom then- The kingdom of Gorkha. A battle took place between the Britishers and the Kingdom of Nepal which is called the Anglo Nepalese war of 1814. This battle raged for two years- until 1816- after which, a treaty was signed Treaty of Sugauli- to decide which areas would be controlled by the Britishers and which areas would be controlled by the Kingdom of Nepal. And how much area would be assigned to both the countries at that time?
What is in the Sugauli Treaty?
According to the treaty of Sugauli, Nepal lost its area of Sikkim and Darjeeling. That area was ceded to the Britishers. And two rivers were made use of to define the kingdom of Nepal. The western boundary of Nepal would be along the Mahakali river and the eastern boundary would be along the Mechi river. Even today, if you observe what the eastern and western boundaries of Nepal and India are then they are defined according to these two rivers. The Nepal- India border runs along the rivers. The problem arises at the Western border of Nepal- if you go along the Mahakali river.
Let me display a map for you- you will understand better
This is Uttarakhand and this is Nepal. The boundary had been defined by a red line in Apple maps.
When you zoom in, you will observe that this red line runs along the river. You can see how the entire India-Nepal border has been defined according to this river. As you go upstream, this river flows along. But the problem arises where the river splits into two. Actually, it would be incorrect to say that it splits. I am going upstream, So, this river actually comes from two sources.
Which source should be chosen to define the border?
Upon zooming in, you will notice that clearly, one source appears to be a proper river, and the second looks like a rivulet. Common sense suggests that the wider stream of water should be used to define the border as it is a proper river. So in the beginning, this is what the Britishers did. The thicker part of the river, which lies on the west was used to define the border.
In the maps drawn by the Britishers, the west river was used to define the border. And Nepal got this extra region. The map that you see onscreen was drawn by the Britishers in 1827.
And the British chose the west river to define the boundary in this map. That is, this extra triangular part which the controversy is about- went to the Nepal kingdom.
But the story is not so simple
Some years later, the Britishers realized that the extra piece of land that they had ceded to the Nepal kingdom. They needed it. This land held a lot of strategic importance because it would be useful while trading with China. So, some 30-40 years later, in the 1860s, the Britishers changed their maps suddenly with a lot of cunning.
Almost suddenly, they claimed the eastern river to be the boundary in their maps. So, in this map of 1865 that you see on the screen,
The eastern river was used by the Britishers as a boundary between British India and the Kingdom of Nepal. The Kingdom of Nepal did not have a problem with this at that time, because it was a small piece of land. And it wasn’t of much use from the perspective of Nepal. Almost no one lived there. It was extremely difficult terrain and only one path crossed through it- the pilgrimage route to reach Mansarovar.
So Nepal thought of letting it go as it did not make much of a difference to it. They let the Britishers control it. And that was considered as the border from then until India got its independence from the British rule. And the same border continued to be considered even after India became independent.
Why Nepal did not talk earlier about India Nepal Border Dispute?
Democracy came to Nepal pretty late. It became a democratic country in 1990. Before that, a monarchy was in power. So even the monarchs of Nepal did not talk about issue with this unofficial border. They kept this area out of Nepal while drawing their government maps. When tensions intensified between India and China in the 1960s, which ultimately led to an Indo-China war,then a military post was established by the Indian army in this area.
Permission was sought from the Nepal monarchy- which again, did not have a problem with this. They gave permission for this for the protection of India. And ever since then,there is a presence of the Indian army in this area and there are established Indian military posts. 1962 onwards, both India and Nepal have been showing Lipulekh and Kalapani in their respective maps.
But this is the first time that Nepal has shown the Limpiyadhura region in its map.The issue of this border dispute first reared its head in the 1990s when democracy came to Nepal. The democratic government was able to finally access the old historical papers to see how their monarchy defined their borders. And then they realized that this area should belong to Nepal. And ever since then, they have been defining this as a disputed area.
In July 2000, the former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ji and the then Nepali Prime Minister discussed this issue to solve the border dispute. They conducted a joint field survey to figure out where the exact boundary should be in the Kalapani region. But this agreement got clamped in the middle when India refused to withdraw its army presence from there. So discussions could not continue further.
In May 2015, India and China signed a trade agreement to use the Lipulekh pass as a trade route. And this is the point when the India and Nepal relations began to sour.
In 2015, the then Prime Minister of Nepal expressed his displeasure over the issue and showed objection.
He claimed that the Kalapani region came under the ambit of Nepal. He protested in relation to this against both India and China.
So the biggest question is:
who does this disputed area rightfully belong to- India or Nepal?
Nepal argues that the Sugauli treaty was the last treaty in which both sides were in agreement. After that, there has been no treaty in which both sides are in agreement. And so they would take the Sugauli treaty as a base and on that basis, this area should be theirs.
Because the treaty defines that their western boundary would be along the Mahakali river. And where this river is divided into two, it is clearly visible that the wider river is the Mahakali river and so this area comes under them
This border has been in use for decades by India. After the 1860s, this has been the unofficial boundary in use. Nepal could not object then because there was Monarch in the country.
However, democracy came to Nepal in the 1990s. Prior to that, the monarch ruled and he exercised his own will. The people’s will was never paid heed to. Now that they have democracy, why should they obey the monarch if he agreed to an unofficial boundary?
You’ve heard the entire history. Then,
Who deserves the land of Triangle?
If we go according to the Sugauli treaty, which states that the western boundary of Nepal would be defined according to the Mahakali river. So it is quite clear that where the river is divided into two, the western river is the bigger one. And that should be used as a boundary. So Nepal is right and Nepal gets inland back if we go legally. However, it is always better to go through the table talk and negotiation.
Moreover, The border between India and Nepal is for namesake. Indians and Nepalis can anyway cross the border without a visa or passport and can reside and work there.
One thing I do concede here is that the Indian government should have been more friendly with the government of Nepal. Talks about the construction of the road could have been held with Nepal prior to constructing it and that both countries would benefit from it. That the road was being constructed for their pilgrims of the Mansarovar, and that this place was also of strategic importance to them.
So an agreement could be reached together. And the problem of India Nepal Border Dispute should be solved soon.
But India Nepal Relation has gone this way
Some Indian politicians are saying that these Nepalis have been sold off to China. A friendship cannot be maintained among both the countries in this manner. And friendship is essential because Indians and Nepalis are so integrated with one another. Think about it- so many Nepalis are employed even in the Indian army.
I’d also like to talk about the point of China once. Some Indians say that the Chinese have bought over the Nepalis because the ruling party in Nepal at present is a communist party and since there is also a ruling Communist party in China. And it is being said that Chinese influence is being exerted on Nepal.
Why China has nothing to do with India Nepal Border Dispute?
First of all, when there was a trade agreement between India and China in 2015, regarding the Lipulekh region. Then Nepal had protested against both the countries. And India and China were forming relations with one another while Nepal was against both of them. And the second reason is that the opposition party in Nepal holds the same opinion regarding this issue that the ruling party adheres to. Almost all the parties there are united over this issue that they believe this area to be theirs.
So then, saying that China has influence over one party makes no sense. There is no logic to this.
In the end, I’d only like to say that
I hope that these two countries solve this issue through discussions. This is very important because the connection/relation between Indians and Nepalis is very strong and deep.