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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2428

India, Nepal Eminent Persons Reviewing 1950 Treaty

By Rattan Saldi - Syndicate Features

Of late Kathmandu is abuzz rife with reports that the Eminent Persons Group, EPG, has agreed to review the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship between India and Nepal. It has representatives from both countries. Set up in January 2016, the EPG term ends this July; its mandate is a review of the whole gamut of bilateral relations, including the 1950 Treaty. The group held its sixth meeting in New Delhi on the 13th of this month; they are likely submitting their recommendations after holding their seventh meeting in Kathmandu next month.

The hue and cry against the 1950 Treaty in Nepal is nearly three decades old, Communists and Maoists have exploited it from time to time to arouse public sentiment against India; they have even won elections on anti-Treaty rhetoric.

The clamour about the Treaty being infringement on Nepal’s sovereignty and territorial integrity was getting louder and louder over the years with demands for its review, amendment or even abrogation. India never opposed the demand; in fact New Delhi has been asking Kathmandu for specifics in the Treaty on which it has objections and wanted changes or abrogation.

Mainstream Nepalese Opposition, notably, Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, (CPN -UML) raised the issue formally for the first time as one of their main election campaign plank in 1994 snap polls to the Pratinidhi Sabha, (Lower House of Parliament). After the elections, it formed a minority government led by Manmohan Adhikari with the support of some fringe parties, ousting the Nepali Congress.

The UML government never gave a concrete proposal to New Delhi; Prime Minister Adhikari visited India in April 1995 and raised the Treaty issue and spoke of the need for review of other bilateral agreements. India responded positively. But he never followed up his talk with firm proposals.

The issue remained simmering during every regime that followed Adhikari’s. It reached a crescendo during the popular Jan Andolan against the Monarchy led by Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda.

Abrogation of the 1950 Treaty was a key element of Maoist charter of 40 demands. The Maoists also demanded abrogation of Integrated Mahakali Treaty (with India), regulation of the open border between Nepal and India, no entry to vehicles with Indian number-plates and end to Gurkha recruitment in the Indian army.

Yet, when the Maoists came to power soon after Nepal became a democratic Republic in 2008, Dahal’s criticism of India was blunted to a large extent as he realised the importance of keeping the Southern neighbour in good humour.

At the end of his first visit to New Delhi as Prime Minister, he remarked: “I am going back to Nepal as a satisfied person. I will tell Nepali citizens back home that a new era has dawned. Time has come to effect a revolutionary change in bilateral relations. On behalf of the new government, I assure you that we are committed to make a fresh start.”

A 22-point joint statement issued at the end of the visit, however, highlighted the need to “review”, “adjust” and “update” the 1950 treaty of Peace and friendship, amongst other agreements.

But neither Dahal, who was forced to resign in just a little over nine months (over dismissal of army chief) nor any other Nepalese government, formed in quick succession following his resignation, came up with any concrete proposals.

India, on its part, considered the heightened sentiments in Nepal against the Treaty. And when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kathmandu in August 2014, categorically assured his hosts that New Delhi was willing to revise the 1950 Treaty and was ready to consider any suggestions. A quick follow up was the setting up of the eight members EPG, four from each side.

The Treaty of Peace and Friendship was signed nearly seven decades ago on 31st July 1950 by Indian Ambassador to Nepal Chandreshwar Prasad Narain Singh and King Mohun Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana.

What is there in the Treaty that irks Nepal the most?

Well, most Nepalese claim it violates sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country in matters of defence and security. They also oppose it saying that it violates Nepal’s law by allowing free movement across the borders.

Strong criticism is also voiced against Article 6 and 7; these are related to the national treatment accorded to nationals of each other with regard to participation in industrial and economic development and grant of same privileges in the matter of residence, ownership of property, participation in trade and commerce, movement and other privileges of a similar nature. This puts the Least Developed Country (LDC) on the same footing with the emerging world economic power, aver sections of Nepalese.

Significantly, the national treatment promised to Indian nationals in the Treaty in matters of business and acquisition of property in Nepal is not available to Indian nationals while Nepali citizens are engaged in work and other activities in India on a par with Indian citizens.

The EPG has been discussing these issues as also matters pertaining to trade and transit, utilization of hydro resources, and open border management. Rajan Bhattarai, a member (from Nepal) of the Eminent Persons Group, said they (the EPG) have agreed to review the Treaty.

“The treaty will not remain the same. It will surely change but we cannot disclose at this moment what shape it will get. The Indian side too agreed not to retain it in its present form,” he said.

The 1950 Treaty, and other bilateral agreements like Mahakali Treaty and Trade and Transit Agreements form the bedrock of Nepal-India relations. As such carefully calibrated approach is necessary to devise a mechanism which would be acceptable to peoples of both countries.

Political and legal spectrum in both India and Nepal should discuss and analyse threadbare the EPG recommendations, as and when submitted, to generate a consensus so that any arrangement so devised could form basis of future relations between the two close neighbours. Sovereignty, territorial integrity, defence and security concerns of each other should receive the foremost consideration in any future Treaty or Agreement so that it holds ground for long, well, at least for the next fifty years.

- Asian Tribune -

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