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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 75

India Nepal Fresh Row over Kalapani

By Rattan Saldi - Syndicate Features

On 20 May, Nepal issued its new political and administrative map showing about 335 kms of Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand as its sovereign territory. This area is situated at the tri-junction of India-Nepal-China. It borders the far western Dharchula district of Nepal with River Kali, also called Mahakali River forming the liquid border between India and Nepal. The Dharchula on the Indian side is a major trading centre for the trans-Himalayan trade routes since medieval times.

The new map was approved by the K.P. Sharma Oli cabinet on 18 May. It shows Kalapani area including Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura as Nepalese territory, embroiling the Himalayan nation thus in a territorial row with India. Because Kalapani is part of Indian Territory in the map New Delhi had issued last November after the re-organization of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union territories.

“My government is in touch with China,” Oli told Nepalese Parliament on 19 May. And declared: “Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipulekh are parts of Nepal and we would get them back at any cost.” He blamed India for the spread of Covid-19 in Nepal saying that the virus was more acute in the people returning from India than from China or Italy.

Nepal is not unaware of the Indian position on Lipulekh in particular and Kalapani in general. So also China, which in May 2015, agreed with India on expanding border trade at Lipulekh pass.

Moreover India’s plan to build a road through the area to provide good connectivity to Manasarovar has been in public domain for over a decade. If Kathmandu has any objections, it could have articulated them a long while ago. It did not. Incredibly, Oli government has hit upon high decibel protests after the road was thrown open. And is invoking the two century old Sagauli treaty to rebuild its case.

The Sagauli treaty was signed after the Anglo-Nepal war between Nepal and the British East India Company on 2 Dec 1815. It was ratified three months later. Primarily, the treaty decreed that all territories west of River Kali formed part of India and the land mass on the East side remained with Nepal.

Article 5 of the Sagauli Treaty reads “King of Nepal renounces for himself, his heirs and successors all claim to the territories lying to the west of river Kali and engaged never to have any concern with the appointed rulers of these territories or inhabitants thereof.” Thus, River Kali became the liquid border between India and Nepal near India-Nepal-China tri-junction.

Furthermore, the Mahakali Treaty signed by India and Nepal on 12 Feb 1996 recognizes in its preamble that “the Mahakali River is a boundary river on major stretches between the two countries.” This accord seeks to develop Tanakpur Barrage and the Pancheshwar Hydro-power project, both in Nepal. The Communists supported the ratification of the Treaty when Nepali Congress (NC) was in power in Kathmandu.

Cut to May 2015 visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to China. End of the visit joint statement emphasised on enhanced border area cooperation through trade, pilgrimage and other exchanges. Both sides also agreed to expand border trade at Nathu La, and Shipki La besides the Qiangla/Lipulekh pass.

This is the backdrops to the 80 km long road along the traditional route from Dharchula to Lipulekh pass. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh declared open the road on May 8 to ease the flow of trade to Tibet and pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar. Frankly there is no denying the strategic importance of the road. It facilitates speedier movement of military personnel to the border to meet any exigency.

This road link, as also the 2019 India map have sparked off protests in and outside parliament in Nepal. Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali raised the issue with India at the diplomatic level.

The response from New Delhi was in a matter of fact tone. Said the Foreign Office spokesman: “The road lies completely within the territory of India. It follows the pre-existing route used by Kailash Mansarovar pilgrims. The same road has been made pliable for ease and pilgrims, locals and traders.’

India has, however, shown willingness to hold talks with Nepal once both countries push aside the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, Foreign Secretary level talks are long overdue. This annual dialogue is institutionalized. It could not materialize this year due to various reasons.

Admittedly, the Kalapani controversy cannot be wished away. Its genesis can be traced to the Sagauli Treaty itself, which, while accepting Kali River as the border, was silent about the origin of the river as such. On its part Nepal cannot gloss over the reality that the territorial maps issued by the Surveyor General of British India clearly defined Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura as Indian territory.

Observers of all hues aver that the strong statements by Prime Minister Oli have much to do with domestic politics. Ultra-nationalism has been his plank for a while - to hoist himself on the Nepalese scene earlier, and now perhaps to save himself from the threat to his leadership from within his ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP).

Oli has taken exception to Indian Army Chief Gen M. M. Narayane’s remark that Nepal’s objection to the Lipulekh link road was “at the behest of someone else”. But what about his own admission on the floor of Nepal Parliament that his government was in touch with the China over the issue.

Considering their age old ties and excellent bilateral relations, it would be prudent for both India and Nepal to strive to activate the existing mechanisms and use diplomatic channels to resolve the territorial issues amicably. The sooner it is done the better it would be for both countries. On its part, India cannot remain complacent over Nepal’s new cartographic exercise, and Kalapani issue.

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- Asian Tribune -

India Nepal Fresh Row over Kalapani
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