Author: Aman Kotecha
The recently passed constitutional amendment by the Government of Nepal has led to estrangement between the two governments. This can be seen in the recent pattern of India’s alienation with her close neighbours. The decision changed the national map by including the territories of Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh – a total of 335 square kilometres in area. The change can also be seen in the new national emblem released by the government last month.
This can ostensibly be presented by Nepal as a reaction to the creation of two union territories by India last year. However, this remains a reductive justification without taking into account the myriad other factors involved into play since the reorganisation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019. The relationship between India and Nepal can be traced by the Anglo-Nepalese war, which resulted in the victory of the East India Company. It saw the surrender of Nepalese territory to the company via the Sugauli treaty of 1815. The Treaty is often used as a reference by Nepal to authenticate its claims over the above mentioned territories.
Pursuant to the inauguration of the Kailash Mansarovar Road – a strategic 80 kilometre long stretch, there have been various calls for the ruling party of Nepal to step down. One might speculate as to how the domestic politics of such countries are often handled with an extreme nationalistic sentiment which is used for vote bank politics by the ruling parties. Succumbing to domestic pressure, government has taken this decision which seems to be on the verge of brinkmanship. This decision is being exploited by the regime to distract the population away from its ill-management of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Prime Minister has also been trivialising the matter by claiming that the “Indian Virus” is more fatal than the Corona Virus. Appealing to the people and government of Nepal to do away with such spiteful discourse, the Indian Defence Minister mentioned the “Bread and Bride” relationship that the two countries have always shared.
Achieving its goals, the Nepali regime has succeeded in bringing back a conception of Nepali nationalism where national identity can only be seen in opposition to a common enemy. Riding over its wave of vitriolic nationalism the Nepali regime has vehemently countered the attempt of a peaceful dialogue by the Indian Defence Minister by rupturing their historical “Bread and Bride” relationship by proposing an amendment to their citizenship law, which, if passed, will require a time period of seven years for the naturalisation of Indian women who marry Nepali men. Adding to this antagonism, India has asked Nepal to prevent its citizens from “illegally” visiting the Indian territory of Kalapani in a statement dated July 30, 2020.
However, recent years have laid out a comparatively warm and welcoming relationship between Nepal and China. The Belt and Road Initiative and the visit of the Chinese head of state to Nepal for the first time in twenty-two years has highlighted the growing Chinese interest in the country. Recently many schools in Nepal have made it compulsory for their students to learn Mandarin in schools. This highlights a different image of Nepal than what India views from its current lens. Various policymakers have also been expressing concerns regarding the deteriorating relationships with India’s neighbours. The geopolitical setup of South East Asia makes it difficult for India to maintain further its interests with its neighbours.
The Gurkha Regiment is a classic example of the long standing relationship that India and Nepal have shared. The stories surrounding the Gurkha Regiment trace back to Anglo-Nepalese war. The East India Company also recognised the Gurkhas as quality warriors and gave their valiance them the due recognition. Similarly, India has also dedicated a separate regiment in its army for the Gurkha soldiers. This however, depicts a different picture about the relationship between the two countries than the current turn of events. The older perspective of India to view Nepal as merely a fully dependent country and use of terminologies such as “India locked” needs to be removed and formulating new approaches to treat the bilateral relationship should be focused upon.
Nepal must prioritise a cordial relationship with historical partners over electoral politics. The Nepali Rupee is still pegged on the Indian currency and thus, subject to its volatility. While instances such as the recent shooting of Indian civilians by Nepal’s police forces may deter any talks and communications between the two but the sooner both countries engage in talks, the better the results will be. Both the countries need to revisit the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship and recall the obligations of mutual growth and security that they agreed upon. A perfect example of the long existing cooperation is an unrestricted movement of civilians between the two countries.
While analysing the relationship between the two countries, we’ve learnt the complexities that exist as well as the challenges which they might face in the near future. The countries need to rethink their new strategies and prevent escalation at the cost of straining years of good relations with the other nation. We might witness a more tense and hostile scenario between the two countries if the problem is not deciphered and resolved from either side as soon as possible.
(The views expressed by the author are his own)