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Nepal - India Relations

As a neighbor that shares an open border with Nepal, India has often looked at Nepal through a strategic geopolitical lens. India, of course, abhors the idea of Chinese involvement. To the north, the Himalayas constitute a natural and mostly impassable frontier, and beyond them is the border with China. To the south, east and west, Nepal is hemmed in by India. Without an outlet to the sea, Nepal has been dependent on India for international trade and transit facilities.

Nepal's parliament on 08 June 2020 voted on a constitutional amendment bill in a special session to update the country's map, which includes a stretch of land high in the mountains that India claims as its own. The House of Representatives opened the discussion on the amendment bill, which was put for voting after the deliberations were over. All the 258 votes were in favour and the house has a total strength of 275, so the amendment bill was passed. India continues to control the disputed territory, with Nepal highly unlikely to use any military means to press its point.

India, reacting to the new map, said this artificial enlargement of claims is not tenable. "We have noted that the House of Representatives of Nepal has passed a constitution amendment bill for changing the map of Nepal to include parts of Indian territory. We have already made our position clear on this matter," India's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.

The new map - made public in May 2020 - shows a sliver of land on the east of river Kali, jutting out from the northwestern tip of Nepal. The area includes the Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand and also Limpiyadhura and Kalapani, which are highly strategic areas which India has been guarding since the 1962 war with China.

While 98% of the boundary has been settled by the exchange of strip maps in 2007, two areas – Kalapani in Uttarakhand and Narsahi-susta in Bihar – continue to be disputed. The joint statement issued during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Nepal in 2014 had a substantial paragraph on solving these two disputes, with the two leaders emphasising the “need to resolve pending Nepal-India boundary issues once and for all”.

India has traditionally been more powerful and influential in Nepal than China, for both ethnic and geographic reasons. Southern Nepal’s Terai plains regions morphs into northern India, whereas Nepal and China are separated by the high peaks of the Himalayas. Relations between India and Nepal have gone through ups and downs, marked by persistent Nepalese fears of their southern neighbor’s hegemonic goals and India’s desire to have their say in Nepalese politics, diplomacy and economy.

In November 2005, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) and the seven-political-parties alliance (SPA) of Nepal reached a 12-point understanding to fight against the King’s direct rule and to restore democracy. This understanding was reached in New Delhi with India’s assistance and the Maoist leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Prachanda, made his first public appearance in 10 years there in June 2006. Indian Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh had made the rare gesture of congratulating Prachanda within an hour of his election as Prime Minister on 15 August 2008. The Indian government supported the Maoist-led government when it was established in August 2008.

India was Nepal's biggest donor of military hardware to the Royal Nepali Army, with helicopters, mine-protected vehicles, assault rifles and large quantities of ammunition.

Chinese analyst Dai Bing wrote in China.org.cn on February 8, 2010 "India has resumed military cooperation with Nepal, suspended in 2005. Under new agreements, India will train and share intelligence with Nepali forces. The Press Trust of India reported December 7, 2009 that India is to build an air base in Nepal and resume arms sales. The struggle between pro-India and pro-China forces in Nepal is at a critical stage and China needs to pay more attention to its interests there."

The iconic narrow gauge Janakpur Railway ran from Jainagar (just inside India) to Janakpur and on to Bijalpura. It was destroyed to make way for a broad gauge line financed by India to counter Chinese influence in the region. India is looking to build at least five new rail links with Nepal to boost economic links with the strategically located landlocked country which has no railway system of its own to boast of. One line linking Raxaul in India to Birgunj in Nepal has been operational since 2005. Two more lines under construction were expected to be completed by 2018.

The Nepal-India relationship witnessed some uneasy situations in 2015-16. Picketing of the Indo-Nepal border for five months in 2015 by ethnic Nepalese Madhesis created crippling shortages in Nepal. Severe disruption of supplies was imposed by the Indian side at Nepal-India border checkpoints following the promulgation of the Constitution in Nepal and citing agitations in Terai-Madhesh. This not only caused difficulties to normal life across the country but also badly affected provisions of basic social services in addition to economic and developmental activities.

Nepal-India border points witnessed severe disruption of supplies by Madhesis side resulting in the obstructions of supplies from 23 September 2015. This not only obstructed normal life across the country but also badly affected provisions of basic social services as well as economic and development activities. During this difficult situation, diplomatic efforts were concentrated on removing obstruction at the border points.

India supported the demands of the ethnic community for more representation in the country's new constitution, which created district borders in which the Madhesis were under-represented. Nepal's government termed the standoff an "unofficial blockade" by India. The Indian government denied it imposed any kind of blockade on Nepal.

The Government of Nepal continuously engaged with the Government of India at various levels and requested to ease the movement of vehicles at the border points. Nepal assured that the vehicles' security will be Nepal's responsibility once they enter into the Nepalese territory. The disruption of supplies by the Indian side continued for five months. Most of the border points became operational on 06 December 2015 while the main Raxaul-Birgunj border point came into operation on 06 February 2016.

The Rt. Hon'ble Prime Minister's State Visit to India was the main highlight of Nepal-India relations in 2012 and a major undertaking to bring Nepal-India relations back to normal course. A number of important agreements and understandings in transit, connectivity, energy and infrastructure were concluded during the visit. The Hon'ble Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Kamal Thapa undertook an official working visit to India within a week of assuming the office with the primary mission to ease the situation and promote bilateral relations. He visited India again with the same mission in November 2015.

The high optimism and enthusiasm created after the historic visit of the Prime Minister of India to Nepal in August 2014 continued to mark Nepal-India relations during the early months of 2015. There was general expectation that neighborhood first policy of the new Government in India would result in positive developments to bolster the age-old bilateral ties that would lead to a broader and deeper partnership for development as well as prosperity.

During the difficult time of the massive earthquake of 25 April followed by powerful 12 May 2015 aftershock, Nepal received generous help from the Government and people of India with extraordinary promptness reflecting the spirit of true friendship and fraternity. Within hours, the first Indian Air Force aircraft landed in Kathmandu with rescue team and relief materials. India sent several other aircrafts carrying relief goods, medical supplies and mobile hospital. Relief goods were also dispatched by road transport. Rescue teams and medical teams came to help save lives of people in dire needs. Generous support was also received from State Governments of India.

Various organisations and individuals from India immensely contributed to rescue, relief, and rehabilitation efforts of the Government of Nepal. Substantial contributions were received in Prime Minister's Disaster Relief Fund from private/ public organisations and individuals in India.

Maintaining a well-defined, clearly demarcated and precisely understood international boundary alignment is a critical component of smooth and cordial bilateral relations. Nepal-India joint boundary field works continued smoothly in 2015, making good progress. These works involved construction, restoration and repair of new, mislocated and damaged boundary pillars based on the agreed Strip Maps. Works started on mapping and preparing record of encroachment on No Man's Land and Cross Border Occupation as well as preparing GPS reference of boundary pillars.

Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli announced his resignation in July 2016. This came ahead of the no-confidence motion in parliament against him filed by major parties Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist), which was scheduled to be put to a vote. It is very likely that India was behind Oli's resignation because Oli had signed several deals during his State visit to China in March 2016, which most likely irritated India.

India and Nepal put diplomatic relations, frayed in the previous year, back on track during a visit to New Delhi by Nepal's new prime minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, popularly known as Prachanda. Prachanda's three-day trip to India in mid-Septembe, less than a month after he assumed office, was seen as an effort to re-balance ties after his predecessor had steered the tiny Himalayan country closer to its other neighbor, China. New Delhi, which has been concerned about Beijing's growing influence in the strategically located country, took the opportunity to woo Nepal back into its fold.

Three agreements signed on 16 September 2016 included a $750 million credit line in aid for reconstruction work relating to the deadly earthquake that devastated Nepal last year. Two others related to road projects. Discussions were also held on a long rail link from east to west Nepal and power projects.

Delhi invariably overplayed its hand, trying to forces Kathmandu to draft a Constitution for the country that would give a significant political role for the Madhesis, the Terai-region inhabitants of Nepal who are of eastern Uttar Pradesh-Bihar ethnic stock. They arranged a clumsy Madhesi blockade preventing essential supplies of food and fuel from reaching the interior of Nepal. This move turned the Nepali people against the Nepali Congress Party (NCP) government of Sher Bahadur Deuba, and the Oli regime took over.

India's concerns about Beijing's growing political clout in neighboring Nepal prompted Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to visit Kathmandu days before an alliance of Communist parties was set to take power. The alliance, backed by China, won a landslide victory in elections held in December. Swaraj's visit on 01 February 2018 was seen as New Delhi's outreach to Nepali leader Khadga Pradad Oli who is expected to head the new government.

"It [Swaraj's visit] speaks, it reflects a nervousness. That should have been done after he assumes the prime ministership," said Muni, pointing out that the visit would usually take place after the new government takes power.

Relations between the two countries had hit a low point during Oli's previous stint as Nepal's prime minister in 2015. Accusing New Delhi of imposing an economic blockade on the country, he had built friendly ties with China in a bid to reduce the landlocked country's dependence on India. China had pledged about $8 billion in investments in Nepal and has promised rail links between the two countries. In the run up to the election, Oli also promised to revisit the previous government's decision to scrap a $2.5 billion dollar contract with China for a hydroelectricity project.

Uunder the Unified Marxist-Leninist Party (UNMP), Prime Minister KP Oli made clear his intention to play India off against China to get the best deal for his country.

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Page last modified: 16-06-2020 19:30:20 ZULU