The Republic of India and Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal initiated their relationship with the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship and accompanying secret letters that defined security relations between the two countries, and an agreement governing both bilateral trade and trade transiting Indian Territory. The 1950 treaty and letters exchanged between the Indian government and the Rana rulers of Nepal, stated that “neither government shall tolerate any threat to the security of the other by the foreign aggressor” and obligated both sides “to inform each other of any serious friction or misunderstanding with any neighboring state likely to cause any breach in the friendly relations subsisted between the two governments.” These accords cemented a “special relationship” between India and Nepal. The treaty also granted Nepalese, the same economic and educational opportunities as Indian citizens in India, while accounting for preferential treatment to Indian citizens and business compared to other nationalities in Nepal. The Indo-Nepal border is open; Nepalese and Indian nationals may move freely across the border without passport and visas and may live and work in government institutions in Nepal, while Nepalese nationals in India are allowed to own land properties or work in government institutions, although there are some exemptions. After years of dissatisfaction by the Nepalese government, India in 2014, agrees to revise and adjust the treaty to reflect the current realities. However, the modality of adjustment hasn’t been made clear by either side.
The territorial disputes of India and Nepal include Kalapani at India-Nepal-China tri-junction on Western Nepal and Susta in Northern Nepal. Nepal claims that the river to the west of Kalapani is the main Kali River hence the area should belong to Nepal. But India claims that river to the west of Kalapani is not the main Kali River, and, therefore the border there should be based on the ridge lines of the mountains Om Parvat to the East of the river. The river borders the Nepalese province of Sudurpashchim and the Indian state of Uttarakhand. The Sugauli treaty signed by Nepal and British India on March 4th 1816 locates the Kali River as Nepal’s western boundary with India. Subsequent maps drawn by British surveyors show the source of Boundary River at different places. This discrepancy in locating the source of the river led to boundary disputes between India and Nepal, with each country producing maps supporting their claims. Indian government, however, from 1962 onward, forwarded the argument that the border should be based on the ridge lines of the mountain Om Parvat. The Kali River runs through and area that included a disputed area of about 400 km2 around the source of the river although the exact size of the disputed area varies from source to source. The dispute intensified in 1997 as the Nepali government considered a treaty on hydro-electric development of the river. India and Nepal differ as to which stream constitutes the source of the river. Nepal has reportedly tabled an 1856 map from the British India office to support its position. Kalapani has been controlled by India’s Indo-Tibetan border security forces since Sino-Indian war in 1962. In 2015, the Nepalese parliament objected an agreement between India and China to trade through Lipulekh pass, a mountainous pass in the disputed Kalapani area, stating that the agreement between India and China to trade through Kalapani violates Nepal’s sovereign rights over the territory. Nepal has called for the withdrawal of the Indian border forces for Kalapani area.
The first step for demarcating Indo-Nepal border, survey teams from both countries locates and identified the missing pillars along the border, and, an agreement was reached to construct new pillars in some places. According to the Nepalese government estimates, of the 8000 boundary pillars along the border, 1240 pillars are missing, 2500 pillars require restoration, and 400 more need to be constructed. The survey teams conducted survey of the border pillars based on the strip maps prepared by the Joint Technical Level Nepal-Indian Boundary Committee (JTLNIBC). The JTLNIBC was set up in 1981 to demarcate the India-Nepal border and after years of surveying, deliberations and extensions, the committee had delineated 98 percent of the India-Nepal boundary, excluding Kalapani and Susta, on182 strip maps which was finally submitted in 2007 for ratification by both the countries. Unfortunately neither country ratified the maps. Nepal maintained that it cannot ratify the maps without the resolution of outstanding boundary disputes, i.e. Kalapani and Susta. India, on the other hand, awaited Nepal’s ratification while at the same time urging it to ensure the maps as the confidence building measure for solving the Kalapani and Susta disputes. In absence of a ratification, the process of completely demarcating the India-Nepal boundary could not be undertaken.
There are regular exchanges of high-level visits and interactions between India and Nepal. Prime Minister, Narendra Modi visited Nepal twice in 2014 on 3rd and 4th August for a bilateral visit and on 25th to 27th November for the 18th SAARC Summit. Nepalese Prime Minister, K.P. Sharma Oli paid a state visit to India on 19th to 24th February 2016. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs of Nepal Mr. Bimalendra Nidhi visited India on 18th to 22nd August 2016 as Special Envoy of the Prime Minister. Nepalese Prime Minister Mr. Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ visited India twice in 2016 on 15th to 18th September on a state visit and on 15th to 17th October to participate in the 1st BRICS-BIMSTEC leader’s summit in Goa.
President of India, Pranab Mukherjee paid a state visit to Nepal on 2nd to 4th November 2016. This was the first state visit by an Indian President to Nepal after a gap of 18 years. President of Nepal Mrs. Bidya Devi Bhandari paid a state visit to India on 17th to 21st April 2017. Prime Minister of Nepal Mr. Sher Bahadur Deuba paid a visit to India on 23rd to 27th august 2017.
Recently, India had added Kalapani in the Political Map of India which sparked the past issues of the tensions between India and Nepal which has been going on since the 1960s. Nepal conveyed the disappointment over the issue and claims that the road passes through the Nepalese territory. The government of Nepal has consistently maintained that as per the Sugauli Treaty (1816), all territories east of Kali River, including Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipulekh, belong to Nepal. The Indian border encroachment and Nepal government’s lack of concern has impacted the lives of the people living in borders. The people of Susta have been denied from building bridges or access to transportation while many report that the land they have been farming has now been taken by India. The Prime Minister of Nepal said diplomatic efforts would be made to “bring back the territories”, sparking further tensions.
The political agenda-
In April, 2020, the Prime Minister of Nepal, Mr. Oli’s domestic political situation was weakening. Under the Nepali Constitution, a new Prime Minister enjoys a guaranteed two-year period during which no-confidence motion is not permitted. This ended in February unleashing simmering resentment against the Mr. Oli’s governance style and performance. His inept handling of the COVID-19 pandemic added to the growing dis enhancement. Within the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), there was a move to impose a ‘one man, one post’ rule that would force Mr. Oli to choose between NCP co-chair or Prime Minister. The re-eruption of the Kalapani controversy, when Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh did a virtual inauguration of the 80 km road on May 8, provided Mr. Oli with a political lifeline. A subsequent comment by the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), General Manoj Naravane, on May 15th that “Nepal may have raised the issue at the behest of someone else” was insensitive, given that the Indian COAS is also an honorary general of the Nepal Army and vice-versa, highlighting the traditional ties between the two armies. Mr. Oli had won the election in 2017 by flaunting his Nepali Nationalism card, the flip side of which is anti-India. This is not a new phenomenon but has become more pronounced in recent years. Mr. Oli donned the Nationalist mantle vowing to restore Nepali territory and marked a new low in anti-Indian rhetoric by talking about “the Indian virus being more lethal than the Chinese or the Italian virus”.
Despite the close linguistic, marital, religious as well as cultural ties, at people level between the Indians and the Nepalese, since the past few years, political and border issues has sparked some problems in the relationship between the two countries. There have been an anti-Indian sentiment growing amongst the government and the people of Nepal. Both the countries were active trade partners throughout the years and the recent tensions may become a threat to India’s trade relations with Nepal. India has also helped Nepal in various crisis such as earthquake in which India came as the biggest help for Nepal. Meanwhile, Nepalese accuse India to me interfering in the country’s internal matters.Many people also claim that India sees Nepal as a mere state which India has control over. Many people protested against the Indian maps showing Kalapani as an Indian territory. They protested under the slogan “Back off India”. All these recent issues have become a threat to the two country’s peaceful co-existence.