‘High-level diplomatic talks should be held between the two countries to resolve the long-running Nepal-India border dispute, Nepal-India relations and the historic treaty’

Bhagwati Chaudhary, central member of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) has talked about the recent border dispute between Nepal and India. Here is an edited excerpt from the conversation :

What are we doing nowadays?

While the world is battling with the COVID-19 pandemic, which we have not been able to get out of. It is necessary to maintain social distance to protect our-self and others at this time of crisis, the people in the front lines are working very hard to save the world from COVID-19 by understanding the direct and indirect effects of the pandemic on the people. Apart from this, days have passed by studying and analyzing the recent political situations regarding border disputes in the country

During the outbreak of COVID 19, India has also inaugurated the road by encroaching Nepali land Limpiyadhura, Lipulek and Kalapani. What is your opinion on this ?

Sadly, the boundaries of a sovereign nation have been crossed. India has crossed the Nepalese border more than once. Not only in Limpiuyadhura, Lipulek or Kalapani but also the plains of the Terai, every year, its pillars are removed overnight. Unfortunately, India has repeatedly encroached on Nepalese land from the time of the Sugauli Treaty of 1816, and the subsequent Supplementary Treaty clearly shows Nepal’s geographical land on the world map. India is directly or indirectly involved in the development of Nepal. As a result, they think, “If they don’t do it in Nepal, no one will do it? Who else will develop Nepal?. However, land and nationality cannot be linked to grants, there is no pride in that.”

What could be the main intention of India repeatedly encroaching on Nepali land?

This is exactly the reason why it cannot be confirmed that Nepalese land has been encroached. We also have a weakness in letting India repeatedly encroach on our land. While India’s hegemonic tendencies are also responsible, in some cases the internal and external security, language, culture, economic, social, and political reasons between the two countries. The dimensions of India-China relations can also be examined. Politically, India may also have an expansionist policy, they have an eye on Nepal’s natural resources.

Looking at India as an older brother, are the political parties in Nepal more inclined towards the burden?

To some extent, our political movement is also responsible. India has a direct and indirect presence in Nepal since the establishment of democracy in 2007. India has viewed  Nepal as a “little brother” since a tripartite agreement which was between the Nepali Congress and King Tribhuvan in New Delhi on 20th March 1947 to make the anti-Rana successful mediated by the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, so our political change is influenced by India. The Nepalese students who went to study in India established the Praja Parishad and the Nepali Congress from India. Leaders like BP Koirala and Pushpalal, who ended the Rana regime, were influenced by Jamar’s Indian independence movement, from the movement of 2017 BS to the movement of 2046 BS, the armed people’s war of 2052 BS, the 12-point agreement, and the joint people’s movement of 2006-2007, The Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and the promulgation of the Constitute Assembly of 2006 and 2007, India has repeatedly played a role in Nepalese politics. Language and culture between Nepal and India are influenced by each other. Geographically, there is an open border between the two countries. Citizens of the two countries can move in and out freely. In terms of exports and imports, we do 80% of our business and trade with India. We depend on India for almost everything. That is why India has not treated Nepal as a sovereign country. Hence, the younger brother feels mistreated.

What was wrong with the Sugauli Treaty of 1816 and the subsequent supplementary treaty that made India despise Nepal?

Before the Sugauli Treaty of 1816, Tista was bordered of Nepal to the east, Nainital to the southwest, Kumaon, Gadwal, and Bashahar to the west. Nepal lost two-thirds of its territory when we signed the Sugauli Treaty with the East India Company. The treaty stipulated that Nepal should leave the land which they have won in war, the British government representatives should also be stationed in Kathmandu, and the Gorkhas should be recruited into the British army. In this treaty, Nepal lost the western part of the Kali River,  currently in Kumaon (Uttrakhand), India. Some areas of west of the Garhwal Sutlej River, Kangada (Himachal Pradesh), and most of the Terai regions.

It can be seen that India is interpreting the relationship with Nepal as a “little brother” relation. Despite recent calls for a revision of the 1950 treaty, India has not shown any interest.

However, the East India Company had returned Banke, Bardia, Kailali, and Kanchanpur in the Terai in 1865, saying that Nepal had greatly helped in the suppression of the revolt of 1857.

After the independence of  India, a treaty was created between India and Nepal by giving the status of the British Ambassador to the British envoy to amend the Treaty of Sugauli. In the Sugauli Treaty, the border of western Nepal is clearly defined by the eastern Kali river. After the treaty, a map was issued by the British government which clearly shows the territory of Nepal up to the Kali river. The map issued in 1817 also states that Limpiyadhura, Lipulek, and Kalapani are territories of Nepal. This treaty puts Nepal on the world map, but as the British withdrew from India, India became stronger politically, economically, and socially compared to Nepal. And, adopting an expansionist policy, India devised a strategy to cure the border of weaker countries.

In 1950, a treaty was signed between Nepal and India where the government of India should define Nepal as an independent, integral, sovereign nation and to establish a companionable relationship between the two countries. The treaty recognized Nepal’s sovereignty, but in some aspects, India strengthened its role in Nepal’s internal and external affairs. And, because of this, India can be seen interpreting its relationship with Nepal as a “little brother” or  “bread and butter” relationship.

How did the government not know when India was issuing maps of Limpiyadhura, Kalapani, and Lipulek as roads for the past 12 years?

Surprisingly, when India has been building roads in Kalapani since 2008, no ruler has ever seen a hint of it for 12 years. This came to play only after the present government became aware of it. The map on Nepal has already been damaged. Why did the rulers then not know the land of Nepal was being occupied by India? This is a subject to be explored.

Now the facts and evidence say that the land of Limpiyadhura, Lipulek, and Kalapani belongs to Nepal. The historic treaty and agreements, the 2018 census, the British Library in London, the Office of Public Records, and the maps in the US Library of Congress confirms that the area belongs to Nepal. The Sugauli Treaty and the Supplementary Treaty also say that India has encroached on Nepalese land.

The dispute erupted in 2015 after China and India reached an agreement on using the Kalapani route. In fact, at that time, the two countries forgot about Nepal. If a tripartite agreement had been reached with Nepal’s participation in the agreement, this dispute would not have arisen. While the Kalapani area is the trilateral border area of Nepal, India, and China. Nepalese land would not have been encroached upon.

If Nepal had taken a stand, no one could interfere in Nepalese land without the agreement, it would have been beneficial for Nepal. However, our political parties, the ruling elites did not understand or show any interest.

Kailashkut area is a region of religious and tourism importance for Nepal, India, and China. Why was it not queued for tourism promotion by making it an area of trilateral common importance?

Ironically, we did not understand the importance of the natural resources of the land. In 2015, when India and China signed an agreement to use the area, we showed little to no interest. If Nepal had taken a stand, that the agreement between India and China also required Nepal’s participation, no one could’ve interfered in our borders. Nepal should have been able to work with such proposals before India and China.

Where will the political and economic situation of the country be taken by the controversy that erupted after India built their roads on Nepal’s Land?

Look, it’s a matter of nationality. It is about the motherland. India’s unilateral mapping of roads is an attack on Nepal’s nationality. How the government, especially the Prime Minister for Land Reforms, Pragya Aryal, and others, has worked against the encroachment of Nepali land has become a history. At this time, the dispute between Nepal and India has more importance than the political and economic situation of the country.

I think that now that the border dispute with India has reached its climax, wherever there is a border dispute between Nepal and India, it should be resolved as soon as possible through diplomatic talks between the two countries. The longer it takes for the issue or border encroachment to be solved, India becomes stronger.

Now, what does the government do to bring back the encroached Nepali land?

One thing is for sure, we are not in a position to bring back our borders by waging war with India.  And, in the 21st century, the strategy of moving forward by waging war between the two countries is like bringing back the 1800s or 1900s which is no longer the right way. Diplomacy is the first way to resolve the current border dispute with India. The government should resolve the border dispute with India through high-level diplomatic talks once and for all. Nepali land encroached by India must be brought back. For that, it is necessary to have co-operation and talks between the Prime Ministers of the two countries.

Should India also be ready for diplomatic talks? Looking at India’s strategy so far, there is no excuse for diplomatic talks? 

Any dispute between Nepal and India should be resolved diplomatically. Whether it’s a border dispute or something else. For this, both countries should be positive. India does not benefit from instability in Nepal while instability in India does not benefit Nepal. Nepal-India relations are very different from other countries.  If India rejects the proposal, there is another basis for Nepal which is to go to the International Court of Justice. But before that, it is appropriate to take a diplomatic initiative in the current context.

When to put a barbed wire? When to build the wall? At present, the border has to be secured by keeping the Nepalese army in the borders of Nepal. Illegal work at checkpoints should be controlled and regulated.

Some are saying that there should be trilateral talks between Nepal, India, and China in the Kalapani dispute, How easy is that?

That’s fine! Kalapani is not just a region of Nepal and India, it is a trilateral border region. All three countries have direct and indirect relations in the past treaties and agreements. The best solution is to hold trilateral diplomatic talks on this issue. As far as ease and discomfort are concerned, is there anything in the world that is impossible? Where there is a problem, there is a solution. Just how to find the solution is a huge deal. India and China must be proactive in resolving the border dispute once and for all.

Now some say that a wall should be erected in the border areas with India, the barbed wire should be installed, is that possible?

Let me inform you that the open border area between Nepal and India should be tightened with strict regulations. Foundation stones should be laid for planting varieties of trees in the Terai region where there is an open border between Nepal and India and with the direct participation of the local people, border security should be ensured and the livelihoods of the local people should be enhanced. The then Finance Minister Bharat Mohan Adhikari was given a budget of Rs 50 million but it still could not be implemented.

New political and administrative map of Nepal is released by the current government, is it right?

I think if the Terai border Greenery Project had been implemented, it would have been easier for us to protect many of the Terai borders. Nepal’s land is being encroached in the border areas of the Terai every day. At present, only Kalapani, the Lipulekh issue has come up, It is possible to install barbed wire and walls if necessary. It should be done because Nepal’s nationality is at stake.

Prime Minister of India built roads on Nepali land, should that be given on lease?

India has invested in the development of Nepal in the areas of education, health, roads, transportation, drinking water, energy, and industry. Grant has been given, however, the so-called grants cannot be exchanged for land and nationality. As the Prime Minister said, India should not have built the roads, but now it has been built, how to lease it, or how to compensate for it should come from the diplomatic talks. The government must first and foremost prioritize negotiations to resolve the border dispute. Is it not, Hong Kong is also built on British lease? Therefore, leasing is possible for further processes.

Why Nepal’s relations with India are always in dispute?

Although Nepal and India’s relations are similar in culture and tradition, there are still disputes between the two countries over common issues. We all know that Nepal has not yet become self-sufficient in any aspect compare to India. We have immense potential in agriculture, energy, and tourism. But the states have no concrete plan on how to strengthen those sectors and become self-reliant. For the last two decades, Nepal has become the country that has been importing billions of rupees of goods and export very less amount of products every year. Due to which Nepal is dependent on Indian exports for all sectors, from the raw materials supply for the industries, India now feels that Nepal has no alternatives. That may be the reason they are always trying to create scenes and quarrels from time to time. Moreover, the neighborhood relationship between India and China is not so easy. As king Prithivinaryan Shah said “Nepal is a yam between two stones”, now Nepal is tired of the hostility of India and China.

What should Nepal do to become self-reliant and reduce the dependency on India?

Being self-reliant is a great way to reduce dependency; The states should try to become self-sufficient in agriculture, energy, irrigation, education, health, and transportation. To achieve this the states should create productive employment within the country. We have a lot of potential in agriculture, energy and tourism. We have to bring packages to increase production by attracting youths. Production and productivity should be increased by generating skilled manpower and adopting a modern agricultural system. We can also sell energy internationally for which, a structure and policy should be formulated to take the infrastructures to other countries, we must not let our young generation be brain drained by the attractions of developed countries instead, we must create opportunities from them where they will be willing to invest in our own country Nepal.

Unless we move from import-oriented to export-oriented, we will be weak in the eyes of every country. Self-reliance in everything will not affect our country even if there is a crisis or a blockade. We will be able to stand on our nationalism.