India-Nepal relations are entering a deep freeze


On June 10, Nepal House of Representatives unanimously approved the tabling of an amendment to the country’s constitution which will now formally depict nearly 400 sq km of Indian territory extending west from the Lipulekh Pass, and including it, as part of Nepal’s sovereign territory. While it remains to be passed by the Upper House and signed by the president, the die has been cast. In doing so, Nepal has etched its territorial claim in stone which would make any concession by this or any future government of Nepal virtually unthinkable.

After the vote, Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali declared: “We are for starting dialogue soon. The problem will be resolved through diplomacy.” Short of expecting India to accept the fait accompli determined unilaterally by Nepal, what will diplomacy achieve? India should be prepared to engage in a dialogue on this and other outstanding border issues, but Nepal’s brinkmanship has made it much more difficult to explore a mutually acceptable solution. Gyawali said that the dialogue will be carried out “on the basis of historical facts”. Perhaps that offers an opening although I doubt that any “facts” contrary to what have been adduced by the Nepali side will be countenanced. But let us review the “historical facts”.

One, Nepal bases its claim to the additional territory now included in its official map on the Anglo-Nepal Treaty of Sugauli of 1816, which determined the Kali river as the western boundary between British India and Nepal. An East India Company map has been produced from the archives to show that the British considered the tributary of the Kali River, the Limpiyadhura, as its main channel. But a map drawn up in 1879 after surveys had been carried out shows the boundary along a ridge just west of the Tinker Pass.

As per this and later official British maps and what India claims, Kali River originates from a natural spring at Kalapani, where it is joined by a rivulet flowing down from Lipulekh Pass. This was not challenged then nor at any time subsequently until after 1990. In fact, Nepali maps have all along reflected the same alignment. Some Nepali journalists and scholars now argue that the monarchy, first under King Mahendra and later under King Birendra, was reluctant to raise this issue with India for fear of Indian reaction. This is laughable as both the monarchs thrived on a diet of anti-Indian nationalism.

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