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Friday, Jun 26, 2020 14:15 [IST]

Last Update: Friday, Jun 26, 2020 08:39 [IST]

The Sooner India and Nepal Sit Together the Better

Changing Neighbour

JIWAN RAI
India is blessed with many blessings but certainly some of her neighbours are not one of those blessings. In his landmark Pakistan visit, the then Indian PM, Atal Vehari Vajpayee had famously said, “We can change history but not geography. We can change our friends but not our neighbours”.  What was going through his mind is not vouchsafed to us but in a sense it is safe to say that it was the expression of a lesson India has had to learn the hard way. The unabated tension and ever raging conflict in the borders with Pakistan and China since Independence is an ugly reality India has had to live with. Every India PM must have wished they could change the geography of the land. As untrustworthy as these neighbours have been, Nepal had been a faithful neighbour for many years. The easiness and closeness that mark the Indo-Nepal relation both at the civilian and diplomatic levels was perhaps unparalleled in modern history. The free civilian movement between the two countries along their 1,800 kilometre border has long been unexampled. 
All that has changed now. Technically, it all started in May this year when India inaugurated a new road which is close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The road runs through the Lipulekh Pass. The government of Nepal protested, claiming Lipulekh as part of Nepal.  It was followed by an exchange of words between the two countries. India suggested that Nepal’s protest was at the “behest of  someone else”. The Nepali PM, KP Oli Sharma went so far as to say that the Indian virus was more lethal than the Chinese or Italian virus. He blamed “those who are coming from India thorough illegal channels” for spreading the virus in Nepal.  There is a felt need on the part of both countries to resolve the issue through talks. However, there is a difference in the level of urgency between the two. India has asked Nepal to wait until after the Covid-19 pandemic is over.
It is hard to know where this stalemate will go from here. It would better for the respective governments to tackle the issue and find ways to resolve it. Some of the over-zealous Indian media are not helping when they are unnecessarily comparing the size of the Indian army with its Nepalese counterpart. To make it worse, they are bringing China into the picture all the time. It may generate some amount of patriotism amongst a section of Indians but that will hardly solve the bigger issue.
This is one area where India must step back a little and reassess the matter. Although the tension between India and Nepal surfaced in May after the road inauguration, the underlying tension far predates that event. There is certain amount of truth in the conjecture that Nepal’s ever distancing relationship with India reflects her ever-increasing closeness to China. That Nepal’s growing affinity with China could eventually prove to be self-destructive is beside the point so far as India is concerned. China enjoying a greater closeness with Nepal would be the worst thing for our country for obvious reasons.
What India must ponder deeply is, when did China gain such diplomatic mileage with Nepal? Nepal signed a landmark Trade and Transit Agreement with China in 2017. Under the agreement, China will provide seven transit points – four sea ports (Tianjin (Xingang), Shenzhen, Lianyungang, Zhanjiang) and three land ports (Lanzhou, Lhasa, Xigatse) – to Nepal for trade with third countries. China exploited Nepal’s quest for an alternate transit when the Himalayan country was already nurturing a wound after the infamous ‘blockade’ of 2015. India will say that it was not an officially declared blockade as the supply was blocked by Madheshi protesters within Nepal. India had imposed a blockade earlier in 1975 and 1989 but the 2015 blockade was the most hurtful one, coming as it did just a month after the historic Nepal earthquake. The narrative that the blockade was an economic and humanitarian crisis gained many takers in Nepal.
That Nepal had high expectations of the Modi government can be seen in the rousing welcome that the Indian Prime Minister received in his historic visit in 2014. However, the Himalayan country at present doesn’t seem to too happy with the Indian government. Prime Minister Modi’s decreasing popularity in Nepal is worrying particularly because it seems more like the reflection of their affinity with India. The two countries with no history of military confrontation are now displaying open bitterness.
Nepal has been coming up with several legislations which directly vent her resentment against India. India must sit with Nepal to resolve this issue sooner rather than later. That a good relationship between the two will immensely benefit both is not rocket science.
“It is hard to know where this stalemate will go from here. It would better for the respective governments to tackle the issue and find ways to resolve it. Some of the over-zealous Indian media are not helping when they are unnecessarily comparing the size of the Indian army with its Nepalese counterpart. To make it worse, they are bringing China into the picture all the time. It may generate some amount of patriotism amongst a section of Indians but that will hardly solve the bigger issue.”

jiwanr@gmail.com

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi