Nepal has reclaimed its territory through an amendment in the statute. However, diplomatic negotiations are the only way to get the areas under Nepal’s possession.
--BY VISHWASH THAPA
The Nepali political parties demonstrated unparalleled unanimity in the second amendment to the constitution of Nepal to update the country’s new political map in the national emblem. Except for Sarita Giri from Janata Samajbadi Party Nepal, no other lawmaker stood against the amendment bill to revise Schedule 6 of the statute. The cross-party lawmakers, from both the Houses present in the meeting, voted for the bill demonstrating a unity in the issue of sovereignty and national integrity.
The fact that Giri’s party decided to suspend her from its membership and position of lawmaker in the House of Representative portrays how committed all the parties were for the amendment. Now, with the president's authentication, Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani area has formally been incorporated in the constitution and national map.
The Madhes-based political parties that stood against the constitution during its promulgation in 2015 had issued a whip to their lawmakers to mandatorily vote on behalf of the amendment to incorporate the Nepali territory occupied by India in the national map. The support for the revision in the statute from the same parties that staged month’s long protest with the support from India in 2015 was a clear message to the world that Nepal has a single voice in reclaiming the land from its southern neighbour.
The revision in the statute was an all of a sudden decision of the KP Sharma Oli government. Though successive governments have raised the issue with Delhi on different occasions, the dispute started accelerating after India and China in 2015 agreed that Lipulekh would be used as a bilateral trade route between the two countries. The then Sushil Koirala government had expressed its reservations over the deal between its Southern and Northern neighbours.
India has on several occasions agreed that Kalapani and Susta is an area of contested land that needs to be resolved through diplomatic dialogue. However, the Narendra Modi government in November last year issued its political and administrative map incorporating the Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani area.
The KP Sharma Oli government handed over a protest note and approached the Indian government to start dialogue but to no avail. The two countries have formed two permanent bodies led by Foreign Secretary and Surveyor General respectively to settle the longstanding boundary disputes. The foreign-secretary level mechanism formed in 2014 hasn’t had a single meeting so far.
While denying the chance for a round of dialogue was not enough, the Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on May 8 inaugurated a link road via Lipulekh to Kailash Mansarovar in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. That piled on pressure on the Nepal government take a concrete step to project its claim over the land.
The Cabinet, on May 20, issued a new administrative map of the country putting Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani, all territories occupied by India, within Nepal’s borders. The government, two days later, registered a bill in Parliament, seeking to amend Schedule 3 of the constitution to update Nepal’s new political map in the national emblem.
Three weeks later it was put to a vote at the House of Representatives while the National Assembly endorsed it a week after the Lower House where the parties demonstrated unprecedented unity.
Speaking before the vote, Nepal Communist Party co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal said that every government after the restoration of democracy had raised the issue with India but there had been no progress in getting the territories back. The country had now transitioned to a new stage in reclaiming its land with the amendment, he said.
“We have shown great unity on this sensitive issue. We want to resolve it through political and diplomatic negotiations once and for all,” he said.
The opposition Nepali Congress’ President Sher Bahadur Deuba too asserted that Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani were part of Nepal and that the Nepali parties had a unanimous voice when it came to issues of national sovereignty.
“This is not an issue of any party or the government. This is a national issue where we stand together,” said Deuba.
Leaders from the Madhes-based parties said there is a tendency to question the nationalism of Madhesi people, even though they were at the front lines of the border.
Rajendra Mahato, a Janata Samajbadi Party leader, said that Madhesis and marginalised people had always fought to protect national sovereignty and integrity.
“Today’s meeting is not an ordinary meeting, it has historical significance. We stand with the government’s intention to reclaim our land,” he said.
After the endorsement of the bill through the House of Representatives, PM Oli said there will be a table talk with the Indian side very soon. Within a couple of hours after his statement, New Delhi said it had noted the development in Nepal to incorporate parts of Indian territory in Nepal’s map.
Anurag Srivastava, spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, said in a statement that the move of the Lower House was an artificial enlargement. Contrary to the claim from Oli, he said, “It is also violative of our current understanding to hold talks on outstanding boundary issues.”
However, five days later on June 15, Singh said if the opening of the road via Lipulekh has created some misunderstanding it could be resolved through dialogue. “No power on earth can break the divine relationship between India and Nepal,” he said.
Political and diplomatic experts say the amendment in the statute might have escalated the mistrust between the two countries and that dialogue is the only way out to resolve it. The experts say Nepal had no option but to strengthen its position by issuing a map incorporating the map that belongs to it. However, an amendment alone is not the solution as it cannot come into Nepal’s possession without forging an agreement with the southern neighbour.
According to the experts on the issue, Nepal’s government needs to channelise its political and diplomatic lobby to end the present deadlock on lack of communication between the two nations. The move to amend the constitution could have hurt the ego of India which is a regional power. Therefore, the Oli administration should take some steps to sooth its ego, experts say.
They further note that as the two countries share a special relationship both countries need each other which gives hope that there will be dialogue between the two. The success of the Oli government depends on how well it can handle the issue strategically, the experts say, suggesting it not to make loose comments but focus on silent diplomacy.
“Nepal definitely has the upper hand as there is historical evidence and proof on its behalf. But Nepal can only present them when India agrees to negotiate. The government should focus on creating a conducive environment for dialogue now,” said political expert Lok Raj Baral.