By Gopal Khanal (KATHMANDU, 26 November 2019) – Political leaders must have knowledge about their statements and speeches. They must be aware of what they speak, where and when. But Nepali politicians pay less attention to this.
In that respect, the electoral speech by president of Nepali Congress and former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba in Pokhara this week was disastrous and condemnable. He made unfounded allegations against Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on a very sensitive issue of international border between Nepal and India.
Deuba said India had released the new political map with consent from Prime Minister Oli. He was trying to tarnish the nationalist image of Prime Minister Oli and for this, he sought the support of India’s new map, which had been in the centre of debate in Nepali polity over the weeks.
India’s survey department had released the new map on 31 October 2019 showing the newly created Union Territories (UTs) of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. It was not issued to delineate the international border between Nepal and India.
All the Nepali people, who feel proud as Nepali citizens, have denounced the cheap and baseless statement of Deuba. Even the leaders of his own party, including Dr. Shekhar Koirala and Sujata Koirala, deplored his statement. Both of them expressed their apprehension whether Nepali Congress will remain in scene until Deuba is active in the party politicising uncalled for and sensitive matters.
If anything is a ‘blunder’ in politics, this one is the biggest blunder. Deuba should immediately apologise for this unspeakable statement and make public the official position of Nepali Congress on the Kalapani issue (Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipulek areas).
Let’s discuss Deuba’s statement from three angles.
First, it is the political map of India, not that of Nepal. It was released by the Indian government to officially recognise the changed status of Union Territories (UTs) of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. It was not designed to separate the border between Nepal and India. Second, any country can redraw its political map to illustrate the changed status of its territories. This is their domestic affair. Therefore, there is no need for India to consult with Nepal to announce its new map.
Third, Deuba’s deliberate attempt to question KP Oli’s nationalist image seems to have boomeranged. Oli is the tallest leader of Nepal, none of his contemporaries can challenge his stance and action on protecting nationality, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Kalapani area, which includes Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipulek, no doubt, is Nepali territory. The Sugauli Treaty and other supplementary treaties have explicitly proved Nepal’s claim. Kalapani, therefore, is not disputed, as the Government of Nepal has been saying it is inside Nepal. The disputed territory can be Limpiyadhura, whether or not it comes under Nepal, or whether it is a trilateral point of Nepal, India and China. Senior leader of the ruling NCP, Jhalanath Khanal has said Limpiyadhura is the origin of the Kali River and the tri-junction of the three countries.
If Limpiyadhura is the tri-junction of Nepal, India and China, then Lipulek and Kalapani are obviously in Nepal. Nepal should collect the evidences and claim that Limpiyadhura is the origin of the Kali River and is the tri-junction point of three countries. Making a uniform position on the basis of evidences might take time and for this, national unity is the starting point to raise the issue with India and China.
But India and China, on 15 May 2015, agreed to expand their bilateral border trade from Lipulek pass, without even consulting Nepal. In the 28-point joint communiqué issued at the end of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China, this agreement has been mentioned. The two sides agreed to hold negotiations on augmenting the list of traded commodities, and expand the border trade at the Lipulek pass.
The meaning of the agreed point is clear – India and China consider Lipulek is their bilateral border point. Nepal is not a party they considered necessary to consult. Although the Lipulek pass is located at the Nepal-China borderline; it is not the border between India and China. Yet, Indian para-military forces have occupied it since 1962 after the Sino-India border war. According to Buddhi Narayan Shrestha, border expert, Lipulek is an ancient route for traders and pilgrims transiting between Nepal and Tibet.
Nepal protested and registered a complaint against the agreement reached in the highest level. Both the leaderships realised and stalled the process of expanding trade for a couple of years. The agreement has not been implemented yet. It is a different matter that Nepal had diplomatically defied the attitude of powerful neighbours. That agreement had given a big shock to Nepal. As rising economies of world and powerful neighbours of Nepal, India and China should immediately halt such expansionist moves and maintain a friendly environment.
Uniform position & dialogue
On 15 November, China commented on the Nepal-India border dispute, saying that the dispute on Kalapani area should be resolved through dialogue and negotiation. The spokesperson of China’s Embassy based in Kathmandu denied the allegation that China had also encroached on the Nepali territory.
In fact, China’s statement was not the response to India’s new political map. It was to deny the allegation made by some sections of media and society that China had also encroached upon the Nepali territories as India had been doing. Though China’s statement had to elucidate that there was no border dispute between Nepal and China, it has helped Nepal to raise the issue of Lipulek, too.
There is no need to repeat the narratives that Nepali land had been encroached upon by India. We need evidences to put forward before formally sitting across the dialogue table. The solution to any dispute on international border is not to be sought from the street or a jingoist mob. It is a subject to be dealt by the concerned parties — two governments. Peaceful protests can always be made but any infiltration by vested interests to deliberately affect the Nepal-India relations should be strictly prohibited.
All the domestic stakeholders on border issues- Nepali Army, Armed Police Force, Survey Department — have maintained the records of Nepal’s border with both the neighbours. These records should be put together and a uniform position formed before going for negotiations. The government should hold meetings of all parties and stakeholders to make the country’s national position clear with the help of briefings, reports and evidences from the national agencies. As the Prime Minister held first such meeting to build the national voice, another follow-up meeting is required before holding the dialogue with India.