The upper house of the Nepali parliament approved a new and revised map for the country in June 2020 which included the land controlled and claimed by India. This renewed map was rejected by India sparking tensions between the neighbors. Out of the 59-seat National Assembly, 57 approved a constitutional amendment bill in order to replace the old map.
The new political map published by Nepal includes a small stretch of contested land, which strengthened its stance on the decades-old rift over the territory with India. The new map shows a silver of land including Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani jutting out from the Northwestern tip of Nepal. On 8th march 2020, India inaugurated an 80km long road linking its northern state of Uttarakhand with Lipulekh on the border with Tibet across the controversial piece of land with Nepal. Nepal’s communist Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli was under intense pressure from student unions and parliamentary members for developing a new map after the launch of this road.
India has clearly rejected Nepal’s new map saying it has no evidence or historical basis. India and Nepal had both shown Kalapani and Lipulekh in their political maps but Nepal had not shown Limpiyadhura previously.
India and Nepal share a 1,880 km long border between themselves. The two countries have agreed on 98% of the maps on their border territories but three areas in Western Nepal namely Lipulekh pass, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura remain controversial. These three areas cover around 370 square km of the land. The Lipulekh pass connects Indian state of Uttarakhand with Tibet region of China. The dispute actually started between them after India published a new map of the border region with Nepal along with renewed maps on Jammu and Kashmir regions. India incorporated some of the disputed areas with Nepal into its own territory. So when Nepal renewed its maps in June 2020, India rejected it.
Historically, Nepal had surrendered a part of its western territory in 1816 after facing a defeat by British East India company. Consequently, a treaty took place named as the Sugauli Treaty which defined the origin of the Kali river as Nepal’s border point with India. But both the countries highly argue over the source of the Kali river. India states that the accurate coordinates of the river were never mentioned in the treaty and that’s why India issued renewed maps. In reality, all the three contested regions had been under India’s control for the past 60 years or so and the people living there have started functioning on the Indian-based rules and political agendas. On the other hand, the Nepali politicians state that Nepal had been going through decades and decades of political chaos so they could not focus on the border dispute with India.
In the past, Nepal was highly dependent on India for its imports but it has started drifting away from Indian influence and China has gradually started filling that space. Nepal has become an important strategic partner for China in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China seeks to invest immensely in Nepal’s infrastructure as a part of nurturing Chinese global trade programs. The Chinese president Xi Jinping even paid a visit to Nepal last year becoming the first president to do so after Jiang Zemin in 1996.
For India, the Lipulekh pass has high security implications. After its devastating war with China in 1962, India has been concerned over a possible Chinese intrusion over this pass. So India wants to guard this Himalayan route to safeguard any future intrusions by China. Anti-India sentiments had been held by Nepalese even before this territorial conflict. When the ethnic Madhesi community started violent protests in 2015 demanding more supplies and imports from India, India blocked all goods and food trafficking to Nepal. The blockade by India lasted for almost five months which destructed Nepal utterly because Nepal had recently hit by an earthquake that swallowed 9,000 lives.
But most recently, Nepal has taken a rather conciliatory step towards this dispute by withdrawing an inflammatory school book which included the contentious map of the region between India and Nepal. The Nepalese Prime Minister Oli issued an order to the Education Ministry to halt the distribution of that book. This move has been seen as a mediatory step by Nepal towards India. Back in august 2020, the PM Oli had taken the first step towards amicable restoration of relations with India by calling PM Narendra Modi on the Independence Day and the on Modi’s birthday in September.
Nepal was reluctant to initiate any negotiations with India on the border issue because of the Chinese influence on Nepal. Furthermore, the stalemate between India and China on the Line of Actual control (LAC) at Ladakh had also put Nepal in a rather difficult situation.
Nepal had been getting constant information about Chinese encroachment on Nepalese territory and it certainly did not want to carry out any investigations on it given the Chinese hegemony in the region. But on 5th October 2020, after being constantly forced by reports in the local newspapers and media, a fact finding team went to Lima to confirm Chinese presence in the area. They officially confirmed that China had constructed buildings in the Lima region close to Uttarakhand in India.
The pro-Chinese Communist installed Nepali PM Oli obviously does not want to engage in any clash with China given their history and the present, neither do they want to irritate their powerful neighbor. But he is under great pressure now by the Opposition parties to send a team of experts to discover the level of Chinese encroachment. And he has the Indian pressure on him too now after the recent Sino-Indian rifts to confront China publicly.
Given the recent conciliatory moves started by Nepalese PM Oli with India, Nepal certainly wants to progress on the negotiations and resolve the territorial dispute. But, on the other hand, if Nepal officially confronts and pushes China back from their Lima region, it could cost them the possibility of negotiations with India. The Nepalese leadership will have to reach an approach as to please both the contentious neighbor India and the powerful neighbor China.