June 20, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether India and Nepal are close to resolving their border disputes. We also look at the Gurbani telecast controversy in Punjab, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Are India and Nepal close to resolving their border disputes?
India and Nepal’s relationship goes back centuries, but its modern experience is evident in their cultural, social, and bilateral connections – be it a shared preference for dal bhaat, the pervasiveness of the caste system, or an over 1,750 km open border. In the last few years, however, this relationship has been souring at the diplomatic level. Making matters more complex is Nepal’s recent interest in balancing its relations with its quarrelling neighbours, India and China.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, aka ‘Prachanda’, recently embarked on a 4-day trip to India which ended on June 3. The camaraderie shown by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Nepali counterpart, in addition to multiple agreements, has appeared to break ground on the nations’ border dispute. But is it enough to bring about a resolution?
India and Nepal’s centuries-old open border divides the two countries’ territorial integrity. It was consolidated in 1816 through the Treaty of Sugauli. By losing the Anglo-Nepalese war, the Kingdom of Nepal had to cede significant portions of its land to Britain.
The treaty, signed by the East India Company and the Kingdom of Nepal, delineates the Mahakali River as the border’s western boundary but doesn’t explicitly state the boundary’s origins.
Post-independence, India and Nepal signed several friendship treaties to display and formalise their commitment to respect one another’s territorial integrity. But they still haven’t found a way around the Lipulekh pass, Limpiyadhura, and Kalapani trijunction issue. The area remains disputed despite multiple high-level commissions and the 2016 Eminent Persons Group (EPG).
Now, nations take borders and maps very seriously. Territorial sovereignty is one of the founding pillars of nation-states in the present world order. They help visually map a nation, instil a sense of pride in its corners and contours, and remind a collective who is Us and who is the Other.
Much work goes into protecting these borders – whether through bilateral agreements or military exercises.
So on November 2, 2019, when the Centre released a revised map of India that showed the disputed region as a part of Indian territory, Nepal read it as unilateral, cartographic antagonism against its territorial sovereignty.
India and Nepal’s relationships had already hit some lows by then. In 2015, the government reportedly imposed an unofficial trade embargo on September 20, 2015, the day Nepal’s new constitution was promulgated, perhaps to show its discontent with it.
The same year saw increased efforts from China to increase its influence in Nepal through the Belt and Road Initiative. It would expand Nepal’s economic alternatives and diminish some of its dependence on India.
In 2020, when Defense Minister Rajnath Singh virtually inaugurated the Link Road to Mansarovar Yatra on Twitter, Nepalis responded with “#BackoffIndia”. The government in Nepal swiftly challenged it too, on the grounds that the road crosses Nepali territory.
This time around when PM Dahal visited India, it seemed to have thawed the ice on several matters of India and Nepal’s bilateral interests. They signed a 10-year power trade deal and seven documents in areas of trade, energy, and infrastructure among others. Dahal also added that both countries would solve their age-old border dispute through diplomacy.
VIEW: Tailwinds for border dispute
It’s clear that New Delhi and Kathmandu have resolved to improve cooperation and cross-cultural ties. The countries are inclined not to let their border disputes spill over into other areas of collaboration. India incremented its investments in Nepal’s hydropower sector. If anything, multiple avenues of economic interdependence and cross-border connectivity will aid Nepal’s economic growth and boost New Delhi’s positive influence in the region. The recent meetings showed mutual trust and respect, which are paramount in mending the lows and strains of the past.
Dahal’s assertion that the two countries have discussed the border dispute is a positive after many winters. PM Modi too, has belaboured their “super hit” relationship to the press. There’s political will from both sides. For too long, the lack of communication let the conflict fester and spill over into other facets of their relationship. There was barely any dialogue between the Indian and Nepalese counterparts after the EPG report came out. That may be about to change.
Another aspect to consider is Dahal’s transformation as a political leader. The early years of his rule, when he was more a revolutionary than a seasoned politician, did not have much scope for a border resolution. Things became more strained when the BJP came to power and cultivated a strongman foreign policy with its neighbours. But the times have changed, and perhaps both leaders are better positioned to arrive at a solution. As suggested by Dahal, the two parties could emulate India and Bangladesh’s land swap in 2015.
COUNTERVIEW: Nothing in the works yet
While both parties have demonstrated political willingness to cooperate on other issues, there is nothing concrete in the works for a border dispute resolution. In fact, it’s only PM Dahal who has spoken about a mutually beneficial resolution to the conflict. What we have here is the willingness to be willing in the future. For now, it might be in PM Modi’s favour to stall such a resolution, lest he is seen as less of a Hindu strongman. Only recently, Modi had inaugurated the new Parliament, and in it, a map of “Akhand Bharat” which drew the ire of the Opposition in Nepal. The Opposition has raised alarms that the PM’s visit was less productive than the parties involved may have liked.
There are also India’s strategic concerns that make a resolution unlikely in the near term. India is unlikely to cede the trijunction territory because it includes a sensitive stretch of border with China. India wants to establish itself as a global leader and voice of the global south. It wouldn’t make a move that could be construed as Advantage China. Since neither Nepal nor India looks like they want to remain hostile, the dispute may be on hold in the near term.
More cross-border cooperation is only part of forecasting a resolution. Vital elements of political will are still amiss. The border differences require joint boundary surveys and efforts to specify clear boundaries. The countries also need to jointly address cross-border crimes and encroachment to ensure peace in the region. India and Nepal need to sustain their renewed relationship before they arrive at anything. It means finding a workable equation despite the China factor.
- Finding an End to Border Disputes: The India-Nepal Imperative – ORF
- India and China: How Nepal’s new map is stirring old rivalries – BBC
- Nepal, India strike cross-border infrastructure deals – DW
- Shyam Saran writes: Between India and Nepal, barriers come down – Indian Express
- India-Nepal relations need sustained stability – Mint
- India-Nepal Bilateral Relations Slide: Perspective From Kathmandu – Council on Foreign Relations
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) India and Nepal are close to resolving their border disputes.
b) India and Nepal aren’t close to resolving their border disputes.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
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🇮🇳 STATE OF THE STATES
Gurbani telecast controversy (Punjab) – Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann’s call for a free Gurbani telecast has caused some controversy. The AAP government in the state is looking to amend the 1925 Sikh Gurdwara Act to have a free telecast of Gurbani from the Golden Temple. The move has angered the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC). Its president Harjinder Singh Dhami said the change can only be done with the recommendations of the Shiromani Committee. He cautioned the government against interfering with the religious affairs of Sikhs.
Why it matters: The Gurbani, a sacred hymn, is currently telecast by a private TV channel. The SGPC chief argued the ceremony’s sanctity and dignity can’t be ignored. Even Congress criticised the decision saying the government can’t change the 1925 Act. The AAP government defended the decision wanting to disseminate the Sarb Sanji Gurbani worldwide.
Strengthening MSMEs (Andhra Pradesh) – The Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), a joint venture of public sector undertakings, is looking to support the state in energy efficiency for Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). EESL is looking into the possibility of using global technologies in MSMEs in the state. State government officials said they’re committed to implementing energy-efficient programs.
Why it matters: With increasing temperatures, power consumption in the state has increased significantly compared to last year. The EESL’s commitment to energy efficiency is validated by the success of Unnat Jyoti by Affordable LEDs for All (UJALA) scheme. Under this, more than 36 crore LED bulbs were distributed, with over 47,000 kWh of energy saved per annum. As industrialists and companies look to the state to set up shop, officials want policies that help them settle in and thrive.
Ethanol plant closure (Odisha) – BJP MP Suresh Pujari criticised the state government for the sudden closure of the 2G Bio refinery ethanol plant in Bargarh. It comes a day after Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan reviewed its progress. Pujari alleged the closure was due to threats. He requested Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to intervene and ensure the plant is built and ready by December as originally planned.
Why it matters: The bioethanol plant was going to be the first in India where ethanol was to be produced from rice straw. The plant, from Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL), is estimated to cost ₹1,000 crore and was projected to produce three crore litres of ethanol annually. Biofuels have assumed importance due to the country’s growing energy needs and environmental concerns.
Population demographics and growth (Goa) – According to estimates from the National Commission on Population, Goa’s population is now 15.7 lakh. 75% of that is in the state’s urban areas. According to the last census in 2011, the state’s population was 14.6 lakh. The state’s population growth has been faster for the decade ending 2023 at 7.9%. In the previous 2011-2021 decade, it was 6.8%.
Why it matters: With close to 12 lakh people living in the state’s urban areas, there’s concern it could affect the living conditions, the environment, and overall development. The survey stated the urban population in the state is reaching a saturation point with rapid urbanisation. It could put pressure on the state’s resources as the urban population is projected to grow by an average of 1% every year in the coming decade.
Tripura Congress plans (Tripura) – The newly-elected President of the Pradesh Congress Committee Asish Kumar Saha has vowed to revitalise the organisation in the run-up to the 2024 polls. Saha wants to unite the old guard and the younger newcomers to consolidate the party’s position in the state. He said the Pradesh Committee will be formed in a new manner under the direction of the All India Congress Committee (AICC).
Why it matters: In the 2018 polls, the Congress was wiped out in the state. Ahead of the most recent assembly elections, the party aligned with the Left and managed to win only 3 seats. It was a pattern of poor results for the party in the northeast. Soon after the results, the party announced it would assess its performance and take corrective measures. Part of that was to have a new state president.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
₹370 crore – The railways will spend ₹370 crore to “deep screen” all tracks in the South Eastern Railway zone. The project is aimed at improving track resilience in the wake of the recent train tragedy.