New Delhi: The foreign secretary-level talks between India and Nepal are not expected to happen anytime soon as Kathmandu is firm on fast-tracking the process of amending its constitution over its new political map, ThePrint has learnt.
Hectic talks have been going on between both sides through diplomatic channels over the last seven days after the K.P. Sharma Oli government tabled the constitutional amendment bill to endorse its controversial new political map, according to sources. The bill seeks to amend Annex 3 of the Constitution, to reflect the new map in Nepal’s national emblem.
However, despite New Delhi’s prodding, Kathmandu has refused to postpone the matter and is taking a shorter route to amend the constitution at the earliest, said the sources.
“They do not want to discuss the matter anymore, it seems. They want to go ahead with it… They cannot force India to talk by taking such actions which are detrimental to the relationship. This is not how negotiations take place, even if they think India has been sitting on the proposal,” said a senior official who didn’t wish to be identified.
According to sources in the Oli government, Nepal is all set to adopt the amendment on 9 June.
Nepal has decided to suspend the long procedure and finalise the amendment by expediting the process in the Upper House of the parliament too. The main opposition party, Nepali Congress (NC), has also agreed to support the move, said the sources.
While the Oli government is perceived to be taking such a “drastic step” owing to internal political pressures within the PM’s own Nepal Communist Party (NCP), New Delhi believes he could have delayed the process by insisting on a national consensus by bringing the Madhes-based parties on board.
The proposal to amend the constitution and endorse the new map will require a two-thirds majority. In Nepal’s 275-member House of Representatives (Lower House), the NCP holds 174 seats while NC has 63. As a result, even if the Madhes-based parties do not support the bill, the proposal is likely to be approved.
‘Not a conducive environment for talks’
According to sources, several senior representatives from Nepal’s ruling party have been meeting India’s Ambassador there, Vinay Mohan Kwatra, but New Delhi believes that unless the Oli government “slows down” or “pushes the process”, a conducive environment for talks will not be possible.
Ranjit Rae, former Indian ambassador to Nepal told ThePrint, “In the current circumstances, talks are difficult. And when the amendment goes through, as is expected, positions will further harden.”
He added, “Despite India’s deep reservations, the Oli government wants to fast-track the amendment. If they were serious about talking, they could have delayed the process. I think they want to talk from a position of strength, that is, after presenting us with a fait accompli. This can hardly be acceptable to India.”
Nepal has been urging India to settle the border issue of Kalapani for several years now. However, the Oli government renewed its push after New Delhi released a new political map in November 2019 after it scrapped the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
Kwatra was handed over a diplomatic note last month over Kathmandu’s objection to the new road built by India to Kailash Mansarovar via Lipulekh.
The move came despite India’s statement that it would hold foreign secretary-level talks with Nepal once the pandemic subsides. Nepal’s request for a virtual interaction between both foreign secretaries was turned down by India.
On 20 May, Nepal officially released a new map showing the disputed territories of Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani within its borders. India has refused to accept this, saying it will not accept “artificial enlargement” of Nepal’s territory.