New Delhi: India believes Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli has taken a “maximalist position” that will be “damaging” to his country’s cause even as Kathmandu moves for a constitutional amendment over its new controversial political map, ThePrint has learnt.
A top official suggested Oli’s stance will narrow the scope for an amicable settlement, and reiterated India’s stated position that the Nepalese aggression on the issue is driven by Oli’s domestic compulsions.
“Prime Minister Oli has gone in for a maximalist position as he has come under pressure within his own party to resign,” the official said.
“Oli is prejudging the outcome of any negotiation for his own political purposes but, in doing so, has damaged his country’s cause,” the official added, hinting that options for an amicable solution are narrowing.
The era when India considered Nepal as a close neighbour seem to be fast fading away, with the potential of a full-blown strategic crisis seeming to strengthen over the past few days.
New Delhi and Kathmandu’s relationship has been stressed since November last year, when India released a revised map to account for Jammu & Kashmir’s bifurcation into the union territories of J&K and Ladakh. The map showed Kalapani, a disputed territory, as a part of India, and Nepal immediately objected.
Kathmandu subsequently called for settling the boundary issues and the disputed regions of Kalapani and Susta, and has been urging India ever since to settle the matter.
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At the time, the Nepal PM had also offered to send his special envoy Madhav Nepal for sorting out the issue but India refused to meet him.
The crisis deepened earlier this month, 8 May, when Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated a shorter route, which is going to be motorable, to Kailash Mansarovar for Indian pilgrims.
The road connects Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh with the Lipulekh Pass — which Nepal considers as part of its own territory — at the India-China border.
The dispute further intensified last week as the Oli government officially unveiled a new political map showing Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh — India considers certain portions of the areas as its own territories — within its borders. This Friday, the Nepalese government reportedly moved a constitutional amendment bill to revise the map in their national emblem.
‘Kathmandu giving wrong signals’
According to Nepalese media reports, their Ministry of Law and Parliamentary Affairs registered the constitution amendment bill in the parliament secretariat Friday. The bill will be passed if it gets two-thirds majority in the lower house, followed by a similar vote in the upper house.
If the constitutional amendment goes through in the Nepalese parliament, it will likely shrink the room for bilateral negotiations on the matter. Kathmandu’s rancour has not been restricted to the border issue alone, and Nepal has reportedly also blamed India for fuelling coronavirus in the country.
Experts say “the escalatory moves” that Nepal is taking are going to hurt the relationship.
“India recognises there is a problem and is also open to a dialogue. The government has not said anything otherwise, as in not having talks, which will be quite drastic,” said Constantino Xavier, a fellow at the Delhi-based Brookings India.
“The road ahead is indeed difficult but there has to be a dialogue. PM Oli is not going to come down from the position he has taken. It now depends on how India handles it,” he added.
“Kathmandu is giving very wrong signals to India. But India will now have to do something to mitigate it by prioritising it unless, of course, New Delhi has now gone for the nuclear option of closing the possibility of dialogue and refusing to see this as a bilateral dispute,” he said.
Earlier this month, when Nepal raised the border issue over the Kailash Mansarovar road, New Delhi assured Kathmandu that they will hold foreign secretary-level talks once the pandemic stabilises.
However, it stated earlier this week that it “will not accept any artificial enlargement of territorial claims” and urged the Nepalese leadership to “create a positive atmosphere for diplomatic dialogue to resolve the outstanding boundary issues”.
By taking such a hard stance against India, New Delhi had said, Oli is “deflecting attention from his own unpopularity and intra-party troubles”.
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