New Delhi: India continues to remain silent even as Nepal reaches the final leg of amending its Constitution to adopt a controversial new map, which shows the disputed territories of Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani within its borders.
The development is being seen as a major blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.
The bill, which seeks to amend Annex 3 of the Nepali Constitution to reflect the new map in its national emblem, will be taken up for discussion by the House of Representatives (HoR), or the lower house of the Nepali parliament Tuesday. It will also be taken up in the upper house or the National Assembly.
Members of Nepal’s parliament will be given 72 hours to respond, after which the bill will be passed.
“It is scheduled to present a constitution amendment bill to the HoR tomorrow. According to HoR regulation, 72 hours will be given to interested MPs to file amendment, if they have and be passed by HoR within 4-5 days. Same procedure will be followed by National Assembly too. But, till the date no one has dared to object on updated map. So, there will be no amendment from MPs and all will support govt bill,” tweeted Bishnu Rijal, Deputy Chief of Department of Foreign Affairs and member of Central Committee of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
It is scheduled to present constitution amendment bill to the HoR tomorrow. According to HoR regulation, 72 hours will be given to interested MPs to file amendment, if they have & be passed by HoR within 4-5 days. Same procedure will be followed by National Assembly too.
— Bishnu Rijal (@bishnurijal1) June 8, 2020
New Delhi yet to reach out
While the matter has been proceeding at a blistering pace in Nepal much to India’s discontent, New Delhi has not yet reached out to Kathmandu with a definitive date to hold formal talks on the border issue, diplomatic sources told ThePrint.
According to sources, Nepal has taken the “drastic step” on the issue despite knowing India’s position well and hence it has “closed all possible options” for New Delhi to hold talks in a conducive environment.
Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli has also made it clear to his constituency there that the government will not backtrack on its decision. For Oli, who came to power in Nepal riding high on an anti-India campaign, this appears to be an opportune moment to stick to his election promises on one hand while silencing his critics within his own party, on the other.
Oli has been facing stiff hurdles within his own party, including a clamour for him to resign that was growing louder before the map row. Ever since he took the step to unveil a new map of Nepal, however, voices demanding his resignation have fallen silent.
“The Indian leadership should have known that PM Oli will take an anti-India stance at some point in time during this rule. Nepal did give India a chance to discuss the issue last November but India then chose to ignore. Now Oli will not backtrack his decision,” Vijay Kanta Karna, former diplomat and now professor of political science at Nepal’s Tribhuvan University, told ThePrint.
“He knows that by amending the Constitution he will sour ties with India, but he is still going ahead with it, because this will boost his image and demands for his resignation will be forever silenced,” Karna added.
According to Karna, who is also executive chairman of the Kathmandu-based think-tank, CESIF-Nepal, Prime Minister Oli’s strategy is now to “manage his internal party differences, internal challenges among his leaders in the party as well as his non-performance as the PM of the country”.
“He has failed in every aspect, including the pandemic crisis,” he added.
‘Bleak future for India-Nepal ties’
According to experts, if Nepal finally adopts the resolution and the amendment goes through, which is expected to happen by the end of this week, bilateral ties between New Delhi and Kathmandu will see an unprecedented deterioration.
“I see a bleak future ahead for India and Nepal ties. Both sides will face several challenges in progressing this relationship, which has always been cordial and friendly,” said Jayant Prasad, former Indian Ambassador to Nepal and Afghanistan. “And if Nepal thinks it can bank on China going forward then it is wrong. It will take ages for Nepal to establish seamless trade linkages with China. India and Nepal are natural partners.”
While India always acknowledged the fact that it has to settle the border issues of Kalapani and Susta with Nepal, matters turned serious last November when the Modi government came out with a new political map of India after the scrapping of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.
However, all hell broke loose when Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated the new road to Kailash Mansarovar on 5 May. The road connects Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh with the Lipulekh Pass — which Nepal considers as part of its own territory — at the India-China border.
Subsequently, Nepal handed over a diplomatic note to Indian envoy in Kathmandu, Vinay Mohan Kwatra, on 11 May, asking India to hold talks at the foreign secretary level virtually, which was also rejected.
Finally, on 20 May, the Oli government released the new map, showing the disputed territories of Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani within its borders, which India categorically rejected.
“Oli wants to exploit this border dispute to establish himself as the sole nationalist leader ever to dare to speak against India,” Karna said.