India-Nepal ties
File photo of PM Narendra Modi with Nepal's Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli | PTI
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As China beefs up its aggressiveness along the Line of Actual Control, India must also focus on Chinese attempts to make its immediate neighbourhood insecure for New Delhi. China’s strategy usually involves multiple simultaneous moves.

It should, therefore, not surprise anyone if the deterioration of India’s relations with Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been encouraged by Beijing. At the same time, India’s own mistakes might be responsible for weakening its bond with Bangladesh.

Ever since China took over Tibet in 1950, Nepal has been India’s buffer, and from the security perspective, northern neighbours Nepal and Bhutan are its first layer of security.

The ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy of the Narendra Modi government, for the last six years, was a continuation of a consistent attempt by New Delhi to reassure smaller South Asian neighbours that in return for keeping India’s security concerns in mind, we would provide them aid and support.

That policy has often faced challenges, but none more so than now.


Also read: India can’t free-ride others to limit China. It needs to lead the containment strategy


The Nepal problem

The India-Nepal tensions openly on display for the past few months indicate that New Delhi has been unable to keep Kathmandu in its fold despite shared historical, religious and cultural ties, and strategic and economic bonds.

These relations are exemplified in many ways. The Indian Army chief is conferred the title of ‘honorary general’ of the Nepal Army, and continuing a British legacy, Gorkhas of Nepal still form a key part of the Indian Army.

The 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship granted rights to Nepalese and Indian citizens to reside and work, and even obtain citizenship, in each other’s country. India granted Nepal the right to transit trade across its territory and use Indian ports for importing and exporting commodities free of customs duties. Approximately 80 lakh Nepalese people live and work in India.

But Nepalese nationalists have sometimes felt that Indians take their country for granted. The most recent fracas began with a map released by the government of Nepal that claims three areas in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand (Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura) as Nepalese territory. Nepal’s House of Representatives cleared a constitutional amendment bill that will add these territories to Nepal’s new map in the national emblem.

The roots of this border dispute date back to the Treaty of Sugauli of 1816, signed between the Nepalese monarch and the British East India Company. While Nepal regained some of the lost territory in later years, Kathmandu laid claim to Kalapani at regular intervals.

The addition of the three areas in his country’s latest map reflects the desire of Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli to gain public support through nationalist sentiment at a time when he is facing backlash over his government’s lackadaisical response to the Covid-19 crisis. They also reflect Kathmandu’s aspiration of forcing New Delhi to negotiate on prickly issues, such as revisiting the terms of the 1950 treaty and the issue of the Madhesis — ethnic Indians who have lived in Nepal for centuries and constitute approximately 30 per cent of the population.

Just as India’s relations with Sri Lanka are strained by the latter’s treatment of its Tamil population, Nepal’s refusal to accord Madhesis their due share in political participation has become a source of stress in India-Nepal ties. Nepalese also resent the dominance of business by its large Indian diaspora, and friction over transit trade has never been amicably resolved.

Disagreements over the new Nepalese Constitution, between Madhesis and Oli’s Nepal Communist Party, resulted in political unrest and violence in 2015, which saw weeks-long blockade allegedly with India’s backing along the border. India viewed it as supporting the rights of Madhesis. The Nepalese felt resentful at what they saw as ‘big brother’ India interfering in their internal affairs.


Also read: Modi govt and military leaders have soldiers’ blood on hands. PM’s dilemma now same as Nehru


Problems with civilisational approach

The wrinkle in the India-Nepal relationship points to the problem India seems to be having with some of its other neighbours, something that China is actively taking advantage of in pursuit of strategic advantage.

From New Delhi’s point of view, South Asia is its historic and civilisational sphere of influence. India sees its ties with Nepal, for example, as a special relationship signified by the 1950 treaty. From Kathmandu’s prism, the special relationship is a problem as the Nepali aspiration is for an equal, not junior, partnership.

India accepts the sovereignty of all its neighbours but its emphasis on ancient history creates fear that New Delhi’s goal might be to diminish the separate identities of its smaller neighbours. That fear is similar to recent reactions to a European Union that transcends borders. Smaller nations fear losing their uniqueness and India’s civilisational approach to regional relations is producing an ultra-nationalist sentiment within neighbouring countries.

With the challenge from China looming, the world’s democracies would like to see a more militarily and economically aggressive India. But New Delhi must find a way to assure its immediate neighbours in South Asia that India’s rise would not be a threat to their separate national existence.

The author is Research Fellow and Director, India Initiative at the Washington-DC based Hudson Institute. Her books include ‘Escaping India: Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy’ (Routledge, 2011), ‘From Chanakya to Modi: The Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy’ (Harper Collins, 2017) and ‘Making India Great: The Promise of a Reluctant Global Power’ (Harper Collins, 2020). Views are personal.

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13 Comments Share Your Views

13 COMMENTS

  1. when most policy making apparatus is fed on history qualification is history what would u expect from techno -phobic, techno-sceptic, techno allergic policy set up

  2. Nepal’s National Assembly proclaiming Indian territory as being Nepal’s is a fractal of China’s and Pakistan’s claims to Indian Territory which India has done nothing about since 1947 other than accede to in bits and pieces and submit to fait accompli presented in the form of “Possession is Nine Tenths of the Law” and “Might is Right” with very rare, faltering and often partial exceptions and at great and disproportionate costs to India such as in Kashmir, 1962, Sikkim, Bhutan, Kargil. Leh, Ladakh, Galwan and so on. All this reinforces the World View of India as a soft power waiting to be taken and exploited. To Nepal now, as to China (Communism) and Pakistan (Islam) earlier.
    Nepal’s new map was an inevitable result of Nepal becoming a Chinese Proxy thanks to Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh’s “Parivar that loots together to stay together”, (Version 1, which included Sitaram Yechuri and his Communists) facilitating a Maoist take over of Nepal after deposing the Crown.
    This was typical Nehruvian Gandhistry of India ceding territory (Nepal here) to hostile powers such as Islam and Communism. India has been adept at this, as its priorities, since 1947 have been focused on divesting the “haves” of India for investing the “have lots” (those who hold or manipulate the levers of power) in the name of the ostensible “have nots” rather than on National sovereignty, power or prosperity. i.e. in short, the redistribution of power and wealth rather than on creating power and wealth.
    As of now, both Pakistan and Nepal are Chinese proxies on India’s borders and will maximize the difficulties for India. This is a given, a fait accompli, and India has to live with it. How India chooses to live with it is the real matter for consideration
    As all the chicken of India’s suicidal policies from 1947, which have depleted India’s strengths in order to surface and enrich a Nouveau Kleptocracy, come home to roost, India faces a hard choice between becoming a credible hard power both militarily and economically (the two are indivisible Siamese twins) or giving up its sovereignty in bits and pieces as a prelude to leaps and bounds.
    To become powerful, India must build a corruption free meritocracy with equality under law for all citizens and give up its addictions to:
    its colonial-communist legacy Government structures, systems and methods,
    its Quotas (Reservations / License),
    its Corruption (Extortion / Percentage)
    its “For Government, By Government, To Government” bastion and
    its abolition of accountability for “Caesar’s wives” (the Judiciary, Police, Bureaucrats, Public Sector, and Politicians).
    As these failed but immortalized policies favour India’s ruling classes at the expense of India’s voiceless and vulnerable such as the Brahmanas and the Savarna, the Kleptocrats are likely to continue to value their “way of life” more than India’s power, prestige and prosperity as we have seen since 1947. So, in all probability, the Indian response is likely to be, like Modi’s Government’s, to do all that the Government has done wrong since 1921 with even greater intensity, vehemence and savagery.
    There are already clear indications that India’s suicide will accelerate in response to any crisis. Not only in the true History since 1921, when unexpurgated for political convenience, but also in the living present.
    Even somebody who passes for an intelligent, knowledgeable and rational BJP MP, Subramanyam Swamy, is going around proclaiming that India does not need structural changes, but merely monetary policy interventions such as “liquidity” when the very sticks, stones and dust of India cry out that the RBI and monetary policy are irrelevant in an India that is almost entirely non productive government strangling the productive with the excessive greed, lust and sadism of the Kleptocrats (Judiciary, Police, Bureaucrats, Public Sector and Politicians) plying their trade through Fiscal and Administrative policies more redolent of the Mughals, the East India Company and Stalin’s Russia or those of Prince John, Front de Bouef, Robert de Rainault (The Sherriff of Nottingham), and Brian de Bois Guilbert than that of a secular, democratic republic.
    Further, faced with China and its proxies, India has already begun to give up its sovereignty by finding its way, inexorably, into the US sphere of influence while talking “Multi Polarity” but practicing “Multi Appeasement” in a classic exhibition of the hypocrisy which brings India’s ruling classes to power and keeps them there.
    So Nepal may well represent yet another nail in the coffin of India’s self delusions of greatness and grandeur rather than a warning bell for India to change.
    We, the marginalized Nationalist Intellectuals, Savarna and Brahmana shall have to wait and watch as to whether Nepal is a death knell for India or a clarion call to greatness.

  3. The Westernization of the Planet is making nonsense of the old aphorism that the West dreams of the future, the East lives in the past and Africa lives for the moment.

  4. According to Chankya Niti the neighbouring countries, tend to keep exploiting each other depending upon the vulnerabilities of each. However, Indian record for such propensity has been next to nil over the years. The leftists’ dominance in decision making from the days of Pt Nehru onward, ostensibly at the biding of our communist regime, had allowed LWE to take roots not only in our country but also in neighbouring countries. in general and Nepal in particular. Our inability to rein in such left wing extremists over ground and underground, rather indulging with them instead, has allowed the things to drift too far .The undesirable outcome is now visible in full view. Our neighbouring countries, hope, shall see through the game of our belligerent northern neighbour, and act in their long term interest keeping in view the fact that we can not change our neighbourhood. Hence it is much better to follow policy of harmonious coexistence while respecting bonafide interest of each other.

  5. Here few fools are telling that they provided citizenship to Indians living in nepal, but they won’t talk about nepalalese living in India.. And they treat Indians as second grade citizens there.. And they think the whole civilization started in the remote hills of Nepal,what a joke.. And they think building huge concrete structures by china will make them Singapore
    but cant understand that they will be debt trapped and will sell mt everest to china someday…And they became so proud that now they can’t even see the reality, everyone should be proud of their country but should’t be so blind.. Who will colonize you and for what, you have to have something of value to colonize, fools.. Now that u got some by being in between india and china at a strategic location, u want to make some money out of it..

  6. China is creating problems to stop India to setting supply chains , also to send message to world their investments are not safe. This article is written without any strategic thinking.

    This is not the right time to publish this article.

    • Mr KK Reddy: So when is the right time to publish an article about an event that is current? 10 years later? 20 perhaps?

      Maybe you should contact the Editorial Board of The Print and admonish them for having printed an article without obtaining your consent !

  7. The notion that India-China relations have always been friendly is false. In fact relations between the two have always been tense, particularly since the rule of King Mahendra.

  8. “Disagreements over the new Nepalese Constitution, between Madhesis and Oli’s Nepal Communist Party, resulted in political unrest and violence in 2015, which saw weeks-long blockade allegedly with India’s backing along the border. India viewed it as supporting the rights of Madhesis. The Nepalese felt resentful at what they saw as ‘big brother’ India interfering in their internal affairs.“

    How do these people become journalists when they cannot even do a very basic google research on subject. Who said a few weeks? It was at least 5-6 months long that blockade where it helped kill more people than the earthquake itself. And there was one more, even longer one of 13 months during 1989/90 done on the pretext of buying a Chinese anti aircraft gun (but was actually to avenge stoppage of Sonia Gandhi’s entry to Pashupati Nath temple which was done by an Indian priest – irony)

    And those land have always been Nepal’s but was occupied by the Indian forces since the 1962 India China war when King Mahendra could not deny a request by Jawahar Lal Nehru; ever since no leader has been able to ask them back for the fear of loosing their power as all political upheaval and changes have been due to or on behalf of India.

    And we are not younger brother but rather an elder one at that. Just because the a younger brother becomes taller, stronger or richer doesn’t mean he really is elder.

    And Nepal was forced to give Nepalese citizenship to more than 4 million people of Indian origin whilst denying the same accord to less than 100,000 Bhutanese of Nepalese origin which India goaded/shepherded to Nepal when they were forced out of Bhutan. Now they are all refugees in various Western countries.

    You know how it feels to be denied access to your own land like Akshai chin or POK? We feel worse because there are villages cut off due to the Indian Army and SSBs denying access to our own land or when SSBs tell our APFs to not patrol 2 Kms within our own boundary.

    Please get your facts checked and get some perspective. When your back’s on the wall there’s no fear of loosing anything. Nepalese people have been kept in a permanent but controlled chaos by India for ages so India can have a safety of a buffer state.

  9. According to Sugauli Treaty, the area to the east of Kali river belongs to Nepal. As Lipulekh being the origin of Kali river, the so called disputed territories naturally fall under Nepal’s area. This case has been well documented and both India and Nepal hold the old records. India is reluctant in solving the issue through talks because it knows it stands no ground at all. All records and documents are in favor of Nepal. Sense of nationalism on both countries are understandable but these issues need to be solved through talk. If Nepal seeks international assistance to solve this issue, then India is bound to face a shameful defeat. China has nothing to do with it because it is self evident that both India and China inaugurated the Mansarovar road that went through these areas. It is so childish and regrettable that India always brings China in this issue. Nepal was founded in 1726 and India was in 1947. Nepal was never colonized, while India was ruled and enslaved by brits for centuries. That can be the reason why Indians always shout because they were shouted at by British when they were slaves.

  10. Civilizational approach if at all , is only 6 years old. But the Communist of Nepal and even of India are against Indians since long.

  11. Another way of putting it would be to say that all this talk of historical / civilisational ties is leaving small neighbours unmoved. Nowhere more so than in ASEAN, which is exceptionally pragmatic. Bangladesh is getting there. India has been Big Brother in the past, something the rise of China and its inroads into the subcontinent are making unsustainable. The loss of India’s economic momentum and the growing incoherence of its foreign policy are something each neighbour is observing intently. Neighbourhood First is a worthwhile objective. It needs more meat on the bone.

  12. Ar-re Bewakoof Indian Foreign Policy Experts!
    You have underestimated the damn Chinks with your sustained non violent approach. My neighbors wont do anything; so let me keep on looting my own people.
    Arr-re bewakoof Comprador Ruling Elite of India, China is way above you in your calculations. They rely on dialectical materialism…..so know thy enemy is what all Military Strategists have taught us and YOU have ignored. My family, my society and my nation is in danger because of your over confidence.
    While you rely on Weber and the Great India stupid ‘topee pehnao” Bureaucracy, the Chinese depend on common sense, they study your contradictions over 5 to 10 years and through Big Data can predict your stupid behavior as looting rulers who least cared for the Indian Peoples and more cared for personal revenue improvement programs for 70 years. Merely screaming against corru
    This is why Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, may be Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan also will begin to give it ‘those ones ‘ to my great Bharat sooner than later.
    So establish competent desks where contradictions and alignments are analyzed the wold option will ever do; you have to have tactics an strategies.. Study the internal and external contradictions within each nation and Pan Asian Areas before coning to USA and Europe.They cant do anything as was the scene in 1971. Reagan ad Thatcher ruled then. Now fools rule. They are leaderless, economic deprived nation states today.China is far, far ahead. and this is the problem- bat eating nation to rule the world. Chinese know when to strike. Jinxing had given the orders in March itself, news reported of his direct instructions but YOU ignored….I read……
    Hai-hai Nehru, Modi….the sacrifices of our freedom fighters have all gone to vain owing to your lack of anticipation, stupid advisers who are paid and looked after by the State and who have a “I know All” approach and aided by the cacophony of the Family Gandhian successors too!!! I wish there was ONE leader in India like Churchill was to UK in WWII. Alas!
    ONE OF 1.3 BILLION TRAGIC INDIAN CITIZENS!
    .

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