New Delhi: The lower house of the Nepalese parliament Saturday voted unanimously to amend their constitution and incorporate the country’s disputed new map into its national emblem. The amendment will now proceed to its upper house.
The map shows three places that are disputed between New Delhi and Kathmandu as being within the Nepalese borders. They are Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh & Kalapani.
“Nepal’s lower house (house of representatives) has unanimously (258 votes) voted on the constitution amendment bill to replace national emblem with Nepal’s updated map, which includes Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh & Kalapani… National unity ! one Nation- One Voice ! No room to play!” said Bishnu Rijal, deputy chief of the department of foreign affairs & member of the Central Committee, Nepal Communist Party (NCP), in a tweet after the voting was over.
Nepal's lower house (HoR) has unanimously (258 vote) voted on constitution amendment bill to replace national emblem with Nepal's updated map, which includes Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh & Kalapani as Sugauli Treaty of 1815.
National unity ! one Nation- One Voice ! No room to play !
— Bishnu Rijal (@bishnurijal1) June 13, 2020
The revised emblem was subsequently tweeted by the Nepalese Foreign Minister, Pradeep Gyawali. Nepal had officially released its new political map on 20 May, injecting fresh tensions into its relationship with India.
The House of Representatives unanimously adopted the Constitution Amendment Bill, paving the way for accommodating the updated political-administrative map in the national emblem. pic.twitter.com/Ndb9xUmT16
— Pradeep Gyawali (@PradeepgyawaliK) June 13, 2020
In a statement issued after the passage of the bill, the Union Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said “this artificial enlargement of claims is not based on historical fact or evidence and is not tenable”. “It is also violative of our current understanding to hold talks on outstanding boundary issues,” MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava added.
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Indian officials had earlier told ThePrint that Nepal’s plans to amend its constitution over the map had brought uncertainty with respect to bilateral talks to resolve the border dispute.
As the K.P. Oli-led NCP government gallops towards amending the constitution to adopt the new political map, experts have urged dialogue between the two sides even as they note that India has a lot of options in its arsenal to corner an increasingly aggressive Kathmandu.
One of them is the 1950 ‘Treaty of Peace and Friendship’, which seeks to maintain “everlasting peace and friendship” between New Delhi and Kathmandu, with both sides having agreed to “acknowledge and respect the complete sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of each other”.
Under the treaty, India allowed Nepal to freely import “from or through the territory of India” arms, ammunition or warlike equipment for its security. The treaty also guarantees “national treatment” and concessions to the nationals of both sides, including shared privileges in the matter of residence, ownership of property, participation in trade and commerce, movement etc.
“If the Modi government wants, New Delhi can terminate the treaty any moment. Yes, by doing this, India will also stand to lose in terms of privileges, but it will adversely Nepal more than it will impact New Delhi,” said a veteran diplomat and former foreign secretary, who refused to be identified.
“All the special privileges that Nepali nationals enjoy in India will be gone.”
‘Tax on oil, essential items sent to Nepal’
Nepal depends heavily on India for its economy, from petroleum products, medicines and food items, to aircraft and telecommunication equipment, and New Delhi knows it all too well that putting pressure on that channel will hamper the daily lives of common Nepalese citizens, say experts.
While India exports oil to Nepal at the same prices that it’s sold within the country, the Nepalese Rupee (NPR) is pegged to the Indian Rupee (INR) and not the US Dollar.
Since 1993, the peg has been left unchanged at one INR to 1.60 NPR. If New Delhi wants, this can change overnight and be brought to the latest market rates, experts said.
“Oli is riding a political tiger from which he cannot get off now … India has several options that it can exercise if it wants to. If India wants, it can put a tax on the petroleum it exports to Nepal, which it has never done. There are about six to eight million Nepalese citizens working in India, which I am sure the Oli government is aware of,” said Nepal expert S.D. Muni, who is a member of the executive council at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, a think tank, and professor emeritus at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
According to a former Indian ambassador to Nepal, India can also look at closing some of the 18 open border points that both countries share.
India and Nepal have twice witnessed massive border blockades – in 1989, under former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and in 2015, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi – that heavily affected normal life in the Himalayan country.
“But this is not the way to deal with smaller neighbours. India needs to engage, and engage in a way where the temperature first needs to be brought down and then negotiate the border issue,” the former ambassador said.
Vijay Kanta Karna, a former Nepalese diplomat who is now a professor of political science at Nepal’s Tribhuvan University, agreed.
“Both sides need to talk and understand each other and sort out the issue. If India thinks China is the factor behind (Nepal’s actions), then it should reach out to Nepal like a friend, this is a modern Nepal and New Delhi has to deal accordingly,” he said.
Tensions erupted in May
While tensions over the disputed portion of the India-Nepal border had been simmering for a long time, matters took an ugly turn when Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated a new and shorter route to Kailash-Mansarovar that almost goes up to the Lipulekh pass, which Nepal considers its own territory.
Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Oli had been under pressure in his domestic constituency to take up the issue with New Delhi since last November, after India released its new political map to reflect the new status of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as union territories.
The map showed Kalapani as part of India’s map and Nepal took objection.
As the clamour for his resignation grew louder within his own party, Oli did the “unthinkable”, as a top Indian diplomat puts it, and released a new map claiming at least 335 sq km of territory comprising Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh.
This report has been updated with the MEA’s reaction
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