India – Nepal relations- Present challenges and solutions

India – Nepal relations– Present challenges and solutions 

Sources: Pax Indica, The DiplomatRSTV Big Picture 

This article on India Nepal relations – present challenges and solutions, has been developed based on The Hindu editorial Nepal in turmoil”. 

India and Nepal share a unique relationship, both of them share friendship and cooperation underpinned by linguistic, cultural and civilizational links, along with a wide range of commercial and economic ties, and above they are linked with extensive people-to-people contacts. 

Historical relationship between India – Nepal: 

Firstly, the bedrock of the India-Nepal relationship was the India-Nepal treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950. Under this treaty, Nepal became the only country whose nationals required no passports to cross into India. 

Few important information of India-Nepal treaty of Peace and Friendship 1950: 

    • India-Nepal Treaty was signed after Nepal feared the Chinese threat as the Chinese occupied TibetThe treaty has an explicit reference to threats from third countries, which both countries would tackle by cooperation. 
    • The treaty extended rights to residence, employment and purchase of property to each other’s citizens reciprocally – in other words, it extended ‘national treatment’ by each country to the other’s citizens. 

 Secondly, Buddha’s birthplace is in Nepal and also Nepal is the only other Hindu majority country in the world. So cultural and religious visits between India-Nepal is so strong. 

Thirdly, the Ministry of External Affairs termed India-Nepal relations as Roti-Beti ka Rishta (Relationship of food and marriage) as the open border enabled kinship, familial ties in the terai region. There are six million to eight million Nepalis who live and work in India, according to Indian home ministry estimates. 

Fourthly, the 1996 trade treaty resulted in the phenomenal growth of bilateral trade, which witnessed a sevenfold increase in a decade (Nepal’s exports to India increased eleven times and Indian exports to Nepal increased six times).  

Fifthly, the 2009 revised trade treaty has retained the positive features of the 1996 treaty and further enhanced bilateral trade between India-Nepal. 

Sixthly, Defence and Humanitarian relations were provided greatly by India, as Nepal is landlocked and geographically prone to disasters being situated in the Himalayan region.  

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What are the challenges in India-Nepal relations? 

India-Nepal relations often swung between two extremes much quickly. There are few underlying reasons for it. 

Firstly, the Constitutional question on Madhesi’s: In general, Madhesi’s section of People lives throughout the southern part of the Terai region and has much closer ties with IndiaThe challenges in this regard are, 

    • The political rights of Madhesi’s section of people were diluted in their new Constitution promulgated in 2015 which led to wider protests and blockade in Nepal led to the blocking of oil and other essential supplies. 
    • Nepal government accused India of supporting Madhesi’s and stated India is interfering in the internal matters of Nepal. Nepal raised the issue in a “trade blockade” at the UN in October 2015. But Madesi’s protest was a spontaneous movement and it had nothing to do with India. 
    • One of the foremost scholarsProfessor S.D. Muni points out major challenges with the Nepal government as, 
      • India’s fears that a Constitution drafted under assertive Maoist leadership may not be compatible with the democratic profile of Nepal. 
      • India’s also fears that the Maoists were inclined to and capable of changing Nepal’s domestic power equations. 

The recent decision of Nepal Prime Minister dissolving the lower house has created  a new political crisis altogether.  

Secondly, China’s closeness with Nepal and the Influence of China in India-Nepal relations is a cause of concern.  

    • Nepal is a landlocked state that has relied much on India for major supplies, transit and transport. India-Nepal Blockade changed the perception completely.  
    • The Nepal earthquake in 2015 was the perfect time for China to make massive investments in infrastructure like Tibet Railway, many highway projects, access to Chinese ports etc. By the end of 2016, China became the major assistance provider of Nepal. 
    • Hydel co-operation, Fuel and Humanitarian assistance from China has increased many folds. For example, China pledged to provide 1.4 million liters of fuel and planned to construct 750 MW WestSeti Dam project.  
    • Nepal also supports China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the China-Nepal relations so far is stable to some extent. 

Thirdly, the boundary dispute between India-Nepal: About 1850 km boundary line between India-Nepal faces two major boundary disputes.  

    1. Kalapani dispute: Kalapani is the disputed territory in the Uttarakhand state of India. The British government has set the origin of River Kali as the western border of Nepal. But the origin of the river Kali is disputed between India-Nepal. While India uses the newer British survey, Nepal wants the area to be demarcated based on the older British survey.
      New map of Nepal was notified in June 2020 with Kalapani in Nepal (Source) 
    2. Susta Dispute: Susta is another disputed territory located in the Terai regions of India. (Source) 

Fourthlythe challenges relating to the open border. The border is notoriously porous. Being provided special status to Nepal, India’s internal security faced many challenges such as 

    • The Pakistani militants using Nepalese territory as a hideout and base for infiltration into India. The Ministry of Home Affairs in its Annual Report 1999–2000 highlighted this Pakistani involvement in Nepal and its security implications in India. 
    • The Nepalese Maoists have extended support and cooperation to the Indian Maoists and carving out a Compact Revolutionary Zone, a ‘Revolutionary Corridor’ spreading from Nepal through Bihar and up to Andhra Pradesh. 
    • Apart from these the open borders have also created challenges such as pumping fake Indian currency notes, human trafficking especially young girls and women, cattle smuggling, etc. 

Thus, India’s external and internal challenges converge, and make ties with Nepal of extreme importance and swung between extremes. 

What are the solutions to improve India-Nepal relations?

Firstly, focus based approach is necessary not only in India-Nepal relations but also for other countries in the region by giving more focus towards Neighbourhood first policy 

    • India should leverage the strategic influence, faster and effective implementation of infrastructure and development projects in Nepal.
      For Ex. Finalising the projects such as Pancheshwar multipurpose project and faster completion of cross-border rail projects such as Jayanagar-BijalpurBardibasJogbani-Biratnagar. 
    • In 2018 Indian PM asked to shift focus on 5T’s (Tradition, Trade, Tourism, Technology and Transport) to boost the relations. 

Secondly, India can focus on “aid diplomacy to reduce the trust deficit and also has to continue with post-earthquake reconstruction assistance. Later deepening co-operation in areas like trade, water resources, energy co-operation, etc. 

Thirdly, regarding China’s influence, Experts believe that Nepal’s nearest ports will always be in India and the Gangetic plain will remain its largest market. This is because,  

    • The economic feasibility of Chinese trans-Himalayan trade and the infrastructure projects are low, especially when the Himalayan state Bhutan supports India and Nepal is the only other Himalayan state. 
    • Though China provides access to Nepal for its seaports, they are situated more than 3,000 km away. 

All this can sum up by the words of geostrategistBrahma Chellany. He said, “China can replace India as Nepal’s main provider of essential supplies only by moving the Himalayas southward. But the ability of the Chinese in project implementation and financial assistance cannot be under estimated. 

Fourthly, establishing a permeant mechanism to reduce the disasters caused by floods in the regions of India-Nepal. 

Fifthly, Mutual respect is the key: The Nepal government has to move away from narrow terms and shift focus towards broadening and inclusion of demands from all sections of society in the ConstitutionNepal also has to stop the rhetoric on territorial nationalism and pulling out China card whenever they negotiate with India. 

Way forward:  

India-Nepal relations have all the potential to move ahead and become mutually reliable commercial and economic ties, and extensive people-to-people ties only when India and Nepal forget the avoid past mistakes and move ahead to become sustainable. 

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