NEPAL MOVE COULD HURT RE­LA­TIONS

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - FRONT PAGE - Shishir Gupta let­ters@hin­dus­tan­times.com

NEWDELHI: Nepal’s lower house on Tues­day made a strong pitch in favour of the con­sti­tu­tion amend­ment bill to re­draw Nepal’s po­lit­i­cal map, a move that could lead to a freeze in re­la­tions be­tween Kath­mandu and New Delhi. The map counts three In­dian ter­ri­to­ries as part of Nepal. Its pas­sage by the Nepalese cab­i­net on May 18 had an­gered In­dia.

THE MAP, CLEARED BY

THE OLI CAB­I­NET LAST MONTH, COUNTS IN­DIAN TER­RI­TO­RIES OF KALAPANI, LIPULEKH AND LIMPIYADHU­RA AS PART OF NEPAL

NEW DELHI : Nepal’s lower house on Tues­day evening made a strong pitch in favour of the con­sti­tu­tion amend­ment bill to re­draw Nepal’s po­lit­i­cal map, a move that could lead to a freeze in re­la­tions be­tween Kath­mandu and New Delhi.

The new po­lit­i­cal map pushed by the KP Sharma Oli gov­ern­ment is set to clear the first leg­isla­tive hur­dle in the lower house.

The con­sti­tu­tion amend­ment bill will next go to the 59-mem­ber Na­tional Assem­bly where the rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal has an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity.

The map, cleared by the Oli Cab­i­net last month, counts In­dian ter­ri­to­ries of Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhu­ra as part of Nepal.

Its pas­sage by the Nepalese cab­i­net on May 18 an­gered In­dia, which asked Nepal to “re­frain from such un­jus­ti­fied car­to­graphic as­ser­tion” for an “ar­ti­fi­cial en­large­ment of ter­ri­to­rial claims”.

That mes­sage from New Delhi ap­pears to have gone un­heard in Kath­mandu.

An­a­lysts said that shouldn’t sur­prise any­one — sup­port­ing In­dia or tak­ing a po­si­tion aligned with In­dia are seen as signs of weak­nesses by many Nepalese politi­cians, they add.

Ac­cord­ing to them, the new map is part of Oli’s ef­fort to whip up ul­tra-na­tion­al­is­tic sen­ti­ments at In­dia’s cost and con­sol­i­date his weak­en­ing hold on the gov­ern­ment and the rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal. It ap­pears to have worked.

On Tues­day, op­po­si­tion par­ties that have been at­tack­ing the Oli gov­ern­ment for his han­dling of the econ­omy and Covid-19 found them­selves com­ing around to back him in the lower house on Tues­day. The mo­tion for the adop­tion of prin­ci­ples of the Map Bill was passed by a voice vote. The Speaker has given 72 hours from Tues­day to sub­mit an amend­ment to the Bill, but HT learns that its pas­sage is now a mere for­mal­ity.

There has been no for­mal re­sponse from New Delhi to Tues­day’s de­vel­op­ment.

“There may be one later to set the record straight,” a se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial said on con­di­tion of anonymity.

New Delhi is furious and is ex­pected to cold shoul­der re­quests for a di­a­logue, an­other gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial added, ask­ing not to be iden­ti­fied.

“Once Nepal’s cab­i­net and then par­lia­ment backed changes to its map to in­cor­po­rate In­dian ter­ri­tory, there isn’t a lot to talk about,” this of­fi­cial added, hours af­ter Nepal’s for­eign min­is­ter Pradeep Gyawali spoke of his coun­try’s de­sire to talk to New Delhi to re­solve the bound­ary is­sue.

“We have ex­pressed time and again that Nepal wants to sit at the ta­ble to re­solve this prob­lem,” Pradeep Gyawali had told news agency Associated Press on Tues­day.

The row be­gan af­ter In­dia reis­sued its map to in­cor­po­rate changes in Jammu and Kash­mir that had been carved into two union ter­ri­to­ries.

Like in all pre­vi­ous maps, this one too con­tin­ued to count Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhu­ra as part of the In­dian state of Ut­tarak­hand.

The two coun­tries planned to hold a round of dis­cus­sions at the for­eign sec­re­tary’s level to ad­dress Nepal’s con­cerns but the meet­ings could not be sched­uled.

Oli’s gov­ern­ment, how­ever, re­newed the at­tacks af­ter In­dia in­au­gu­rated an 80-km road in Ut­tarak­hand that al­most goes up till Lipulekh Pass at the In­dia-China bor­der.

This project es­sen­tially in­volved build­ing a met­alled road con­nect­ing Dharchula town in Ut­tarak­hand to the Lipulekh pass. New Delhi was sur­prised when Kath­mandu protested over the road that had been built in in­dian ter­ri­tory.

This area, spread over 330 sq km near Nepal’s western tri­junc­tion with In­dia and China, had al­ways been part of In­dia in ev­ery map that had been is­sued for more than a cen­tury and in terms of the ground sit­u­a­tion, a third se­nior In­dian of­fi­cial said.

This claim was also ac­cepted by China when it inked a pact with In­dia to trade via Lipulekh pass back in 1954.

When the two sides men­tioned Lipulekh as a bi­lat­eral trade route in a 2015 joint state­ment sixty years later, Nepal reg­is­tered its protest.

Be­hind the sharp rhetoric from Kath­mandu over the road in re­cent weeks, In­dian of­fi­cials said, is the fact that Oli wants to be seen as the prime min­is­ter who stood up to In­dia.

An­a­lysts say Nepal’s ap­proach con­trasts with In­dia’s which when the two coun­tries were look­ing to re­draft their 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friend­ship asked Kath­mandu to put to­gether the first draft.

And when Nepal had reser­va­tions over the 50:50 fund­ing for­mat pro­posed for the Panchesh­war dam project, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi asked it to con­trib­ute what it could and promised to pool in the rest.

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