Countries resolve their territorial disputes by either annexing the area with force or by arriving at a negotiated settlement through dialogue. The other choice is to live with the status quo until differences become irrelevant. Nepal chose a bizarre option. It redrew its map by including Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura to legitimise its artificial claim by amending the constitution.
The reason for this cartographic aggression was obvious. Faced with growing challenge to his leadership within the Communist Party (CPN) and widespread protests over unemployment, rising prices, corruption and mismanagement of Covid-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Oli used inauguration of the Indian road, linking Kailash Mansarovar via Lipulekh, to raise the bogey of threat to Nepal’s sovereignty. He organised anti-India protests and even accused Delhi of sending infected Nepalese with deadlier strains of coronavirus, unlike the “benevolent” Chinese. Carried away by his venom, a Nepalese policeman shot dead a young Indian farmer of Bihar, and Radio Nepal has since begun exhorting people to forcibly recover their occupied land.
If Oli still had any hesitation in redrawing the map, China incited him to lay claim to the area. Beijing’s focus, of course, has long been on subverting Nepal with money and using it as its client state to nibble India. Its investment in Nepalese infrastructure has increased from $8 million in 2008 to $42 million in 2017-18, contributing 42 percent of Nepal’s total FDI. Chinese ambassador in Kathmandu now regularly holds court to guide and arbiter differences among rivals in the Communist Party. Their latest briefing was on June 16 where Chinese perception of violent clashes in Galwan Valley in Ladakh was shared.
However, there is no need to be overly concerned. Nepal’s economic dependence on India is around 76 percent. Approximately, 600 million Nepalese live or work in India, remitting $396 million annually. India is also their largest trading partner, with Nepalese exports accounting for $447 million and imports $7.7 billion. Its people have a filial relationship with Indians since ages and enjoy restriction-free travel in India. Oli cannot model Nepal on China’s Pakistan.
The way forward is to quietly rebuild the democratic forces to counter Communists aggressively on streets and in parliament, and revive our erstwhile deep access to Oli’s rivals in the CPN. Meanwhile, our assistance for humanitarian, development and connectivity projects should continue as before. We must avoid imposing economic hardship or creating insecurity among Nepalese working in India. There is also no need to pamper Nepal. Just maintain normal political and diplomatic contacts and be willing to assist only when asked for, because small neighbours have disproportionately inflated firstname.lastname@example.org
Former special secretary, Research and Analysis Wing