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Lipu Lekh and the map dispute with Nepal

Boundary disputes are common between countries that have an ancient history and shared boundaries. One such long-standing dispute has yet again become the reason for a fresh stand-off between India and Nepal. The article discusses the ongoing map dispute between the two countries, the probable causes behind it and the responses made on behalf of both the countries which may possibly affect their long-established diplomatic relations.

By: Anshita Dave

The South Asian neighbours are yet again at loggerheads. This time the dispute is triggered due to the long-standing territorial dispute over the Kalapani region, which lies on the easternmost corner of Uttrakhand’s Pithoragarh district. The controversy re-erupted after India inaugurated the 80 km link road connecting Dharchula in Uttrakhand’s Pithoragarh district to Lipulekh Pass on India’s border with the Tibet Autonomous Region in China. The construction of the road was aimed at easing the journey to Kailash Mansarovar by cutting down the travel time to almost 80 percent as well as for improving India’s defence supply lines. (1)

Nepal’s Retort: Claims & Dissatisfaction

The inauguration of the road resulted in an outcry in Nepal who claimed that the road passes through the Lipulekh pass which comes under its territory. The diplomatic relations between the two nations worsened further after Nepal issued a new political map depicting the disputed territories of Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura as part of its territory. (2) Nepal’s claims were based on the Sugauli Treaty of 1816 signed between the King of Nepal and the East India Company following the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1814-16. (3)

The inauguration of the road resulted in an outcry in Nepal who claimed that the road passes through the Lipulekh pass which comes under its territory. The diplomatic relations between the two nations worsened further after Nepal issued a new political map depicting the disputed territories of Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura as part of its territory.

Kalapani and the Maps: From 1816-1860 and Beyond

There were various maps issued after the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816 which more or less backs the claim of both sides. Nepal’s position is generally favoured by the maps issued between 1816-1860. However, maps issued after that by the British government witnesses the Indian position. Furthermore, it must be noted that India was using this route for the pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar much before the British came to India. Thus, blaming India for any encroachment is baseless.

Domestic Compulsions: A Probable Cause Behind the Dispute

Nepal has already resolved a number of boundary disputes with India in the past. Therefore, such a drastic step on its behalf this time seems quite absurd. One of the possible reasons behind it may be the domestic politics in the country which seems quite in opposition to the current Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli over his governance failures and the lack of action in combating the pandemic. Thus, the dispute became an opportune moment for him to regain confidence in the general public as well as to silence his critics. It is observed in Nepali politics that parties flip from pro-India positions to anti-India depending on whether they are in the Opposition or in power respectively. (4)

Resolution or Escalation: The Way Forward

As per the latest updates, Nepal is on the final stage of amending its constitution to adopt the new controversial map. However, India is still remaining silent on the issue and has not yet made any effort to come up with a definite date to hold diplomatic talks on the issue. (5) Given the fact that Nepal has time and again expressed its willingness to hold talks on the matter, India must not delay it further as prolonging does not seem to be in the interests of either country and third parties may take advantage of the position. Moreover, as per experts, if Nepal Constitution finally undergoes an amendment which is expected to happen bilateral relations between the neighbours will see an unprecedented deterioration. (6) Thus, India and Nepal must try to resolve the dispute peacefully bearing in mind their long-established friendly relations.

Given the fact that Nepal has time and again expressed its willingness to hold talks on the matter, India must not delay it further as prolonging does not seem to be in the interests of either country and third parties may take advantage of the position.

End Notes:

 (1) SD Muni, The past, present and future of the Nepal-India Stand-off | Analysis, Hindustan Times, May 22, 2020.
(2) Kallol Bhattacherjee, Nepal’s new political map Claims India’s territories, The Hindu, May 20, 2020.
(3) Dr. Prem Chandra Thakur, Dr. Krishna Kumar Sahani, The Historical and Geographical Effects Treaty of Sagaouli, Global Research Academy, London UK’s Multidisciplinary Journal, ISSN: 2425-0252, Volume: 2, 07, July 2018.
(4) Karan Pradhan, Behind Nepal’s rancour over Kalapani and ‘Indian virus’ lie K.P. Sharma Oli’s domestic compulsions and China’s disgruntlement; https://www.firstpost.com/india/behind-nepals-rancour-over-kalapani-and-indian-virus-lie-kp-olis-domestic-compulsions-and-chinas-disgruntlement-8390541.html, Accessed on June 8, 2020.
(5) Nayanima Basu, India silent as Nepal set to amend its Constitution to adopt new map, The Print, June 9, 2020.
(6) Id.

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