Nepal govt ups the ante, tables Bill to alter map and emblem

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire
| Kathmandu |

Published: June 1, 2020 4:31:39 am

For Prime Minister Oli, whose position appeared very shaky until last month, this territorial row with India is a shot in the arm.

Scaling up its row with India over territorial claims to the Lipulekh-Kalapani-Limpiyadhura region, the Nepal government tabled a constitution amendment Bill in the House of Representatives on Sunday, seeking to make alterations, additions to the country’s political map and national emblem.

Law Minister Shiva Maya Tumbahamphe tabled the Bill, seeking to give legal sanctity to the new map, after the government of Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli was assured the support of two-thirds in the House following the decision of the Nepali Congress, the main Opposition party, to back the legislation.

Although Nepal has a lengthy process for adoption of a constitution amendment Bill, there are indications that the House may pass it early, possibly within the next two weeks.

The Opposition Nepali Congress decided to back the Bill but disapproved of Prime Minister Oli’s “insensitive” remarks targeting India.

At a meeting of the Nepali Congress national executive Saturday night, senior member Gopal Man Shrestha said while Nepal should reclaim its territory through dialogue with India, Prime Minister Oli’s remarks about the Indian national emblem were not in keeping with the office he holds or the spirit of relations that bind Nepal and India together.

Referring to Satyameva Jayate, Oli told parliament last week that he would ask his Indian friends whether truth or force prevails in its dealings with Nepal.

The new map, published by the Oli government after India inaugurated a new road via Lipulekh on the Mansarovar Yatra trail, includes the strategic area of around 370 sq km at the trijunction of Nepal, India and China (Tibet).

India controls Lipulekh, Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and its maps show the area as part of its territory — this is contested by Nepal.

There was no immediate reaction from India on the Nepal government’s move to introduce the Bill. A day earlier, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, responding to a query on the row with Nepal, told Aaj Tak: “Nepal is like family, India and Nepal are like brothers. It is all under control. If there is any problem, we will sit together and discuss it.”

Earlier, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs had said Nepal is “well aware of India’s consistent position on this matter and we urge the Government of Nepal to refrain from such unjustified cartographic assertion and respect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

For Prime Minister Oli, whose position appeared very shaky until last month, this territorial row with India is a shot in the arm.

So fierce has been the reaction in Nepal that it has put on the backburner issues roiling the country – allegations of rampant corruption, inept handling of the Covid-19 situation, the failure of the government to announce a relief package or fly home Nepal’s citizens abroad, sinking tourism and the state of the economy.

Nepal believes it has enough to back its claim to the Lipulekh-Kalapani-Limpiyadhura region. It points to historical documents, mainly the text of the 1816 Treaty of Sugauli under which Nepal agreed to a reduced territory west of the Kali river following its defeat to the East India Company, proof of land revenue collection, and Nepal census coverage of these areas until the early 1960s.

Ninety-three-year-old Bishwabandhu Thapa, who has been witness to every upheaval in Nepal from the days of the Ranas, says King Mahendra handed the strategically-important land at the trijunction on “temporary basis” following a request from Jawaharlal Nehru soon after the 1962 Sino-Indian war. It figured as a dispute much later, first in the 1990s.

In July 2000, the two Prime Ministers, G P Koirala and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, agreed to have it settled through diplomatic channels with the Foreign Secretaries overseeing it – no headway was made.

In May 2015, the issue became more complicated with India and China signing an agreement to build a road via Lipulekh — without involving or consulting Nepal which lodged its protest, but received no response from the two countries. And this May 8, India inaugurated the road, prompting the Oli government to make its move.

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