India's ties with Nepal fray after new map approved; talks imminent

NEW DELHI • Amid border troubles with China, India has seen a low-lying row with Nepal suddenly take centre stage over a new map.

Nepal's Parliament fast-tracked a constitutional amendment Bill approving a new map that includes the territories of Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani, which India considers its own.

The new map was passed unanimously last Saturday in the Lower House, and was approved by the Upper House yesterday. The Bill received bipartisan support in the Lower House, with 258 out of 275 members voting to redraw the map.

The Bill will now have to be approved by Nepalese President Bidhya Devi Bhandari before it becomes a part of the Constitution.

India is understood have reached out to Nepal to initiate talks.

Meanwhile, Nepal's Law Minister Shiva Maya Tumbahamphe yesterday told Parliament: "We have enough facts and evidence and we'll sit (with India) to resolve the dispute through diplomatic negotiations," according to newswire agency Reuters.

India's Ministry of External Affairs had earlier said Nepal's territorial claims in the map were not based on historical fact or evidence.

Analysts in Nepal said only diplomatic talks could now prevent the issue from hurting bilateral ties.

"Moving ahead, the only option left for both countries to stop relations from further backsliding is immediate beginning of serious dialogue," said Nepal-based geopolitical analyst Tika P. Dhakal.

"Nepal knows very well that the map reinforces its historic claim in the Lipulekh triangle but does not affect the operational status quo. Nepal and India cannot afford to remain in a situation of zero dialogue. Costs will be high for both."

Nepalese Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli, who has been facing protests over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, had earlier even accused Indians of bringing a more lethal virus strain to Nepal, which has reported more than 7,800 cases and over 20 deaths.

 
 
 
 

The border row exploded after India's Defence Minister Rajnath Singh early last month inaugurated a road connecting Lipulekh pass, claimed by Nepal, with Dharchula.

The latter, a town in the northern Uttarakhand state of India, is a major trading centre for the trans-Himalayan trade routes.

Lipulekh pass itself is in a tri-junction area between India, China and Nepal.

The link road, which was completed in April and stops 4km short of the China border, was criticised by Nepal as running against the "understanding reached between the two countries".

One Indian civilian has been killed and two others injured so far amid tension at the border.

On Monday, New Delhi struck a more conciliatory note, with Mr Singh saying India would sort out the "misunderstanding" with talks, but maintain its claim on the areas.

Meanwhile, some officials in India have pointed a finger at China, which has been slowly increasing its presence in Nepal, for having a hand in the row.

Nirmala Ganapathy

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2020, with the headline 'India's ties with Nepal fray after new map approved; talks imminent'. Print Edition | Subscribe