Ram Khatry I 19 May 2020 I Professor S.D. Muni, noted scholar considered an authority on the nuanced Nepal-India relations, reckons Lipulekh crisis is nothing but a creation of the British Indian Government.
He has questioned Nepal’s intention behind the “fuss” after having remained silent for centuries.
In an interview with southasia.com.au, the well-respected New Delhi academic also wondered whether the Lipulekh protests was a by-product of the democratic changes in Nepal or a mere prompting from China.
The “fuss” Prof Muni was referring to is Nepal’s claim over Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh – disputed territories India also claims as parts of its sovereign territory. Addressing a meeting of the parliament, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli reiterated today that these areas belonged to Nepal and that his country would eventually get them back.
It would be logical to conclude that one of the two nations is wrong; two countries cannot possibly have the same chunk of land. This is where pleas from academics like Prof Muni become relevant – they are urging both sides to sit down at the negotiating table and find an amicable solution based on scientific facts – before matters get out of hand.
It is a popular belief in India that Nepal has lately come under a growing influence of Beijing, following the Indian blockade on the landlocked nation as it struggled for medical and essential supplies in the aftermath of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2015. India denies it was a “blockade” per se and claims the convoy of trucks carrying supplies to Nepal could not enter the country because of the then ongoing Madhesi movement. India is Nepal’s biggest trade partner as well as the main supply route connecting it to rest of the world market.
Stating that the “escalating tensions are not good for either India or Nepal”, Prof. Muni said the two neighbours must “engage diplomatically and resolve the issue by mutual give and take”.
He remarked that both India and Nepal have their facts “to support their respective positions”.
Egged on by fierce online and street protests in the wake of India’s inauguration of a link road to Lipulekh, Nepalese cabinet yesterday endorsed a new political and administrative map that included the disputed region the “Indian link road” passes through.
The new map of Nepal officially pits Nepal against the South Asian giant as both nations are now claiming ownership over the same stretch of land.
Prof. Muni reckons it is not a fault modern India should be blamed for.
“The dispute is a creation of British period. First the British east India Company and then the British Indian Government are the ones who changed the Sagauli Treaty positions on the map. India got it as an inheritance and Nepal endorsed it in silence for nearly two hundred years. China has also been endorsing India’s position since 1954. So why so much fuss now?” – the Emeritus Professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University asked.
Prof Muni pointed out that this is not the first time that Nepal has disputed the Indian presence in Lipulekh and that the mountain nation has been doing so for a good part of the last two decades, “One wonders if this change in Nepal’s position is because ushering in of democracy or because of prompting from China.”
Responding to a question on how the two nations could find a solution to the longstanding dispute without further escalation in their age-old friendly relationship, specially now that Nepal is coming up with its own version of its political map inclusive of the area manned by the Indian security forces, Prof Muni urged both sides to come to the negotiating table with relevant documents and facts and thereby “work out a solution through diplomatic resilience and mutual accommodation”.
“If no mutually acceptable resolution is worked out, it will continue to strain India- Nepal relations,” he further warned.
Whereas the Lipulekh issue does not resonate much with the mass on the Indian side of the border, the matter has become a matter of national dignity in Nepal where, thanks to the rapidly escalating controversy, patriotic fervour is at an all-time high.
Even actor Manisha Koirala, the granddaughter of late BP Koirala who made her name and fortune through the Indian movie industry, is not untouched by the Lipulekh heartache.
“Thank you for keeping the dignity of our small nation..we all are looking forward for a peaceful and respectful dialogue between all three great nations now,” Ms Koirala wrote retweeting a post by Nepalese foreign minister Pradip Gyawali.
Thank you for keeping the dignity of our small nation..we all are looking forward for a peaceful and respectful dialogue between all three great nations now 🙏 https://t.co/A60BZNjgyK
— Manisha Koirala (@mkoirala) May 18, 2020
The Oli government’s decision to issue a new map of Nepal has even attracted applause from Gyanendra Shah. Through his Twitter handle @GBBShah, Mr Shah called for a bilateral or tri-lateral dialogue to resolve the dispute.
“If any party comes in the way then it has to be taken up at the international level,” tweeted the last king of the Himalayan nation.
आफ्नो मातृभूमिको सम्पूर्ण भू-भाग सहितको नक्शा विश्वसामु प्रस्तुत गर्नु सह्रानीय कार्य हो। नक्शामा समावेश भूभागमा आफ्नो आधिपत्य स्थापित गर्न सीमाका समस्याहरु द्विपक्षीय या त्रिपक्षीय वार्ताबाट नै हल गर्नु सरकारको दायित्व हो। यसमा कसैद्वारा बाधा आए अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय स्तरमा जानुपर्दछ।
— G. Shah (ज्ञानेन्द्र शाह) (@GBBShah) May 19, 2020