Nepal PM K P Sharma Oli. (File AFP photo)
NEW DELHI/DEHRADUN: Days after Nepal cleared a constitutional amendment to change the map on its coat of arms to include Indian territory, India indicated that it would offer no further talks and that it will be for Kathmandu to create conditions that can support a discussion — a position that rules out a thaw given passage of the contentious legislation.
“The onus is on Nepal PM K P Sharma Oli and his government to take concrete steps to create a positive and conducive atmosphere for any further dialogue,” sources said on Monday. India has also refuted suggestions that it dragged its feet on dialogue, pointing out that the map-changing has been the result of a deliberate set of actions by the Oli regime.
But while officially India took a tough stand, defence minister Rajnath Singh seemed to keep open a window for reconciliation when he told a virtual rally on Monday that “India-Nepal ties are not ordinary. We have a relation of ‘Roti and Beti’ which cannot be broken by any power of the world”.
Singh’s reference to people on both sides travelling for work and being linked by marriage and family ties can be also be read as an outreach to opinion in Nepal as well as a reminder that connections with India run much deeper than any recent convergence with China. The shooting to death of an Indian national at Samastipur happened when a group of people went to the Nepal border to receive a woman returning to her paternal home. However, given the prominent role of China in propping up his government that was facing dissent over handling of the Covid situation and the economy, Oli is unlikely to relent on the map change and India does not seem ready to offer him any leeway by engaging in talks.
Singh said, “Some misconceptions may have risen in Nepal regarding the road built by Border Roads Organisation (BRO). The 80-km road that allows vehicular access till near the Lipulekh Pass in Pithoragarh was inaugurated by Singh himself on May 8 leading to Oli raising the ante, claiming parts of the areas as its territory.
The defence minister added that “India not only has social, geographical, historical and cultural relations with Nepal but also deep religious ties. How can we forget Baba Pashupatinath in Nepal? Whether Baba Pashupatinath in Kathmandu or Kashi Vishwanath in Varanasi, how can anyone separate them all from Amarnath? This is a divine relationship and no one can change it even if they want to”. Singh also touched upon the contribution made by Nepalese soldiers to the Gorkha Regiment of the Indian Army. “We can place several barricades along the border of India and Nepal but our relations can’t be broken,” he added.
Nepal foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali told media interviewers that Kathmandu had offered talks which New Delhi had not accepted. Sources said as recently when the amendment was tabled in Parliament, India had offered foreign secretary-level discussions, virtually as well, given the seriousness of the evolving situation. This was rebuffed by Nepal, because Oli was playing to a limited domestic agenda. “We don’t know why PM Oli did not tell the Nepali people or their Parliament about our offer,” a source said.
Sources said India took the initiative in 2019 and told Kathmandu about its willingness to “take forward” boundary talks and repeated this after the inauguration of the Lipulekh road in May this year. This was met by silence from the Nepali side. “Whenever they have offered talks we have responded positively — that they could be held in a conducive environment and on mutually convenient dates. However, they hastily released the new map.” It has now created a “difficult situation”.
Sources said after Nepal’s “unilateral act” of changing its map, the ball will now be in its court. India and Nepal, they said, had already delineated 98 per cent of the 1,750 km boundary except for the Kalapani and Narsahi-Susta areas. The road, which Nepal objected to, has been used by Kailash-Manasarovar yatris for decades and has been under construction for years, but at no point did Nepal object to it.
Sources also refuted strongly Oli’s contention that India was responsible for the Covid surge in Nepal. “This claim is false and distorted. There are 8 million Nepalese citizens in India, and a large number of Indians in Nepal. The number of people who have gone back are very small. They have returned with the full knowledge of the government of Nepal, particularly during the lockdown period.”
“We are surprised that there are so many Nepali nationals coming from other countries including China — we have given a number of overflight clearances and facilitated their return from other countries. So singling out returnees from India seems part of the same political motivation,” said a source, pointing to lack of testing and proper quarantine measures by the Nepali government as reasons for the surge in cases there.