The longstanding Kalapani issue had reinvigorated in November last year when New Delhi released the new political map of India following the abrogation of Article 370 and the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into Union Territories
Tensions have been simmering between India and Nepal for the last six months, and have intensified recently with the neighbouring countries vocally taking potshots at each other.
Nepal Prime Minister KP Oli’s rhetoric of late has been accusing India of spreading the novel coronavirus in Nepal by allowing patients to enter the country through illegal channels. In his first address to the Parliament after the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, Oli had even said the “Indian virus looks more lethal than Chinese and Italian now”.
During the same address, Oli released a new political map of Nepal showing areas of Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura as a part of its territory, and sought constitutional status to the map.
India rejected the map, saying the move is not based on historical facts and evidence. New Delhi also stated that this act was contrary to the bilateral understandings on the resolution of the territorial issue through dialogue. "Such artificial enlargement of territorial claims will not be accepted by India," the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement.
The longstanding Kalapani issue had reinvigorated in November last year when New Delhi released the new political map of India following the abrogation of Article 370 and the bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into Union Territories.
In response, Kathmandu had asserted that the Kalapani area situated in the country's far-west lies within the Nepalese boundary, after the new political map issued by India showed the Kalapani region as part of its territory.
What is the Kalapani border dispute and why is it causing souring of ties between the two neighbouring nations, let’s find out:
What is Kalapani border?
Nepal has two tri-junctions with India – the Lipulekh Pass in the west and Jhinsang Chull in the east. The one under dispute currently is the Lipulekh Pass, which is located in Kalapani area at the border of Uttarakhand with Nepal.
The marker shows the Kalapani region at the border of Uttarakhand and Nepal (Image: Google Maps)
Kalapani is a 35 square kilometre area in the hill state’s Pithoragarh district, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).
Why is it disputed?
The Nepalese government has claimed that the Lipulekh Pass belongs to them as mentioned in Sugauli Treaty, which was signed between the British East India Company and Nepal in 1816.
The Treaty identified River Kali as Nepal’s boundary with India. The river has many tributaries, the confluence of which takes place at Kalapani.
While Nepal claims the origin of the river in Lipulekh Pass to be the main Kali and hence is asserting territorial rights to it, India claims that River Kali begins in Kalapani as this is where all its tributaries merge, and is exerting claims on the area to the east of it.
Why is Kalapani significant?
The Lipulekh Pass serves as an important vantage point for India to keep a track of China’s movements. The pass also serves as a trading route between India and China as well as a pilgrim route to Tibet.
Why is Kathmandu upset?
India and Nepal have, by and large, enjoyed friendly relations in keeping with the 1950 peace treaty, which said, “There shall be everlasting peace and friendship between India and Nepal. The two governments agree to respect the complete sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of each other.” According to Nepal’s ambassador to India, about 98 percent of Nepal’s border disputes with India are already settled.
However, in 2015, Kathmandu grew upset as it claimed that the Indo-China bilateral agreement to increase trade via Lipulekh pass was signed bypassing its authority.
Tensions between India and Nepal have now flared up over the territorial rights over Kalapani. Nepal said it has written to New Delhi to resolve the issue earlier too, but India was apparently not ready. The two countries are yet to finalise a date for dialogue on the Kalapani issue.
What has intensified the dispute?
On May 8, Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated a road connecting the Lipulekh pass with the Kailash Mansarovar route in China. Not only has Nepal protested the move, it is also considering putting up a security post in the area.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has maintained that the road going through Uttarakhand's Pithoragarh district "lies completely within the territory of India".
Asserting that the newly inaugurated road follows the pre-existing route which is used by pilgrims of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, the MEA said, "Under the present project, the same road has been made pliable for the ease and convenience of pilgrims, locals, and traders."
Besides, Indian Chief of Army Staff General MM Narwane has said that Nepal’s protest against the Indian road built in Uttarakhand was at the behest of someone else, hinting at China’s hand behind the protest.
How does this impact Indo-Nepal ties?
Indo-Nepal ties had received an impetus after Nepal was invited as a SAARC member to PM Modi’s swearing-in ceremony. Modi had also visited the Himalayan nation as a part of his ‘neighbourhood first’ commitment. India had offered unconditional help during the earthquake that had ravaged Nepal in April 2015, even though the Indian media coverage had drawn flak from various quarters.
However, the bilateral ties deteriorated considerably after the 135-day trade blockade in 2015, which was caused due to protests by ethnic communities after Nepal adopted its new constitution in September 2015. Nepal alleges that India had a role in the economic blockade.
In addition, India’s shifting interest from SAARC to BIMSTEC and BBIN has upset Nepal; even as Delhi is displeased with Kathmandu joining Beijing’s Border Roads Initiative (BRI), which India has boycotted on several fora.
Moreover, demonetisation was a blow to Indo-Nepal relations as Nepal had Rs 33.6 million Indian currency in its formal bank channels alone.A border dispute, left unaddressed at a time when Nepal is reducing its economic dependence on India with the help of China, could push Kathmandu further into the arms of Beijing, as well as invite China to intervene on the issue.