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India-Nepal ties soured by controversial map and China's backstage play

Indo-Nepal relations are currently at the lowest ebb following the Himalayan nation's decision to release a controversial map showing several Indian territories as its own. India on Wednesday (May 20) rejected the new map and asked its neighbour to respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Reacting strongly to the map, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) official spokesperson Anurag Srivastava stated that Nepal's unilateral action is not based on historical facts and evidence. India, however, reiterated that these disputes should be resolved through dialogue.

The question arises as to why the thousands of years old friendship between the two neighbouring nations are witnessing this phase. The only country in the world to be a Hindu nation besides being associated with the Ramayana and the life of Mahatma Buddha, Nepal's new political map has claimed the three important areas located in Uttarakhand--Lipulekh, Kalapani, and Limpia-Dhura, as its own territory.


Putting his claim, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli said that Nepal has the right over these three areas and he will take them back at any cost even if India gets angry. While addressing Parliament, Oli also blamed India for the spread of novel coronavirus in his country and added that the deadly virus from India is more dangerous than the virus from Italy and China.

Nepal appears to be doing this at the behest of China, placing its thousands of years old ties with India at stake. On the contrary, a Chinese government news channel CGTN on May 2 described Mount Everest as its part, but Nepal kept quiet despite considering Mount Everest as the crown over its head.

On 8 May, when India inaugurated a road linking the Lipplekh Pass to the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra route near the Nepal border in Uttarakhand's Pithoragarh, Nepal immediately objected to it and stated that India has constructed the road in its territory.

The indo-Nepal border is about 1690 km long and there has been no dispute between the two countries but Lipulekh Pass and Kalapani are becoming a bone of contention between the two nations.

The new road that India has built from Pithoragarh to Lipulekh will save a lot of time for Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. Earlier, pilgrims had to walk 80 kilometers on a difficult route to reach Lipulekh, which usually took 5 days, but through this new 74.6 km long road they will reach here by their own vehicles. The rest of the journey can be covered on foot.

The Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, which used to be completed in two to three weeks, can now be completed in just one week. There are two other routes to visit Kailash Mansarovar: the first goes through Sikkim's Nathula Pass while the other passes through Nepal's capital city Kathmandu. Both these routes are much longer than the Pithoragarh route.

The new route's 85% area passes through Pithoragarh in Indian territory while 80 to 85% of the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through the other two routes fall in the Chinese region. Since China considers Tibet as its territory, travelers to Kailash Mansarovar have to take a visa from China.

Lipulekh also holds a strategic significance as it connects India's Pithoragarh with Tibet, and through this pass, the trade has been continuing between India and Tibet for ages. Nepal's objection to the construction of this new route raises several questions.

Surprisingly, India has been working on this road since 2008, but Nepal never objected to this project in the past 12 years. China too did not object to it when the Indian cabinet in 2018, gave its nod to complete the project in two years.

If we peep into history, when the British demarcated the border between India and Nepal, they made the Mahakali river as the base. Nepal believes that its boundary does not start from the river but from the first waterfall in the mountains. If this claim of Nepal is accepted, India will have to lose 5-km area to Nepal, covering about 32 sq km, besides a large part of the Lipulekh Pass.

In the 19th century, Britain had attacked Nepal several times and reached an agreement, known as Sugauli accord. Under this agreement, Nepal gave up its claim on the areas of India which it had in possession.

During the 1857 War of Independence, Nepal's army helped Britain. Pleased with this, Britain had returned a lot of land to Nepal, especially the areas of the Terai region including Janakpur and Kapilvastu. Indo-Nepal boundaries were re-determined in 1865. After a silence of so many years, Nepal's recent move appears to be at the behest of China.

For the past several years, the Indian Army has been stationed at Lipulekh Pass and Nepal never objected to it, but China seems to be provoking Nepal now. Indian Army Chief Manoj Narwane, however, recently indicated at this possible development.

The ongoing political battle in Nepal is understood to be the core reason behind Prime Minister Oli's diatribe against India, as the latter wants to retain his chair with the help of China.

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