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C3S – SMC Virtual Musings: The India Nepal Territorial Dispute

Image Courtesy: The Week

Article 14/2020

The following text is of a ‘Virtual Dialogue’ conducted with C3S among Interns from Stella Maris College, Chennai as a part of their C3S ‘Virtual Internship Programme’. The theme was based on current developments viz. the status of Nepal –India relations and the border dispute. The views expressed are the members’ own and does not reflect the views of C3S.


Nepal has released a new political map claiming Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh of Uttarakhand as part of its territory. The area of Susta which is in Bihar can also be noted in the new map. Nepal’s actions came after Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated a motorable link road that connects India and China, significantly reducing the time of Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. India has clearly rejected the new map of Nepal stating involves artificial enlargement of territories, which is not based on grounded historical facts and evidence.

Karishma – It’s indeed a test of time for India to be confronted by one of its closest allies such as Nepal on issues such as the ‘territory encroachment’.   Nepal has taken a forceful initiative to confront India to take absolute control over these territories by issuing a new political map which was certainly a blow to Nepal – India ties. As for India, this region is of great significance because this serves as the path for Indian pilgrims to visit the Kailash-Mansarovar.

As for Nepal, it is evident that there is certainly a tacit Chinese influence that has persuaded them to bring this to the International forum and the current Leftist Government of Nepal encourage the Chinese influence as well. Considering the ongoing massive military standoff between India and China at the Ladakh borders, my observation is that China has repeated history once again by firing the gun on India using Nepal’s shoulders. And in the long run, it is not favourable for Nepal to confront India, by increasing their dependence on China.

Malini – “These two powers signed a Treaty of Peace and Friendship in 1950, how relevant is this treaty considering the dragon’s powerful entry into the equation? Only a few days ago, the Prime Minister of Nepal, Mr Oli, approved a new political map. Not so bad, one might wonder. However, this new map stands to indicate Nepal’s big demands from India. The map’s demarcation of the Lipulekh Mountain pass, Kalapani, and Limpiyudhara, in addition to the communist party’s special resolution demanding the return of these territories does raise questions of Nepal’s intended intentions with India. Such border-related issues often succumb to the populist agendas of troublemakers and agenda seekers. India-Nepal relations are not simply state-to-state relations but extend to people-to-people ties. This lack of understanding between governments could have a serious negative impact on both state relations, and border diplomacy. Is the reshaping of Nepal’s relations with India a result of China’s interference in Nepal’s domestic politics? Only time can answer.”

Soorya – Nepal has been a standoff point for both India and China for a very long time now. There is not much scope for Nepal to opt-out of this constrained relationship and neither is Nepal sufficient or independent enough to deal on its own. China plays a huge role in this triangle and continues to influence Nepal in various aspects. Since Nepal is far from being internally politically strong and has to deal with various internal disturbances, it becomes an advantage for China to be more assertive in the region. India being a close neighbour of Nepal and a natural partner, it becomes more difficult for it to cope up with the drastic changes happening. Though Nepal acts as a buffer, it is still challenging India’s sovereignty and national integrity. The 1950 India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship establish a close strategic relationship between the two states.

Anoushka Anoop – Currently, the dispute between Nepal and India over the region of Kalapani (located in the easternmost corner of Uttarakhand in Pithoragarh district) has escalated, when Nepal published a political map showing the areas of Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura as its territory in response to the inauguration of the Darchula-Lipulekh pass link by India which cuts across the disputed Kalapani area used by Indian pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar.

This border dispute is predominantly attributed to the differing interpretations of the river’s origin and its vast tributaries through the mountains. New Delhi rejected this unilateral act of Kathmandu pointing out that there were no historical facts or evidence to support Nepal’s claim. India and Nepal should be ready to hold bilateral dialogues to resolve the issue.

Jemimah – India has been genuine and affectionate when dealing with people from Nepal and it has been the biggest testimonial for the relationships. But when coming to the territorial issue, Nepal has been brewing up over the Lipulekh area in Uttarakhand. In this case, Nepal takes up the 1816 treaty which was signed between British East India Company and Raj Guru Gajaraj Mishra. As of the river Mahakali in the Lipulekh territory comes under Nepal. While the river Mahakali joined by two tributaries in the area, but India wants to follow the original river route.

But a few days ago, Nepal released maps with including new territories such as Lipulekh, Limpiyadhura, and Kalapani. Recently, Nepal has halted the Constitution Amendment to update its political map to include three disputed areas with India. The reason behind the aggressive move of China is because of the road which was built to shorten the long route to Mansarovar Lake in Tibet (China) which was via Sikkim till now. As the road will be a great strategic asset during the Indo-China conflict in the future.

Pavithra – The dispute over, Kalapani which lies on the easternmost corner of Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district, between Nepal and India was revived in November 2019 when India published a revised political map showing the newly created Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

The dispute is mainly because of the varying interpretation of the origin of the river and its various tributaries that slice through the mountains. Nepal has published a revised official map incorporating the territory from the Limpiyadhura source of the Kali to Kalapani and Lipulekh pass in the northeast.

Nishitha – India-Nepal Relations have undergone several developments and looks for a reset in ties. The strategic significance of Nepal is an important factor in India’s security relations. Since the annexation of Tibet by China in 1950, the security concerns of India became prominent. The relations had its ups and downs throughout the years. Recently the relations between the countries strained again last year with India’s claim on Kalapani and the road construction in Lipulekh, two strategically important locations for India.

However, post the inauguration of the blacktop road in Lipulekh, Nepal has issued a new political map claiming areas of dispute with India. The Oli led government in Nepal uses India as a symbol for domestic sentiments and stands in contrast to the governments before him.

Despite the cultural, economic and social relations that have been prominent between India and Nepal, a sense of mistrust and suspicion lies between the two countries. Nepal should resolve the issue by creating more dialogues with India to prevent growing China’s grip in Nepal’s domestic politics. The effort needs to be put to achieve political and economic stability in both countries.

Rugmini – The idea that China might cause unrest and conflict world to divert the attention can be attributed to the expansionist policy pursued in China led by Xi Jinping. Keeping this in mind, Nepal can be seen as China’s strategic tool even though India is the responsible and loving “Thulo Dai”. India has extended her hands to support Nepal in COVID-19 crisis which is a concern for China.

Sujiha – In May 2020 Nepal approved a new map that included territories of Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura. These territories have been claimed by India. In October 2019, India had released a new map that included Lipulekh and Kalapani on the Indian side. The issue between India and Nepal had started long back in 1816 when the kingdom of Nepal and British India signed the Treaty of Sugauli under which Kali River was fixed as the Western Border of Nepal. The issue has arisen in locating the source of the river that led to boundary disputes between India and Nepal. India recently inaugurated a road section in Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand. According to India, under the treaty of Sugauli, Limpiyadhura is the point of origin of the Kali river. It is the point where the Nepal border begins. All these had been started border issues between India and Nepal.

Davina – The dispute over Kalapani between Nepal and India was regenerated in November 2019 when India published a revised political map showing the newly created Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Both India and Nepal lay claim to Kalapani. The map showed Kalapani as part of Pithoragarh district. Nepal protested immediately and drew attention to this cartographic issue. On May 8, India inaugurated the Darchula-Lipulekh pass link road, cutting across the disputed Kalapani area which is used by Indian pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar. Nepal’s Oli government is considered close to China, Kathmandu has made no secret of its displeasure over the road construction.  This sturdy struggle over domination in the Himalayan region is going to make the confrontation between China and India much worse.

(Compiled by C. Balasubramanian, Research Officer, C3S.) 

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