India-Nepal ties: Will PM Modi hit reset button?

Making boundary dispute a permanent irritant in Indo-Neapl ties, Nepal Parliament’s Lower House on Saturday cleared a constitutional amendment bill to reflect its new map in the national emblem, much to the chagrin of New Delhi. The bill was supported by all the 258 lawmakers present and voting. This is seen as a major victory for Nepali Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli who has been spearheading anti-Indianism in Nepal politics.

“All 258 lawmakers present in the meeting voted for the bill while there was no vote against it. I announce that the bill has been endorsed by more than a two-thirds majority,” said Speaker Agni Sapkota. The bill now needs to be endorsed by the National Assembly and authenticated by the president before it comes into effect. Four lawmakers of 275 strong House are suspended on either the corruption charge or criminal office. Therefore, the bill needed two-third of 270 as per Article 274 (8) of the Constitution of Nepal, reports Kathmandu Post.

In the new map the Nepal government has shown Indian areas of Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani as its territory.

According to experts, Nepal has based the new map on the Sugauli Treaty signed between Nepal and British India in 1816, which states that all lands east of the Kali River belong to Nepal. While Nepal has argued that Limpiyadhura is the origin of the river, India has claimed Kalapani as the source.

Will India hit the reset button

India has always vouched that it shared a ‘special relationship’ with Nepal but the latter has dismissed it saying the ‘terms are one-sided’. However, Nepal’s complaint is not new. Although there were irritants in the Indo-Nepal relations, Kathmandu’s closeness with China is at the core of the latest trouble between the two neighbours. The Nepali Prime Minister Oli and his government have been spearheading ‘anti-Indianism’ and aggressively pursuing a path of ‘delinking with India’

In India too, in the wake of rising anti-Indianism, there has been a call within India to ‘reset’ its relations with Nepal. Such a reset will have huge impact on Nepali citizens which the policy makers in Nepal understand. In the wake of the Kalapani dispute, it became clear to Kathmandu that China at best can offer a shield but it cannot resolve discordant India-Nepal issues.

If India withdraws the ‘special relationship’, the first casualty will be the freedom of movement between the two countries. Nepalis coming to India for study and employment will need a visa. Same is the case with Indians. India might disband Gorkha regiments of the Indian Army. India disburses more than Rs 2,000 crore in terms of pension and allowances every year among ex-servicemen from Nepal. The reset will do away with the existing preferential trade and economic relations between the two countries. Besides, it is estimated that about 20,000 lakh Neaplis study and work in India. They support many families back home. Any change in bilateral ties might impact their lives also.