India-Nepal Embittered Relations : Much beyond a  Border Dispute

(This is Part-2 of a two-part Report; this one deals with various dimensions of the issue. Part-1 was published on May24, with the title, India-Nepal Border Issue Raked Up, Relations Strained Once Again.) 

Even as Covid-19 health crisis, and its cascading effect on the economic crisis — both are aggravating in India — are upsetting Modi Government’s claims and calculations on both fronts, there is now an added diplomatic crisis and a new thorn along India’s borders, resulting from new maps issued by both sides.

India had blamed some foreigners for its Covid-19 aggravation. Now it is at the receiving end : Nepal’s PM, KP Sharma Oli, on May 25 said that “those coming from India are entering Nepal without proper check, which is leading to further spread of the virus, ” News reported.

Only a few weeks ago, Nepal had thanked India for its support to counter Covid-19. And now this remark by Oli hurts India’s image; it rather shows the level of bitterness, worsening every day, in the bilateral relations, though not far-fetched:

Tens of thousands of Nepalis are among the lakhs of  India’s migrant labor going back home.  Nepal is a unique neighbour sharing an open border with India. Nepali citizens – yes, citizens – serve in India’s Gorkha regiments, a historical legacy of colonial rule. Up to 1.5 million Nepali migrants work as an underclass in India’s informal economy, just as millions of Indians work in Gulf.

Nepal provides employment to hundreds of thousands of Indian labour migrants and is the seventh-largest remittance source to India’s economy – that too, to the poorest parts stretching from eastern Uttar Pradesh through Bihar to Orissa, says Nepali expert Kanak Mani Dixit.

This situation, resulting from a  historical linkage of  both sides, underlines the urgency with which the relations need to be saved from further worsening.

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“ Nepal and India enter a state of cartographic war”

Nepal on May 20 Wednesday released its new political and administrative map, approved by Cabinet on May 18, the first since the signing of the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816, including territories that have long been claimed by both Nepal and India. With release of a new map (see below), Nepal and India enter a state of  ‘cartographic war’, experts say.

The move announced by Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali came weeks after he said that efforts were on to resolve the border issue with India through diplomatic initiatives (PTI).


India’s new political map (left) includes the disputed territory of Kalapani. Nepal’s official map (right) also shows Kalapani inside its border. Map images via India’s Home Ministry & Nepal’s Survey Department. India had issued a new map in 2019 November,  after Kashmir re-organization last year. Nepal protested, talks   promised by India never came, resulting in a new map issued by Nepal. (

The Indo-Tibetan Border Police are already there establishing India’s claim. In fact, since the 1962 war with China, the Indians have been having an armed contingent in this area.

Nepal now deployed Armed Police Force (APF) at Lipulekh, and established camps. The APF border outpost was inaugurated by APF Additional Inspector General Narayan Babu Thapa.

This has thus become yet another thorny issue in South Asia, embarrassing India. This round started on May 8 when a border road was inaugurated by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in Covid times.

After week-long protests, despite Covid-19, in Nepal, now comes the new map from Nepal.


Activists affiliated with ‘Human Rights and Peace Society Nepal’ holding placards protest against the alleged encroachment of Nepal border by India in far west of Nepal, near the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal May 12, 2020. | Photo Credit: REUTERS reported , May 21, 2020

“We are now in a cartographic war because both countries have claimed the same territory,” Toyanath Baral, former director general of the Survey Department, told the Post. “This will put pressure on both sides to break the status quo and sit for negotiations.”

“India has been occupying the land but it is reluctant to sit for talks. The situation will likely become more complicated in the days to come but with the release of the new map, there will be pressure on both sides to sit for talks and resolve the issue,” said Baral.

With this map, “ the entire gamut of Nepal-India relations could change. The time has come to revisit the status quo prevailing since the 1960s in our ties since the Sugauli Treaty,” said Kamal Thapa, a former foreign minister who has a long history of negotiating with India on various issues.

“India has placed its troops in Kalapani due to strategic reasons, so negotiations will be difficult but Nepal should not let the issue go.”

“We could revisit the relevancy of the 1950 peace and friendship treaty and the open border, which will ultimately pave the way for more robust Nepal-India relations,” he said.

“We expect that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will circulate a notice to the United Nations, foreign countries and other multilateral organisations about Nepal’s adoption of the new map,” he said, apart from use in text books.

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Modi-led India too antagonized Nepal quite soon

From 1997 to 2014, no Indian prime minister visited Nepal, but almost all Nepali PMs  began foreign state visits with India.  In 2014 alone, Modi broke that, visited Nepal four times in his five-year tenure. After a gap of 22 years, the Nepal-India Joint Commission (NIJC), a mechanism responsible for overseeing bilateral issues, had a meeting. All these had raised hopes in Nepal.

PM AB Vajpayee  had talks with Nepal’s PM  Grija Prasad Koirala  in July 2000. Both sides had agreed to conduct a field survey to demarcate Kalapani, now in limelight. A Joint Boundary Committee (JBC) was given the task of providing reports using new strip maps, but Delhi refused to withdraw troops from Kalapani. So with Modi-led BJP in power, there were some hopes of  good days.

The Joint Statement of August 04, 2014, issued after PM Modi paid an official visit to Nepal from August 3-4, 2014, revived those hopes :

The two Prime Ministers also underlined the need to resolve pending Nepal-India boundary issues once and for all. They welcomed the formation of the Boundary Working Group (BWG) to undertake the construction, restoration and repair of boundary pillars including clearance of ‘Noman’s land’ and other technical tasks. They also welcomed the Joint Commission’s decision to direct the Foreign Secretaries to work on the outstanding boundary issues, including Kalapani and Susta receiving required technical inputs from the BWG as necessary. The Indian side stressed on early signing of the agreed and initialed strip maps of about 98% of the boundary. The Nepalese side expressed its desire to resolve all outstanding boundary issues. (Point No. 12 of the Joint Statement)  

While that agreement was not pursued, the relations were soured once again when Modi-led India tried to impose its views while framing a new Constitution for Nepal, leading to endless delays. Secularism and ethnic federalism were sought to be interpreted the way India wanted them, and unacceptable to Nepali polity. 

On this  new constitution, India interfered, imposed a border blockade to press Nepali leaders to address the demands of  pro-India Madhesi-based parties (active in the southern belt bordering India). These tensions continued for four months, and the hopes of a new Nepal policy were belied.

K.P. Sharma Oli-led  government had stood up, survived the blockade, adopted an independent foreign policy friendly towards China, and the big brother India was angry. His regime was toppled in 2016 July, CPN-UML leader Oli charged openly, with India playing a “primary role” in orchestrating the Opposition Nepali Congress(NC) and Prachanda-led CPN- Maoist against his regime.

Modi-led India continued the earlier policy to arm twist Nepal to give up its equi-distance policy so as to adopt a policy of subservience to India, as per the unequal Trade and Transit Treaty as also the  Treaty of Peace and Friendship,  1950 that perpetuates  the British colonial policy of according a protectorate status to Nepal whereby its foreign and defence policies were controlled by India. Nepal has been, for decades, pressing for its revision, preferably annulment. 

Despite all this, Nepal, was forced to live amicably with its Southern neighbor, India. The land-locked country could get some freedom with help from China in trade and transit, and it became a land-linked country as Xi Jinping described.

Unequal trade, trade bottlenecks, trade deficit,  inundation of Nepali land due to Indian construction along the border, apart  from the border dispute that is  plaguing India-Nepal relations.

Apart from NIJC, an Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG) was formed to sort out bilateral issues and unequal relations. There was little progress, however.

And now came this latest dispute, with a potential to become yet another hot spot along the border, which must be resolved.

“India is treating Nepal as though it is Pakistan with regards to the border issue”,  said  NC leader Sher Bahadur Deuba, ex-PM with several stints, who was close to India. That sums up the latest round of bitterness.

                          ***                                      *** 

Original copies of both Sugauli Treaty and Nepal-India Friendship Treaty are missing

That was the title of intriguing report by Anil Giri, in on  August 13, 2019 . Anil Giri is its reporter covering diplomacy, international relations and national politics.  Giri also contributed to numerous national and international media outlets. His report :

In 2016, as the Eminent Persons’ Group on Nepal-India Relations sat for talks to review or replace the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, the Nepal team had attempted to locate the original document, signed by then prime minister Mohan Shumsher and Indian ambassador to Nepal Chandeshwar Prasad Narayan Singh. It failed to do so.

The issue was then raised in Parliament,by Nepali Congress MP and shadow Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka. A parliamentary inquiry had been launched into the location of these documents. On July 22, the Delegated Legislation and Governance Committee of the National Assembly concluded that the original copies of the Sugauli Treaty and Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty were not to be found within the country. 

The committee had conducted a thorough search, in vain, in all possible locations  including Law and Foreign Ministry, libraries, archives, Department of Archaeology, the Narayanhiti Museum.

 “We have both treaties but we have to forensically verify whether these copies are originals or not,” said Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali “We are also trying to find historical documents and maps in India and the United Kingdom.”

Some historians and parliamentarians believe that Nepal’s copies of these originals have made their way abroad.

Pavitra Niraula, the chairperson of the International Committee of the Legislative Parliament, told the Post that the original copy of 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty is in India while the Treaty of Sugauli is archived in London. Historian and boundary expert Buddhi Narayan Shrestha also echoed Niraula.

But Thapa, who is a former Nepali ambassador to India, recalls being handed a dossier of documents on Nepal-India relations that contained originals.

“I am certain that the palace had all these original copies,” said Thapa, who had close relations with Nepal’s former monarchs. “After the royal massacre, when the Foreign Ministry moved from Sheetal Niwas to Narayanhiti to Singha Durbar, several historical documents either went missing or were misplaced.”

Soon after the maps issue was raised before the Supreme Court of Nepal in a PIL.

Nepal SC asked the govt to furnish country’s historical map relating to Kalapani border issue, reported PTI  Kathmandu, January 02, 2020.

Nepal’s Supreme Court has sought within 15 days the country’s original map exchanged with India during the signing of the Sugauli Treaty in 1816 after a petition sought the apex court’s intervention to secure the Nepali territory.

The PIL appealed the Supreme Court to order the government to start political and diplomatic efforts to protect Nepali territories.

Nepal claimed that Limpiyadhura, Lipulek and Kalapani areas were shown under India’s territory even though they lie within the Nepalese territory.

Nepalese territories including Darjeeling were handed to the British East India Company as concessions under the Sugauli treaty which was signed in 1816 on the conclusion of the Anglo-Nepalese War.

Under the treaty, the Nepalese-controlled territory that was ceded included all areas that the king of Nepal had won in earlier wars such as the kingdom of Sikkim in the east and Kumaon and Garhwal in the west.

103 border pillars missing in Banke and Bardiya districts, said a Report datelined Banke,  November 20, 2019 in a Nepali magazine.

border pillar

 552 pillars have been maintained from Gurdengauri of Banke to Karnali River in Bardiya district marking the Nepal-India border.

Among them are the main, subsidiary and small ones. However, the situation is that these border markers are not at their proper location. It is said 94 such border pillars are missing in Bardiya. Noone really knows where these border pillars have gone.

Among the 103 missing pillars on this stretch of the Nepal-India border, seven are said to be main pillars, five subsidiary ones and 78 are smaller pillars. Similarly, nine border pillars, including four main and five subsidiary ones are missing in Banke district. India’s Baharaich district borders the Banke and Bardiya districts of Nepal.

Banke shares about 65 kilometres and Bardiya about 80 kilometres border with India. The local Mankhola stream separates Banke and Bardiya districts. There are 307 border pillars in Banke sector of the Nepal-India border. These include 32 main pillars and 275 subsidiary ones.

It may be recalled that maps were missing and manipulated by India, before India-China border dispute  led to India’s China war, as  renowned AG Noorani authoritatively  established several times.

The Armed Police Force (APF) squad has been deputed to guard the border towards Nepali territory. The APF border outposts have been set up in a gap of 13 to 20 kilometers. However, the Indian side has deputed the Seema Suraksha Bal (SSB) force in a distance of around five kilometers to guard the border.

“There is a way towards Indian side which is being used for the border encroachment by the Indian side,” locals complained. There is a massive presence of SSB force along the border area. The SSB force is seen conducting a patrol in a distance of each one to two kilometers along the no man’s land.

Nepal’s media had reported in November, 2019 some efforts in resolving the dispute, but they did not move ahead.

During the third meeting of Nepal-India Joint Commission (NIJC)  in Kathmandu in 2014, both sides had agreed to assign the task of resolving the boundary dispute in Kalapani and Susta to the Foreign Secretaries of Nepal and India, but there has been no major development so far.

However, Nepal and India have prepared 182 sheets of boundary maps, besides Kalapani and Susta, and as per the agreed boundary maps, Nepal and India have begun the demarcation of the border, which is likely to be completed in 2022.

During the Fifth Meeting of the Nepal-India Joint Commission in Kathmandu on August 21 and 22, the foreign ministers of both countries had directed a foreign secretary-level mechanism to prioritise work on the outstanding boundary issues with technical input from the Boundary Working Group. Nepal and India had formed the working group at the Surveyor General level to settle all boundary issues.

Instead of culminating those efforts, India opened a Pandora’s Box, with the inauguration of the border road, when both sides and the whole world was engaged in tackling Covid-19.

India and its media blame China and Pakistan for all its problems, but this  fact needs to be reminded, again and again.

“ China has borders with14 nations, and except for india, it has resolved its disputes with all, including Russia. India  has borders with six countries, and excluding Bhutan, it has disputes with all five.”

– Subramanian Swamy, Sinologist, Ex-Union Minister,  and  BJP MP (Frontline 2000 Sep 2: Sino-Indian Relations Through the Tibet Prism)

Doklam subsequently showed  that even Bhutan has problems with India.

What why and who provoked this untimely incident, that led to a new hot spot,  wondered observers. But that needs further and deeper analysis, in Part-3 of this article.   



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