Is Nepal’s outcry against a newly built Indian road in Uttarakhand, up to Lipulekh pass at someone else’s behest? Why abolition of the constitutional monarchy in Nepal was one of the biggest mistakes of the UPA government and is the root cause behind growing Chinese influence in the Himalayan nation?
After Britishers hurriedly left its largest colony in 1947, not soon before they created a major humanitarian crisis and divided nations on the basis of religion, India was faced with multiple territorial disputes. Even though our founding fathers, especially Vallabhbhai Jhaverbhai Patel, independent India’s first Home Minister, with his remarkable leadership and pragmatic diplomacy helped in forging a united India by integrating 562 princely states, some border disputes with Pakistan, China and Nepal continue to remain unsettled and the reason for the trouble.
Enigma of LAC:
The world is currently facing one of the most unprecedented challenges of the modern times in the form of a virus, COVID-19, and the question which perturbs many developing nations is- what will be its impact on their nascent and growing economy? That said, the country where this virus originated from, China, instead of being apologetic for its inhumane, unregulated animal markets & working to solve the same, continues to violate Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Recently, about 250 Chinese soldiers were spotted pitching tents near Demchok in eastern Ladakh (LAC) which eventually escalated to a faceoff between Chinese and Indian troops, including fisticuffs and scuffles. Not too long ago, Chinese helicopters had also entered Indian airspace twice. “On April 11, a Chinese helicopter entered 12-15 km into India in Samdho region, Lahaul-Spiti district,” said Rajesh Dharmani, Superintendent of Police of Lahaul-Spiti district in Himachal Pradesh, to a news agency ANI.
Nevertheless, it is the recent protest in Nepal against India’s strategic road development in LipuLekh pass on the LAC, that caught the eye. Army Chief General M M Naravane said on 15th May that Nepal’s protest against a newly built Indian road in Uttarakhand, up to LipuLekh pass on the China border, was at “someone else’s behest”.
The road is far from the present scene of tension in Ladakh. It is the ancient route of the annual Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, which goes through Dharchula, Uttarakhand. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, while inaugurating it via video conferencing on May 8, called it important for “strategic, religious and trade” reasons. Ever since the route via Lipulekh Pass was damaged in the 2013 Uttarakhand floods, yatris crossed the India-China border at the Nathu La pass in Sikkim or flew to Kathmandu, which entailed 20 per cent land journeys on Indian roads and 80 per cent land journeys in China.
However, with the completion of the new route, the ratio has been reserved. Now yatris to Mansarovar will traverse about 84 per cent land journeys on Indian roads, where the five days trek will also be reduced to two days of travel.
Is Nepal’s stance politically motivated?
On the day the road was inaugurated, there was an outcry in Nepal which was soon followed by a statement from the Nepal Foreign Ministry, asking India to “refrain from carrying out any activity inside the territory of Nepal.” Some in India questioned the timing of this objection as the issue had been lying dormant for years. Nevertheless, Kathmandu, in its defense, pointed out that it has brought up its concerns on the border issue several times, including in November 2019. Some may assume that the Nepal-India border dispute over Kalapani has once again become embroiled in controversy. That said, it is not as simple as it may seem. Although Nepal is a state symbiotically tied to India, today it has a pro-China communist government (Community Party of Nepal) that is hostile to India. Ever since Nepal’s Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli has come into power, the government has persisted with tilting towards China.
Consider the latest two reminders of Oli’s approach: The communist party pulled out of first-ever anti-terror military exercises (MILEX-18) held in Pune where all members of BIMSTEC countries, except Thailand and Nepal, participated actively. Nepal, however, while shunning participation with BIMSTEC members joined China in military exercises which were also focused on counter-terror operations. Though, in a symbolic nature, Nepal sent three observers to the week-long exercises held at Pune.
This goes on to prove that the Oli government, in effect, has delivered a diplomatic snub to India. One major reason for the transition of this Hindu kingdom to a communist-ruled and China-leaning state can be attributed to Manmohan Singh’s government.
When Maoists and government forces in Nepal were at war with each other, the Indian government brokered a peace accord that ended the protracted war between the two. Nevertheless, to meet the Maoists’ demand and gain their support, PM Manmohan Singh led Congress government, worked towards the abolition of the constitutional monarchy— undercutting overall traditional influence and the culture which binds the two nations. Owing to this new unified communist party in Kathmandu, Beijing is actively working to bring Nepal within its orbit. On one hand, where Nepal continues to drift away from India citing refutable claims, on the other, India stands firm with its Himalayan neighbour. For instance, India recently sent 23 tonnes of essential medicines to Nepal to help it fight the coronavirus pandemic.
However, this is not the first time India has stepped up to give a helping hand to Nepal. For instance, when the 2015 earthquake rocked the Himalayas, largely affecting Nepal where nearly 9,000 people were killed and 22,000 injured, India did not hesitate in sending immediate help to rescue the people from the affected areas. ‘Operation Maitri‘ was initiated, within 15 minutes of the calamity, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi via the Indian Armed Forces where India also played the role of the largest aid donor with billion-dollar support.
That said, all of it seems to have been forgotten with time, thus, policies towards Nepal need to be revisited. India must end its preferential treatment towards communist-ruled Nepal and consider them as a force inimical to its interests. New Delhi should disabuse the Nepali communists of their notion that they can sustain their hostility towards India and question its sovereignty without incurring any costs.