The Nepali rulers confined to Kathmandu neglected Limpiyadhura, Lipukeh, and Kalapani area from the very beginning. In time, the Indian Army occupied this area following the 1962 India-China War. Due to vested interests, Nepali rulers never opposed the illegal occupation. Despite having legal proofs, it never raised the issue publicly. But after over 60 years, Nepal is now trying to get back its territory. As India also claims the same territory, the dispute is likely to escalate. Unless Nepal convinces India logically, it will not agree to return the land; Nepal needs to channel its resources wisely to convince India.
Separately, the open border issue has become more confrontational than accommodative. The 1,880-km open border become more troublesome for Nepal compared to India, which is much larger than Nepal in terms of population and economy. Both countries have a migrant workforce from the other, but the Indian establishment presents it as if Nepal’s economy is solely dependent on the money its workers send from India. Quite the contrary: a recent report reveals that Indian laborers take home Rs 300 billion every year in remittances from Nepal. Besides, India imports large quantities of natural resources, herbs, and minerals from Nepal, and sends back finished goods. The trade deficit between the two countries is vast, in India’s favor.
Being landlocked, Nepal has suffered many trade embargoes for political reasons. The Indian hegemony has made Nepal turn to China for trade diversity, which has been wrongly interpreted by the Indian establishment as Nepal playing China card. Ridiculously, Indian defense minister and army chief have tagged Nepal’s claim over the Kalapani region as coming from China.
India claims to be giving shelter to over five million Nepali citizens. But Nepal gives shelter to even more Indian citizens, thanks to the open border. After the Maoist rebellion in around 2006-07, four million Indians acquired Nepali citizenship. Under the National Register of Citizens mandated by the 2003 amendment of the Citizenship Act, 1955, India is planning to deport non-Indians residing in the country after 2014. Many Nepalis could also be deported under this provision. If so, Nepal will have to manage them. It may need to copy the Indian provision of citizenship only after seven years of marriage, as has been proposed.
Although Nepal is rich in natural resources, it cannot utilize them as a result of its inability to create a competitive market. Due to the open border and Nepal’s inability to control cross-border smuggling, Indian products monopolize Nepali markets. The Roti Beti (‘bread and daughter’) and Khun ka Rista (‘blood relations’) rhetoric dominate the border areas that are mostly populated by Indian migrants. The whole politics in the Tarai region is based on open border. That is why even the Eminent Persons Group report is pending execution.
There are two ways Indians look at Nepal: through the British East India Company lens that Nehru inherited, and through the Hindu lens. The Nehru doctrine is popular among Indian bureaucrats who see the Himalayas as a natural barrier to China. Tibet is considered a buffer against invading forces from Central Asia and even China. This doctrine seeks US support in countering China if it invades South Asia. Indian bureaucrats try to influence the ruling BJP on it. The Hindu lens is a bit different, as it tries to impose religious dogma and make Nepal a satellite state like Bhutan. Both schools of thought have a common goal, only their modus operandi is different.
Nepal is the oldest country in South Asia with full independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. Due to vested interest of its autocratic rulers to prolong their regime with the support of neighbors, it has fallen into trap many times. This also resulted in Indian occupation of Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh, and Kalapani. Otherwise, why didn’t anyone try to reclaim the lost territories in all these years even though Nepal had plenty of evidence in its favor?
To get back captured territories, India needs to be persuaded on talks. The Modi government is likely to adopt a policy of ‘silent diplomacy’ against Nepal so as to exhaust it. In that case, Nepal needs to use its soft powers by integrating the country's intellectual, political, economic, and military powers. Tactful diplomacy is the way to go about it.
The author is a scholar of security and strategic studies