India has produced some of the finest minds in the fields of science and technology, literature, and philosophy. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about journalism in the world’s largest democracy. There have been countless criticism of Indian journalism by Indians themselves. Indian journalists peddling jingoism and misinformation while covering India’s relationship with Nepal has also been noted. This post details one more example of lazy Indian journalists making uninformed and outlandish claims without evidence and disseminating false information.
On 12 June, India Today broadcast a programme hosted by one of its marquee anchors and editors Rahul Kanwal. Kanwal did not come off as a moronic bully that Arnab Goswami was during a recent Republic TV debate on India-Nepal relationship. However, he failed in fulfilling a basic duty of journalism that requires one to do some research on the topic one is going to discuss. As a result, he ended up spreading unverified and, at one point, downright false information through his channel.
On 16 May 2020, Indian Army Chief Manoj Mukund Naravane blamed that Nepal raised the “issue at the behest of [China]”. Speaking at a webinar in New Delhi, Naravane said: “There is reason to believe that they [Nepal] might have raised this issue at the behest of someone else [China] and that is very much a possibility.” (Read this in the context of Nepal issuing an updated map including Kalapani.)
[On 2 June 2020, in response to a question from a populist news channel (“…could there be China’s hand behind Nepal’s sudden posturing?”), India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said: “I do not want to blame anyone but there must be something somewhere.” Answering a follow-up question, Singh quickly corrected himself and said, “I do not want to doubt anyone at this time.”]
On 23 May, two days after Nepal published its map, a former Indian diplomat appeared on a populist Indian TV channel, Times Now, to discuss China’s presence in Nepal. Krishan Chander Singh said:
“…How to deal with China? …we counter them…. But when it is your core district, your core area [of influence] which is Nepal, [do not] invoke their name [but] get rid of [Prime Minister] Oli… We have enough assets there. There is Nepal [i] Congress, there are divisions [within the ruling Nepal Communist Party], we know all the actors…Get rid of [Chinese] puppet in the neighbourhood and get a [pro-India] government in Kathmandu…[Such a] snub to China [will] signal …all through your neighborhood that if you seek the protection of China, it can’t save you [and] it does not understand how democracies work. Your ambassador can run around from pillar to post, but if the Prime Minister becomes unpopular and his party cracks, that is the signal you send out. But we don’t blame China, why should we give them extra importance by saying ‘no no no please leave China’, make them leave China.”
Posting the television clip on his Twitter account, Singh who is India’s former ambassador to Iran and the United Arab Emirates asserted that Prime Minister “Oli is unpopular, faces corruption charges, tried subverting constitution by aborted ordinances. He’s baiting India by jingoism over border dispute to distract. Can Modi Gov encourage his opponents to oust him? Counter China by eliminating their asset.”
The Indian projection of Nepal as a recipient of unflinching support from and an ardent ally of China is not just incorrect but also exposes India’s fear of China. This article shows Nepal has made it clear, whenever it could, to the Chinese that it does not agree with the Sino-Indian deals on Lipulek.
A closer look at the Lipulek issue shows that it was not Nepal that brought China in the picture, as many Indians including the Army Chief, former diplomats and politicians have alleged without evidence in recent weeks. The culprit, it turns out, is the Indian Government. India has signed several deals with China on Lipulek and Nepal has, of late, strenuously objected to those agreements.
Here is a list of key agreements on Lipulek that India and China have signed, and Nepal’s objections to (some of) them.
India and China signed an “Agreement …on Trade and Intercourse with Tibet Region of China and India” in Beijing. The first sentence of Article 4 of the agreement states:
“Traders and Pilgrims of both countries may travel by the following passes and route : (1) Shipki La pass, (2) Mana pass, (3) Niti pass, (4) Kungri Bingri pass, (5) Darma pass and (6) Lipu Lekh pass.”
We could not find any evidence of Nepal reacting to this Indo-China agreement. The 1950s was one of the most unstable periods in Nepal’s recent history. Political instability followed with the end of an oppressive Rana regime in 1951. India had become independent seven years earlier and enjoyed “close to total political and economic domination” in Nepal. Likewise, it was also the time when Indo-China relations were at their best as reflected in the Hindi slogan Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai (Indian Chinese Brothers). The agreement probably was a part of the Chinese ‘thank you’ to India for being the first non-communist country to recognize the Maoist takeover of Beijing in 1950.
In this first article of a three-part series, recent actions, decisions and reactions of the governments of India and Nepal that compelled the Himalayan republic to take the startling step of cartographic assertion are laid out in chronological order. The second part examines the so-called China Card through a series of decisions/agreements and responses of all three countries while also demonstrating how Indian responses are shaped by their perceived threat of China. The last part analyses the diminishing influence of Indian in Nepal and probes into the possible reasons behind Nepal’s audacious response to what it considers Indian encroachment of its territory.
Tired of waiting for India to reach a negotiated settlement of a decades-long border dispute, and sick of getting ignored and bullied by its southern neighbour time and again, Nepal on Wednesday, 20th May 2020, released an updated map showing all of its political and administrative units. The map incorporates the 335 sq. kms. triangular region comprising the India-occupied Limpiyadhura, Kuti, Nabi, Gunji, Lipulek Pass and Kalapani areas that, like the rest of the country, is sandwiched between China on the north and India on the south.
This startling action is in stark contrast to Nepal’s behaviour in the past, dating back to the late 19th century and particularly the last 70 years. During much of that period Nepal either ignored or feebly reminded India of the latter’s continued encroachment and occupation of the area. Nepali rulers have been hesitant, even retiring at times, when it came to articulating and presenting the country’s stand on the Kalapani issue. This was mainly to safeguard their power in Kathmandu as challenging India, Nepali rulers thought, somehow threatened their regime. This was particularly true for king Mahendra who is said to have ignored the issue despite knowing about illegal Indian presence within Nepali territories. This time around a government enjoying parliamentary supermajority on the one hand but facing an internal party revolt and public criticism for its lamentable Covid-19 response on the other, opted to confront India head on solidifying its base. (More about this in the next part.)
In June 1997 Deputy Prime Minister Bam Dev Gautam raised the issue of Kalapani encroachment with the visiting Indian Prime Minister IK Gujral and making it a bilateral issue between two countries. Since then Nepal has been hoping that an incredibly slow-paced and almost ineffective diplomacy would persuade India to stop occupying Nepali land. Instead, India not only continued to occupy the land but started to publicly taunt Nepal by issuing a political map including the contested area followed by displays of road-building activity in the region.
Here’s a chronology of key events of the past 7 months that culminated in Nepal confronting India with a new map.
The elite group of Nepal includes people from different ethnic groups and various places. The richest people in Nepal are still from Madhesi, Newar, Thakali and Thakuri groups, apart from Bahun-Chhetri. Likewise , based on access to land, government services and education, elites of different ethnic groups are far ahead of an average Nepali person.
Some handful elite families from various ethnic groups and castes were privileged to study in high quality English-medium schools and renowned educational institutions abroad. They benefited the most from the Rana and Panchayat regimes and continued to do so in democratic times. Today, they are the most influential class in Kathmandu with deep political and financial interests. In the past couple of decades, they have coined a jargon “hill upper caste ruling elites” to pose as advocate for marginalized people as they saw movements targeted against them.
The “progressive elites” have become successful in creating an illusion among foreigners that these poor and rural folks are the ‘demonic ruling elites’ of Nepal and they, the real elites who benefited the most from the Nepali state since centuries, are the agents of change and progress.
This coinage has successfully helped them shield themselves from the rights-based movements by creating a “new” enemy. In their narrative, the oppressors are the ‘hill upper caste ruling elites’ while oppressed are the marginalized ethnic, regional communities. And they ‘courageously’ side with the marginalized ones to attack the ‘hill upper caste ruling elites’, euphemism for the poor and rural Bahuns and Chhetris.
This is a letter to all these Kathmandu elites to remind them who they are and that there are many out there who don’t believe the narrative that they have been selling.
Dear Kathmandu elites,
Given that you and your families are part of feudal ruling elite class, you may think all Bahun-Chhetri enjoyed similar privilege. But hard facts like HDI figures and other research show there are many poor Bahun-Chhetri people. People of diverse communities have enjoyed more access and privilege from the Nepali state.
Kathmandu – “In order to allow India to save face, on 24 September in Rajbiraj we took the formal decision to take responsibility for the blockade. But when it came time, without informing us, India deployed plainclothes security personnel on 25 Magh/8 February to open the border point at Birgunj,” a top leader of the United Democratic Madhesi Morcha (UDMF) told Kantipur. “Now, the cadre, our supporters and the general public are angry with us.”
While talking for about an hour in Anamnagar, the leader’s two mobile phones rang continuously. He mostly ignored the calls, but when he did pick any one up, he would answer with exasperation, “Please wait a few days. We will sit and take a joint decision.”
The end of Srawan (mid-August) is the deadline for renewing government licenses, factory registrations and the like. By that time, the Morcha had already started its protests against the constitution-writing and federal demarcation. The Government offices in the Madhes plains were closed, making it impossible to renew any document. The cadre and supporters have been pestering the harried leaders to get the Government to cancel the fines slapped in the intervening six months.
Today Nepal and China agreed to expand and consolidate bilateral cooperation focusing mainly on trade, transit, investment, energy, tourism and infrastructure development, according to a statement issued by Nepal’s Foreign Ministry. The agreement was reached during a meeting between Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Minister Kamal Thapa and the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing. “China has expressed its willingness to seriously examine Nepal’s proposals for importation of petroleum products from China and has advised the respective companies of the two countries to jointly examine the matters relating to price, transportation and other logistics,” the statement says. Soon after this ministerial agreement, Deputy Chief of Nepal Oil Corporation Sushil Bhattarai and Under Secretary Navaraj Dhakal of Ministry of Commerce and Supplies were called (by Foreign Minister Thapa) to Beijing to sign an agreement on importing petro-products from China. Both Bhattarai and Dhakal have reached Beijing on Friday.
The Chinese side informed that travel advisories issued in the context of earthquake in Nepal has been lifted with immediate effect and hoped the number of Chinese visitors would increase significantly in future. Nepal reciprocated by announcing that visa fees for Chinese tourists visiting Nepal will be waived.Continue reading “Nepal China Agreement in Beijing”