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”
The Indian blockade of Nepal (#IndiaBlockadesNepal) has been running for over three months now. Being landlocked, most of Nepal’s imports come via India. Although international laws provide landlocked countries the right to unrestricted passage to the sea, India has been unquestioned by the international community on the way it is putting an entire country of about 28 million in “ventilator support”, in the words of senior Indian journalist Anil Yadav. The blockade has created a humanitarian crisis, apart from economic and political ones.
By blockading Nepal, India is supporting a group of protesters in Central Terai of Nepal. The blockade has caused massive suffering to people all over the country. Economy has been destroyed and might take years to recover. Jobs have been lost, investors have pulled out, major infrastructure and development projects have been badly affected and put out-of-schedule, and education of millions of kids has been disrupted. Industries have closed because of lack of security and raw material supply. Vaccination programs have also been disrupted. This shows the scale of suffering Nepal is facing because of the inhumane blockade by India.
The Modi government, together with Indian bureaucrats, diplomats, and intelligence officers have especially taken a harsh position, advocating that India should continue to pressurize Nepal this way.
The dominant narrative promoted by a section of ethno-centric activists and intellectuals is that Nepali civil service is dominated by Hill Bahun/Kshetri and that the Madhesis are excluded and underrepresented.
This is the mixture of lies and half truth. A comprehensive research considering caste, ethnic and gender dimensions of Nepali society shows a different picture. The Nepal Social Inclusion Survey 2012 (NSIS) ranks different caste groups of Nepal on the basis of their representation in government services in proportion to the size of their population.
[Added on 21st December for clarity: the research states, “on the basis of percent of households with access to government jobs”. See Note below for more]
[Additional Note on 22nd December: The second picture below is a ranking based on representation compared to the size of population. The table is from the same study. The first chart is based on percent of households.]
Three high-caste Madhesi groups are at the top of this list.
KATHMANDU – Major disruptions in food and fuel imports across its southern border with India have severely affected Nepal’s supplies and caused a worrying increase in food prices, says the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).
A border blockade to protest Nepal’s new constitution began in September. Trade has now slowed to a trickle in the landlocked country, causing a food and fuel shortage that is in its third month. With Nepal heavily dependent on imports, especially from India, severe shortages are now being felt in local markets. The cost of some basic food staples, such as cooking oil, rice, lentils, sugar and salt have soared in recent weeks as supplies dwindle.