India July ,7
(Source : Times of India)
In an exclusive email interview, Baburam Bhattarai, former Nepalese PM and leader of the Janata Samajwadi Party, the third-largest political party in the country, spoke at length to Ishita Mishra on the border dispute between India and Nepal on the Kalapani issue, the close ‘roti-beti’ ties between the two countries, and why he felt PM Oli’s party NCP was heading towards a major split.
The inclusion of areas like Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani in Nepal’s map is being seen by many in India as an act of undue aggression by Nepal. What according to you was the haste to revise the country’s map?
Before coming to your point, let me first set the context straight. We are not in normal times now. The Covid-19 pandemic and attendant economic crisis have thoroughly exposed the inadequacies of rulers of many countries including Nepal, India, China, USA and others.
These rulers need some convenient ruses to divert the attention of the masses away from their utter failures. Territorial or boundary disputes left behind by colonialism are the best bets for this purpose, as they can easily arouse the nationalistic passions of the people. One has to understand this general context to make a sense of the sudden flare-up of the old boundary disputes in our region and elsewhere.
Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani areas have for long been acknowledged as disputed territories both by India and Nepal. A joint mechanism set by the two countries has particularly identified Susta in South West and Kalapani in North-West borders as disputed areas yet to be resolved. The problem suddenly flared up when India last November issued a new map that claimed Kalapani within its territory.
The fuel was added to the fire when the Indian defence minister on May 8 inaugurated a newly-constructed road through Kalapani to Lipulekh near the Chinese border. It should be noted that though Indian troops remained in Kalapani since 1962 India-China war, the territory remained within Nepali sovereignty and map.
This naturally alarmed Nepal and a new map had to be issued to reassert its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
What are the arguments that Nepal has to buttress claims that Kalapani and adjoining areas are part of its territory?
The Sugauli Treaty of 1816 and the treaty of 1860, which were ratified by both sides, explicitly spell out demarcation of borders between Nepal and India. The two boundary treaties of 1816 (Article v) and 1860 (Article iii) clearly state that the lands to the east of the Kali River, which include Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani, belong to Nepal.
These facts are supported by several historical documents, issued and signed by the then British Raj and Nepalese authorities from time to time. The maps published immediately thereafter till 1856 including internationally accepted hydrological norms to fix source of Kali River (length of the river, catchment area / tributaries and volume of waters) prove that Limpiyadhura is the origin/ source of Kali River.
However, the dispute was created when the British Raj and the succeeding Indian governments attempted unilaterally to alter the source of the Kali River, firstly to Lipu Khola emanating from Lipulekh and finally to a spring near Kalapani.
An impartial assessment adhering to international hydrological norms would easily fix the real source of the Kali River mentioned in the 1816 treaty and settle the dispute permanently.
Another vexed issue has been the stationing of the Indian military camp at Kalapani since 1962 without any formal agreement between the two countries.
This is needed to be resolved through a comprehensive dialogue keeping in mind the sensitive geo-strategic position of the area and age-old multi-faceted relations between Nepal & India.
Indian politicians have claimed that India tried to speak with Nepal, while the government of Nepal also claimed that they attempted to speak to India but nothing worked. What do you thing is the reason for this miscommunication?
The rising trust deficit between KP Oli government and New Delhi establishment has stalled a meaningful dialogue between the two sides. Public muscle flexing and social media duels by persons in authority do not lead to any serious diplomatic engagement. Both sides must cool down; initiate constructive dialogue at the highest political level, receive and own the report of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) initiated during my tenure as PM, and resolve all outstanding disputes to the mutual benefits of the two close neighbours.
It is believed that PM Oli’s government is close to China and the present standoff with India is because of China’s pressure?
I don’t believe that it is true. People can have their individual preferences and leanings. But, no Nepali leader who upholds national sovereignty and general prosperity of the people as the common core values of the country in his/ her heart can be closer to any other country than India. It is our geographical & historical destiny, whether one likes it or not. Of course, China has been our good neighbour since time immemorial and we have reciprocated accordingly. I don’t think Dragon and the Elephant will ever cross the high Himalayas erected by nature. I wish our friends in India would understand this ground reality and stop feeling prickly about minor incidents.
India and Nepal have had ‘roti-beti’ ties and have close social, cultural and religious links. Will not souring of political relations impact these ties?
Ups and downs in political relations are transitory matters. But, Nepal-India relations are multi-dimensional and long-lasting. When you have closer relations, there are bound to be more problems as well. If we remain sensitive and accommodative to each other’s aspirations, we can and must overcome such transitory problems.
How do you see KP Oli’s tenure as Prime Minister?
K.P Oli’s tenure as Prime Minister has been a total disaster for Nepal. The government has failed in all fronts — political, economic and diplomatic, everywhere. The near two-third majority garnered by the Nepal communist Party (NCP) in the last parliamentary election in December 2017 has been practically wasted. The government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been pathetic. The cases are rising at a menacing pace. On the economic front, there has been no structural change to transform the traditional subsistence agriculture-based economy into an industrial economy. Millions of youths are still forced to flee the country to sell their labour in Gulf countries, Malaysia
, Indian and elsewhere. The government has been sucked in the quagmire of rampant corruption as it has promoted crony capitalism all around. It has failed to address the genuine demands of the Madhesi/ Tharus, Janjatis, Dalits and other marginalised groups and to amend the Constitution for an identity-based federalism. On the diplomatic front, it has lost the confidence of all major international powers including the neighbours.
This has led to a major power struggle within the NCP which could spiral into a major split sooner or later. Even if there is a momentary patch-up, it is very unlikely that PM Oli will succeed to pull out the country from a severe economic and political crisis looming in the horizon.
Nepal government has recently sought clarification from Radio Nepal authorities for airing your interview in which you have allegedly criticised the government for its authoritarian rule. What do you have to say on this?
PM Oli is by nature an autocratic person. He is very intolerant and vindictive towards his critics and political opponents. Radio Nepal episode is just an example of the autocratic bent of the government headed by him.
You had once said that Nepal should look after India’s security interest and India should look after Nepal’s economic interests. Can you explain what you meant by it? How important is it in the current scenario?
It is my firm conviction that the countries of South Asia will either prosper collectively or perish separately. Of course, we must choose the first option. It depends on the outlook and collective wisdom of the leaders of this region. We must critically acknowledge that despite the tremendous natural and human resources at our command, we are lagging behind the rest of the world. For this, we must discard the past colonial hangover in our minds, respect sovereignty of each country whether big or small, settle all territorial/ boundary disputes through political dialogue, respect each other’s sensitivities and co-operate on collective economic prosperity. It is in this context that I had called upon both the leaderships of Nepal and India to put forth the core interests of both sides on the table in a candid manner and make a historic deal. After all, politics and diplomacy is like commerce, where you must have a give and take deal.