Is India ready to maintain equal ties with Nepal?

By Ritu Raj Subedi
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, November 29, 2018
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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (R) and Nepalese Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli attend a joint statement in New Delhi, India, April 7, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]

India's apparent disregard for the implementation of the report of Eminent Persons' Group (EPG) on Nepal-India Relations has fueled suspicion that it is unwilling to redefine ties with Nepal as per the spirit of 21st century.

Five months have elapsed since the experts from both countries prepared the joint statement but Indian PM Narendra Modi is reluctant to accept it, showing reservations about its recommendations, particularly the revision or replacement of the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty and regulations regarding the border between the two nations.

Formed in 2016 during the first premiership of PM Khadga Prasad Oli, the 10-member EPG was mandated to look into five broad areas of bilateral relations – politics, development cooperation, government to government relations, economic agreements and socio-cultural ties. Its two-year term ended in July this year following the signatures of all members of the report.

The EPG report offers a credible roadmap to sort out some of the major disputes between the two nations. However, the conservative Indian bureaucracy and intelligence have refused to come to terms with it and goaded the political leadership not to agree on its drastic suggestions. The Indian side has demanded changes in the wording and contents of the common diplomatic blueprint.

Nepal has long been calling for rescinding the 1950 Treaty widely dubbed as unequal and anachronistic in the present context and reality. For example, Article 5 of the Treaty obliges Nepal to consult India while procuring arms or warlike materials from other countries. In 1988 when Nepal purchased some weapons from China, India imposed a blockade on the small neighbor, accusing the latter of violating the Treaty.

Article 2 of the Treaty states that "the two Governments hereby undertake to inform each other of any serious friction or misunderstanding with any neighboring State likely to cause any breach in the friendly relations subsisting between the two Governments." India had not stuck to this provision when it fought wars with Pakistan and China. This provision does not favor Nepal's sovereignty given the dichotomy in military, economy and demographic strength between the two countries. 

Article 7 stresses to provide privileges to the citizens of each other's country on a reciprocal basis, which Nepal can hardly afford. The Letter of Exchange of the Treaty insists that Nepal should give priority to the Indian government or its citizens to harness the natural resources and open industrial estates in Nepal. This is another regressive clause of the Treaty.

The Nepali side had convinced the EPG members from India to revise the Treaty but the Indian ruling establishment is wavering and appears to be ditching the report. 

What is more bizarre is the objection to the management and regulation of an "open and porous" border between the two nations. Nowhere in the world is the border unregulated and people's security is undermined. The joint report has suggested the people should produce smart ID cards while crossing either side of border through the fixed entry points. This is a scientific provision aimed at curbing terrorist activities, smuggling of goods and fake currencies, and human trafficking that often take place via the unchecked border. 

The regulation of border hardly affects the age-old economic, social, cultural and religious relations between the two nations. When the criminal and anti-social elements are not allowed to abuse the open border to run their harmful activities, this will certainly help maintain peace and order in both nations. 

Moreover, Nepal perennially faces a demographic threat from India as many Indian nationals have entered Nepali territory and obtained Nepali citizenship illegally, which has put Nepal's national security in jeopardy. This is a reason why the Nepali side has been constantly pushing for stringent measures to regulate the border.

Nepal's government is hopeful that PM Modi will accept the report but the Indian bureaucracy sees it as tantamount to an underestimate of India's hegemonic position. However, this will be political chicanery to ditch the report prepared with hard works and negotiations. 

The two sides had agreed to publish the report only after the PMs from both nations officially acknowledged it. Political scientist Dr. D.R. Dahal said the Nepal government should first accept it to put moral pressure on Modi. As uncertainty hangs over the fate of the report, it is imperative for the EPG members from the Nepali side to disclose the contents of the report which is also the right of citizens of both nations.

PM Oli has seemingly taken the EPG report as a viable diplomatic instrument to reset relations with India and institutionalize his assertive and independent foreign policies. His foreign policy vision might suffer a setback should India dump it. 

Ritu Raj Subedi is an associate editor of The Rising Nepal.


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