By: Khushbu Ahlawat, GSDN
India has a distinctive personality as a geographical entity. Its borders are shared by countries that range widely in size, power, and resources—Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. India is continuously struggling to establish steady and solid ties with its neighbors. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had once famously said, ‘You can change your friends but not neighbors. Creating strong connections between India’s domestic aspirations and its foreign policy goals is essential if it is to play a significant role in the new multipolar international politics.
FEATURES AND CHARACTERISTICS OF INDIA’S NEIGHBOURHOOD POLICY
- Improving relations with neighbors is a top priority since the development objective in South Asia can only be realized with peace and tranquility in the region. India’s “neighborhood first” policy actively strengthens ties with its close neighbors.
- Dialogue: It focuses on active regional diplomacy by interacting with neighbors and fostering political ties through conversation. The first step in this strategy was to invite all heads of state from SAARC nations to the Prime Minister’s oath-taking ceremony in 2014.
- The focus is on reaching a mutually agreeable solution to bilateral disagreements. For instance, a deal was made by Bangladesh and India to put into effect the historic Land Boundary Agreement (LBA).
- Connectivity: The goal of the “Kathmandu Declaration” which was adopted in 2014 at the conclusion of the 18th SAARC summit held in Kathmandu, Nepal, was to hasten regional development and collaboration. It was decided that it was time to “revitalize” SAARC and turn the group into a powerful tool for achieving the objectives of development. This proclamation was a result of the South Asian nations’ growing desire to work together and advance as a region and strengthen peace, stability, and prosperity.
- Cooperation on the economy: This focuses on fostering trade relations with neighbors. The Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) grouping for energy development, including the management of waterpower and inter grid connectivity, is one example of this.
- The policy placed a strong emphasis on technical cooperation. Recently, a SAARC-specific satellite was created to bring the benefits of technology, such as telemedicine and e-learning, to people all over South Asia.
- Disaster management: India offers assistance to all South Asian citizens in the areas of disaster response, resource management, weather forecasting, communication, and capabilities and knowledge in disaster management. For instance, India generously helped its neighbor Nepal recover from the 2016 earthquake.
- Defense and military cooperation: India is putting a lot of effort towards enhancing regional security through military cooperation. Several exercises, such as Surya Kiran with Nepal and Sampriti with Bangladesh, seek to improve defense ties.
- Gujral Doctrine Implementation: India’s neighborhood policy should be based on the principles of the Gujral Doctrine. This would ensure that India’s stature and strength are not divorced from the quality of its relations with its neighbors and that regional growth can occur.
- Policy Non-interference and Dealing with Big Brother: The size of India influences how our neighbors perceive India and its policies. India accounts for a significant portion of South Asia’s land area, population, economic activity, and resources. As a result, India and its neighbors must be mindful of their neighbors’ discomfort at dealing with a large neighbor and adhere to a policy of non-interference in domestic affairs.
- Panchsheel, also known as the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, was signed in 1954 and served as the foundation for India’s bilateral relations with other countries.
MAJOR ISSUES BETWEEN INDIA AND NEPAL
India’s involvement with Nepal has been guided by its “Neighborhood First” and “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” policies. India’s primary goal in this regard has been to support Nepal at times of adversity, like providing aid and grants for infrastructure development, human security, etc.
Strong historical linkages in terms of religion, culture, and politics exist between India and Nepal. Both nations shared civilizational and cultural ties that have been created via marriage, family, and other familial relations.
- Status of the Indo-Nepal Border
The Sugauli Treaty was ratified in 1816, and soon after that, the border between India and Nepal was marked out. When negotiations for a new border treaty with British India began on November 1, 1860, and were finally completed in 1885, the job of demarcation was further intensified. It is often referred to as the area between Mechi and Mahakali rivers. However, as the delineation and demarcation of the entire border area still need to be finished, there remains a disagreement regarding the border between the two countries in various locations and across various regions. India has stationed its paramilitary force along the border with Nepal. Similarly, the Nepali government has stationed the Armed Police Force in 20 Terai districts since March 2007 to help secure the country’s borders and stop money from leaking out.
- Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani
The bilateral Treaty of Peace and Friendship governs the 1800 km of the open international border that the two nations share. According to The Treaty of Sugauli, Nepal historically owned the region between Kalapani and Limpiyadhura, located east of the Kali river. India, however, has purposefully interpreted the Kali River’s origin to assert its ownership of Nepal’s lands in the Kalapani-Limpiyadhura region, including the Lipu Lekh region. Nepal and India established a Joint Technical Committee in 1981 to settle the conflict.
On May 8, 2020, when Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh opened the 80-kilometer road to Mansarovar—part of which is constructed on Nepal’s land in the Lipu Lekh area—the border tension erupted once more. Since the origin of the Limpiyadhura is marked on maps created by Indian surveys in 1850 and 1856 as being 16 kilometers northwest of Kalapani, Nepal claims ownership of the Kalapnai. However, India rejects it as proof. They claim that the 1875 Indian Map should be taken into consideration.
Another area that Nepal and India disagree over is Susta. It is currently governed by India and is a part of the province of Bihar. Residents of a village in Susta claim that Susta is Nepali territory and that they are citizens of Nepal. The Gandaki River was designated as India and Nepal’s international border by the Sugauli Treaty of 1816. While India controlled the left bank of the Gandaki River, Nepal controlled its right bank. Susta village, a part of Nepal at the time the treaty was signed, was initially on the right side. Susta migrated to the left bank and is now under Indian jurisdiction due to the Gandaki river’s alteration over the course of time. Susta is Nepali territory, according to the government of Nepal, and the Indian government should give it back. Since the border was established, the Gandaki river’s channel has changed on the Indian side of the river and further intensified tensions.
- Border issues in other various Regions
Mechi River, the Antu Hill region, Ramnagar, the northern face of Chure Mountain, the southern front of the jungle, etc., are considered to be the original dispute border locations. Kalapani, Limpiyahura, Susta, Mechi, and Tanakpur are some of the central regions of contention. These disagreements have become more frequent in the last ten years. India’s deforestation of Nepal’s four-sided jungle and India’s encroachment on Nepal’s territory created problems. Mechi is the second contentious issue that is frequently brought up. The Mechi border dispute was brought on by India’s opposition to utilizing the “Junge pillars” as the primary boundary pillars. Disputed border areas like Susta, Arra, Nala, Tal Bangonde, etc., need more boundary pillars. The number of border disputes is quickly rising. In 26 districts, Nepal and India share a border, and there are 54 locations in Nepal where there is a border issue. Over 60,000 acres of Nepalese land have reportedly been invaded by Indian territory.
These pillars are marked as the primary boundary pillars on the British India map that was released shortly after the Sauguli Treaty, and it is apparent from history that the British built these pillars as markers for the Nepal–India border. India, meanwhile, continues to contest that these pillars serve as the border.
- Nepali Citizenship Act of 2020 and its Impact on India
Both nations have a ROTI-BETI relationship, and this shows that Both nations have deep people-to-people ties. In 1952, the Nepal Citizenship Act was passed, allowing the citizens of India to take up citizenship of Nepal with much ease. The Indian Women hailing from Uttrakhand, Sikkim, UP, and Bihar have a long tradition of marital ties with the people of Nepal. After marriage, when the Indian woman renounces her Indian citizenship, she would automatically acquires Nepali citizenship. But under new law now, women would have to wait for seven years before acquiring Nepali citizenship. This further deteriorated their relationship.
- India and Nepal and the Madhesi Problem
Nepal is governed according to the Constitution of Nepal, which was enacted on September 20, 2015, replacing the Interim Constitution of 2007. Nepal has alleged that India did not “welcome” the new constitution. The Indian government said that the constitution of Nepal was not based on collective ownership because, in the new constitution, Madhesis and Tharus were left out. Only the Pahadis have the dominant role in the new constitution. The new constitution does not have equal representation of all groups in Parliament. In the new constitution, Article 84, which talks of representation, have dropped the points related to Madhesis. Citizenship issues are also at the forefront. Many Madhesis have citizenship by birth, but per the new constitution, Article 282 mandates that posts of President and PM of Nepal are reserved exclusively for those with citizenship by descent.
- Nepal tilts toward China
Recently, China has been seen as more “functional” than Nepal. A new government headed by Pushpa Kamal Dahal initially operated on the same tenet. The much-anticipated Gyorong-Kathmandu train project’s final survey has also started as of January 1, 2023, and the border crossing at Rasuwagadhi, which had been closed for three years, has been reopened for two-way trade. It is also predicted that the second phase of the 10-lane ring road project from Kalanki to Chabhil will begin soon. Under Beijing’s BRI, China and Nepal have signed a six-point agreement to increase bilateral cooperation and exchanges on governance, law, and oversight practices. At the beginning of 2019, Nepal proposed nine future projects that may be carried out under the BRI. These included constructing new roads, tunnels, and dams to generate power and determining the viability of creating a trans-Himalayan railway that would link Keyrung, a Chinese port of entry, with Kathmandu.
Additionally, China is constructing a border river crossing at Hilsa, Humla, investigating the possibility of finding gas and oil resources there. It will create a new area of mutually beneficial partnership. Several road, sea, and corridor networks are worldwide under BRI and the Trans-Himalayan multi-dimensional Connectivity Network. This would turn Nepal from a landlocked to a land-linked country. India did not like China’s engagement in Nepal.
CURRENT STATUS OF INDIA AND NEPAL RELATIONS
The friendship between India and Nepal has survived various difficult periods, and turbulences have occurred in recent years. In a few years, it has become usual practice for some Nepali leaders to use India as a political punching bag at home. Nevertheless, it did damage India-Nepal relations to some extent.
When KP Sharma Oli became Nepal’s prime minister in 2018, problems with the two countries’ relations started to surface. The Oli government stated that it had a strong affinity for China and wasn’t afraid to bring up controversial matters like the whereabouts of Lord Ram’s birth and territory conflicts in Limpiyadhura, Kalapani, and Lipulekh. Even further, the former prime minister called the coronavirus the “Indian virus” and accused India of spreading it to Nepal.
Analysts contend that this anti-Indian sentiment is often encouraged by China and reflects Nepal’s domestic political unrest. Many people think the Oli government’s campaign to demonize India aimed to distract the public from the chaotic situation in Nepal’s political circles since his position in the coalition government was shaky. Nevertheless, relations improved as Sher Bahadur Deuba became Nepal’s new prime minister. Traveling to Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautama Buddha, on Buddha Purnima this year reached a turning point. This outreach by the Indian Head of Government not only demonstrated to the two neighbors how highly cherished our shared culture is but also demonstrated the significance and attention placed on mending the relationships at the highest levels.
The combined India-Nepal intentions to incorporate Lumbini in the Buddhist circuit being marketed by Indian tour companies came along with this visit. This would be in addition to the plan to construct the Ramayan Circuit, which connects several locations in the two neighboring nations. The relationship was further strengthened when the Indian prime minister laid the cornerstone for an Indian monastery. Not only were agreements on infrastructure and other fronts made visible, but also soft power links.
The comment made by Prime Minister Modi that bilateral relations between India and Nepal are “as stable as the Himalayas” demonstrated that the initial difficulties in relations between the two nations have now mostly been resolved. Recently, on the 74th Republic Day, Indian Ambassador Srivastava stated that the exchange of high-level visits from both nations had given relations between India and Nepal a new dimension.
The conclusion of the most recent general elections in Nepal and the swearing-in of “Prachanda” as the country’s new prime minister on December 25, 2022, could signal the beginning of a new chapter in India-Nepal relations that will strengthen the political, economic, and cultural ties between the two neighbors.
CONCRETE MEASURES TO IMPROVE INDIA AND NEPAL RELATIONS
On how to resolve border issues, various people have different perspectives. Based on the document, the border conflicts between the two bordering countries should be resolved. They might use third-world nations as mediators in the conflict. Based information may be verified using satellite imagery, identifying changes in the river’s course. Consequently, we can determine where the river was precise during the treaty.
It is possible to measure the area scientifically using the Global Positioning System. The control point’s image should be taken using a UAV, so we can still find the control point if it is lost or destroyed. On border sites, periodic monitoring and surveying are required. The border should be made known to the local population. The public should pressure the government to carry out the accords and agreements. In the border region, security forces should be established—elimination of all residents in no-man’s-land zones. The country should be prepared to request assistance from the United Nations Organization. We must turn to an international court if the issue is ultimately unsolvable.
China has had a history of involvement in Nepal. India’s ability to effectively compete with China to defend its interests and preserve its sphere of influence will depend on New Delhi’s ability to challenge China generally and on India’s political resolve to handle its problematic policies regarding Nepal. Nepal can’t escape its reliance on India. India is and will remain crucial to the country in many ways. However, Nepal is committed to taking advantage of cooperation chances with foreign partners, notably China; thus, such a policy is doomed to failure. China is influencing Nepali society for the better by giving generously and strategically. Therefore, India should move away from its traditional security perspective and take the initiative with creative methods and policies.
To mend their relationship, the most significant milestone is the inauguration of train operations on the Jaynagar-Kurtha Section of the Jaynagar-Bardibas rail link by Shri Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, and Shri Sher Bahadur Deuba, Prime Minister of Nepal on April 2, 2022, which is Nepal’s first cross-border broad-gauge rail project. In the energy sector, the collaboration that began with Trishuli Hydropower Projects, Pokhara Hydropower Projects, Kataiya Power House, and Devigh at Hydro-eclectic project has progressed with the commissioning of the Motihari-Amlekhgunj Petroleum Pipeline, the region’s first cross-border petroleum product pipeline. A major project currently underway is the construction of Nepal’s National Police Academy, for which the ground-breaking ceremony was co-performed by Shri Naveen Srivastava, Ambassador of India to Nepal, and Mr. Bal Krishna Khand, Home Minister of the Government of Nepal. HICDPs, formerly known as Small Development Projects (SDPs), are another important portfolio of development partnerships to repair their relationship. In order to mend their relationship, Kathmandu University, and IIT Madras developed a collaborative degree program in education.
India is working to rebuild its reputation, image, and power in the region by constructively interacting with its neighbors. India’s capacity to overcome obstacles will determine whether commitments are kept and ties with its neighbors are maintained. India can gain the trust of its neighbors by utilizing its soft power, alternative regional agreements, and new integration chances like education and culture.