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India, Nepal stare at diplomatic crisis: Artificial enlargement of claims, not tenable, says Delhi

New Delhi finds itself in a difficult position, as Kathmandu has etched the red lines on stone. This may force Delhi to draw its own red line and ask its counterparts in Nepal to walk back on the boundary issue and then come to the table.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi | Updated: June 14, 2020 12:52:43 pm
narendra modi, kp oli, india nepal map, india nepal border Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Nepalese counterpart KP Sharma Oli. (AP Photo/File)

Hours after Nepal moved a step forward towards giving legal sanctity to the new map as it passed the Constitutional Amendment bill in the lower house of its Parliament, India and Nepal were staring at a diplomatic crisis on Saturday.

Responding to Kathmandu’s decision, New Delhi made it clear that this “artificial enlargement of claims” is “not tenable”, and it “violates the bilateral understanding to hold talks on outstanding boundary issues”. Read in Malayalam

The government now faces a tough choice in dealing with an increasingly assertive Nepal government, led by Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli.

So far, the government has not responded to Nepal’s requests for a meeting between Foreign Secretaries of the two countries.
From the last phone call between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Nepal counterpart Oli on April 10, when they had shared views on the ongoing Covid-19 crisis to current scenario, the present crisis reflects a complete breakdown in communication between the two sides.

In response to questions on the passing of Constitutional Amendment Bill, revising the Coat of Arms of Nepal by the House of Representatives of Nepal, Ministry of External Affairs’ (MEA) official spokesperson Anurag Srivastava on Saturday said, “We have noted that the House of Representatives of Nepal has passed a constitution amendment Bill for changing the map of Nepal to include parts of Indian territory. We have already made our position clear on this matter.”

“This artificial enlargement of claims is not based on historical fact or evidence and is not tenable. It is also violative of our current understanding to hold talks on outstanding boundary issues,” Srivastava said.

Explained: The new Indian road to Lipu Lekh, Nepal’s protests, and the area’s strategic importance

This statement reflects India’s approach, as it doesn’t seek any dialogue at the moment, but doesn’t preclude the possibility of holding one.

New Delhi has now choices to make. It can accede to the request for a dialogue with Kathmandu, and try to resolve the issue through diplomatic negotiations.

But as it faces a new map passed by the Nepal government, New Delhi finds itself in a difficult position, as Kathmandu has etched the red lines on stone. This may force Delhi to draw its own red line and ask its counterparts in Nepal to walk back on the boundary issue and then come to the table.

If the government doesn’t choose the path to diplomatic negotiations, it has options of hardening its stance against Nepal and could opt for the punitive measures — which is fraught with risks and could alienate the people of Nepal. The government had tried such a tactic in 2015, during the blockade, and it would weigh the consequences before opting for this path.

Read | Nepal House clears new map Bill, Oli calls for talks, India frosty in response

It could also open its lines of communication and engagement with the Nepalese political and civil society — outside the government — and could try to communicate its point of view. But given the bipartisan unity on the issue of map, as it has undertaken strong nationalistic tones, it may find few takers in the Nepal’s political spectrum and society of Delhi’s point of view.

This comes at a time when Kathmandu has been rebuffed by Delhi on its requests for a meeting between the two Foreign Secretaries — which has been agreed by Prime Ministers from both sides back in 2014.

Nepal was open to holding a virtual meeting with India on the issue of border dispute that has threatened to adversely impact the bilateral relationship between the two countries. Kathmandu has conveyed to New Delhi over the last one month — through a note verbale (a diplomatic note) — that they are open to have Foreign Secretaries of the two countries meet through any option — in person or virtual.

Read | After Bill on new map, Nepal tells India: Let Foreign Secys talk, even if meeting is virtual

But New Delhi has so far said that they will discuss the issue “after” the two countries have “successfully dealt” with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Both sides are in the process of scheduling Foreign Secretary-level talks which will be held once the dates are finalised between the two sides after the two societies and governments have successfully dealt with the challenge of Covid-19 emergency,” the MEA’ had stated on May 9, in its first statement after the controversy emerged.

The idea of Foreign Secretary-level talks — which began in 1997 during then PM I K Gujral’s visit, and again during A B Vajpayee-B P Koirala talks in 2000 — was recently floated by Nepal since November last year, but could not be held twice.

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