The visit by the Army chief, General Manoj Mukund Naravane, to Nepal earlier this month was part of a long-standing reciprocal tradition between the two countries’ militaries of conferring the rank of general on each other’s army chiefs. It is heartening that the custom continued this time despite a bitter map row that has cast a shadow on ties. For sure, General Naravane’s visit was not expected to resolve the spat over territory, but it helped to signal continuity in bilateral relations between the two neighbours.
It gave both sides the opportunity to draw a line under the Indian Army chief’s statement in May that alluded to a China hand behind Nepal’s claims over Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura and triggered anger in Kathmandu. Nepal Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli’s statement to Naravane reiterating friendly relations between the two countries, and expressing hope that the problems between the two would be resolved through dialogue, was indication that Nepal is as keen as India to turn the page on this chapter.
Behind-the-scenes efforts are already on to resolve the issue. Delhi has reached out to Kathmandu through both the civilian and security establishments. There seems to be a realisation in both capitals that this age-old relationship, powered mainly by people-to-people ties across an open border — unique in the South Asia region — has to be nurtured better. Naravane’s visit, and that of R&AW chief Samant Goel days earlier, has helped clear the air. Prime Minister Oli was seen as making a conciliatory gesture by withdrawing school textbooks that carried the revised map of Nepal with Kathmandu’s new territorial claims.
It is understood that Oli has to walk a thin line between his domestic political compulsions and Nepal’s relations with India. While Oli’s map project helped him play to nationalist galleries back home, it, and his China tilt, has not prevented him from sensing that putting all Nepal’s eggs in the Beijing basket may not be that popular either among domestic constituencies, and that Delhi is as vital to its interests, especially as the Chinese penchant for map revisionism in the region does not stop at India alone. The India-Nepal Boundary Working Group will reportedly meet soon for a joint survey of the border areas. Both countries have travelled some way from their summer of discontent.