One of the crucial setbacks in the India-Nepal relationship has been the issue of land grab.
Nepal is at the brink of historical transition. The civil war has ended and so has the 240 year old royal institution. The Maoists have left the jungle to join the parliament. The amalgamation of Maoist guerrillas into the national army has been a success. Communist hardliners have finally agreed that the only way to win the hearts of the people is through democratic practice.
The heyday of drawing power out of the barrels of a gun is over. The rise of Maoism in Nepal is a political epiphany. It is an upshot of age old practice of feudalism, poverty, inequality, untouchability and other socio-economic factors that had choked the Nepalese society.
The wound was further idealized by communist dreams. Due to the drastic reform within the party, the Maoists have written a new history in the soil of Nepal. Flexibility of thought and the right timing, both have contributed to make it a successful party.
Looking back at the sacrifice of nearly 17,000 lives, Nepal’s political situation should have been better. Nevertheless, the present imbroglio suggests a different direction. The ritual of democratization has been painful. Newer difficulties have cropped up. Federalism issues have stirred the nation. Questions of social and political inclusion of various ethnic groups in mainstream politics have created a concern.
In the backdrop of these vibrant political transactions, India’s role has been phenomenal
Back from the days of the Sugauli treaty in 1950, India has dominated the scene; sometimes drawing water out of the Nepalese river and sometimes constructing dams on Nepalese soil. When the British quit India in the late 1940’s, Nepal did not have strong leaders to ask back for her lost territories.
One of the crucial setbacks in the India-Nepal relationship has been the issue of land grab. India still occupies 37,000 hectares of Nepali land in Kalapani. The encroachment has been ongoing since November 1962. It is estimated that the claims of land-grab extends to over 23 districts covering 60,662 hectares.
The second major land grab is in the Susta area where India has seized 14,500 hectares of Nepali land. The Narayani River changes its course every year leaving a substantial portion of dry land. These areas are in turn possessed by Indian farmers. Various prime ministers have tried to settle the dispute during their times including late G.P.Koirala, however, no solution has been reached.
In addition to Kalapani and Susta; other occupied areas lie in Mechi, Tanakpur, Sandakpur, Pashupatinagar and Hile Thori. The Indian border security force had carried series of operations in the past. In May 2009, the case in Dang in which Indian forces seized Nepali land and carried out atrocities is still not stale. Thousands of Nepalese were displaced.
The Indian base camp at Darchula is another example of encroachment. Forceful border penetration seriously questions India’s attitude towards Nepal. This geographical bully will strain the historic kinship between the two countries.
In an interview on February 18, 2009, Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon said, “I think 98 percent of the boundary problem in Nepal had been resolved. ” Although Menon has recently visited Kathmandu, the boundary problem has not budged. Will India be happy to return the occupied land in Kalapani and Susta?
Although Nepal failed, she has fought on all levels to regain occupied land
International intervention should be sought to resolve the dispute. India’s territorial hegemony has to stop once and for all. The annexation of Sikkim in 1974 should not be forgotten.
As a strong preacher of democracy, India should respect territorial harmony and resolve the issue once and for all. India’s dormant role during the Bhutanese refugee crisis also serves as a burning example of how its foreign policy functions in regard to Nepal. If it had sincerely wanted, the refugee problem would have been solved many years ago.
Nepal does not share a common border with Bhutan. However, more than 100,000 refugees came to Nepal via India. The Indian government did not allow them to settle.
Professor Surya Subedi has said in his article that, “Indo-Nepal relations are marred by mistrust, confusion and dogmatism.” Is Nepal paying the price of being India-locked from three sides? Or is it the sheer negligence of the Nepalese leaders who are lost within the vicious circle of blame-game?
This intimidation will not stop unless Kathmandu stops looking towards New Delhi for its political solution. Had the Nepalese leaders been confident and bold enough to make their own decisions, the Indian government would not have intervened. Why do our political leaders rely so much on India? These are questions that have to be considered in order to deal with this crisis.
The only way to resolve this territorial dispute is through the willingness and efforts of Nepali politicians. Timely awareness and proactive measures can save the borders of Nepal from shrinking in shape and size.
Nabin Kumar Chhetri is a Nepalese author and a member of The Scottish Pen. He graduated with a degree of M.Litt in Novel from the University of Aberdeen. His works have appeared in The International Herald Tribune, The Statesman, Sharnoff’s Global Views, Eurasia Review, The Kathmandu Post, Nepal News and The Darjeeling Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He has been awarded from Italy, Israel and Nepal for his writings. Read other articles by Nabin.