Dr. Rajkumar Singh
Nepal’s claim for the Kalapani, a strategically important tri-junction has assumed frightening dimensions and is likely to snowball into a major controversy. It surfaced first during the Sino-Nepal Border Agreement (1961), Sino-Nepal Border Protocol (1963) and in the subsequent 1979’s Border Protocol. The claim spread over all the areas east of the Lipu Gad, the rivulet that joins the river Kali at its border tri-junction with India and China. Of late, in the light of its domestic intra-party political pressure the claim may trigger a fresh row between the two countries. The Communist Party of Nepal, both UML and ML factions have been mobilising public support over the issue as a part of their Indian hegemony insinuations. A 60-member All Nepal National Free Student’s Union (ANNFSU), the student wing of the CPN (ML) was flagged off at Kathmandu by the Party general secretary Bam Dev Gautam and was escorted by the Nepal Police up to the Nepalese side of the Kalapani border. It was preceded by a ‘Kalapani March’ by the CPN(ML) cadres near Changru in Dharchula district of Kalapani junction.
Some recent inputs on Kalapani
Indo-Nepal ties had received an impetus after Nepal was invited as a SAARC member to PM Modi’s swearing in ceremony. Modi had also visited the Himalayan nation as a part of his ‘neighbourhood first’ commitment. India had also offered unconditional help during the earthquake that had ravaged Nepal in April 2015, even though the Indian media coverage had drawn flak from various quarters. However, the bilateral ties have deteriorated considerably after the 135-day trade blockade in 2015, which was caused by protests by ethnic communities after Nepal adopted its new constitution in September 2015. Nepal alleges that India had a role in the economic blockade. In addition, India’s shifting interest from SAARC to BIMSTEC and BBIN has upset Nepal; even as Delhi is displeased with Kathmandu joining Beijing’s Border Roads Initiative (BRI), which India has boycotted on several fora. Moreover, demonetisation was a blow to Indo-Nepal relations as Nepal had Rs 33.6 million Indian currency in its formal bank channels alone. A border dispute left unaddressed at this time, when Nepal is reducing its economic dependence on India with the help of China, could push Kathmandu further into the arms of Beijing, as well as invite China to intervene on the issue.
History and initial efforts
According to Article 5 of the Sugauli Treaty (1815), Nepal had renounced all claims to areas ‘lying west of the river Kali’. The Kali (now Mahakali) river thus evolved into a well-identified border demarcation in the west. Significantly, as against other neighbouring countries, India’s borders with Nepal have for long been clearly demarcated since the earlier phase of the British rule. Despite this fact seventy square kilometres of the Kalapani area in Pithoragarh district is claimed by Nepal. It says that according to the 1815 Sugauli Treaty between the British Government and the Kingdom of Nepal, this area, which lies at the junction between the Tibet region of China, India and Nepal, belongs to the Kathmandu regime and that India is illegally occupying it.
The dispute over this territory was officially taken up by Nepal during former Prime Minister I.K. Gujral’s visit to Kathmandu in June 1997. Gujral had told the Nepal Government that it could send maps and other papers relating to its claim to the Government of India for examination. However, India has contradicted this position saying that the river Kali begins only from the meeting point of the Lipu Gad with the stream from Kalapani springs. In the survey of India maps, the border thus leaves the mid stream of the Kali river below Kalapani turning eastwards away from the river, to follow the high watershed. It is important to mention here that the first regular surveys of the upper reaches of the Kali river were conducted during the time of British India in 1870s. Such a map of 1879 vintage shows the whole Kalapani area as part of India.
Even a fresh set of surveys conducted by the Nepalese surveyors in the 1920s, confirmed the 1879 border alignment. Apart from this official sources claim that administrative and revenue records dating back to 1830s (available with the UP State Government), show that Kalapani area has traditionally been administered as part of Pithoragarh district.
Effects of changes in Nepal
The issue of Kalapani was raised by Girija Prasad Koirala, the Prime Minister of Nepal, when his Indian counterpart met him at Colombo on the eve of 10th Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation. Referring to the meeting Koirala said in Kathmandu, in the first week of August 1998, that he told Vajpayee to settle the Kalapani border issue as early as possible on the basis of historical documents and other valid paper. He also added that unless India could come up with new valid papers or valid historical documentary proof about Kalapani, it belongs to Nepal. Further, in a 25-point programme signed by the ruling Nepali Congress president and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Sahana Prashan, CPN(ML) President, a new found partner-in-governance, the two parties expressed their commitment to ending the border dispute through dialogue while reaffirming that the Kalapani area belonged to Nepal and that Indian troops should vacate it. Differences over the issue continued when King Birendra visited New Delhi in January 1999. In a published Nepalese map, the Indo-Nepal border has been depicted, falling along the Lipu Gad right up to the main Himalayan crest-even as the river has been named as Mahakali. Following its border agreement with China, Nepal has suggested that the sensitive western extremely along the junction be discussed trilaterally between China, Nepal and India, adding yet another dimension to the dispute. It was feared that the continuing border dispute may endanger the safe movements of traders and pilgrims along the strategically-located Lipu Lekh Pass-the all weather and reliable entry point into Tibet from Almora.
(The writer is a Professor and Head Department of Political Science B.N.Mandal University, Madhepura, Bihar).