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India, Nepal stare at diplomatic crisis

India, Nepal stare at diplomatic crisis

Pratibha walia

HOURS AFTER Nepal moved a
step forward towards giving le-
gal sanctity tothenewmapas it
passed the Constitutional
Amendment bill in the lower
houseofitsParliament, Indiaand
Nepal were staring at a diplo-
matic crisisonSaturday.
Responding to Katyndu’s
decision,NewDelhimadeitclear
thatthis “artificial enlargement
of claims” is “nottenable”,andit
“violates the bilateral under-
standing to hold talks on out-
standingboundary issues”.
Thegovernmentnow facesa
tough choice in dealing with an
increasinglyassertiveNepalgov-
ernment, led by Prime Minister
KPSharmaOli.
So far, the government has
not responded to Nepal’s re-
quests forameeting between
Foreign Secretaries of the two
countries.
From the last phone call be-
tween 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 sce-
nario,thepresentcrisisreflectsa
completebreakdown incommu-
nicationbetween thetwo 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)officialspokesper-
son Anurag Srivastava on
Saturday said, “We have noted
that the House of
Representatives of Nepal has
passedaconstitution amend-
ment Bill for changing the map
ofNepaltoincludepartsofIndian
territory.Wehavealreadymade
ourpositionclearonthismatter.”
“Thisartificialenlargementof
claims is not based on historical
fact or evidence and is not ten-
able. It isalsoviolativeofourcur-
rentunderstanding toholdtalks
on outstanding boundary is-
sues,”Srivastavasaid.
Thisstatementreflects India’s
approach, as it doesn’t seek any
dialogue at the moment, but
doesn’t preclude the possibility
ofholdingone.
NewDelhihasnowchoicesto
make.Itcanaccedetotherequest
foradialogue with Kathmandu,
and try to resolve the issue
throughdiplomaticnegotiations.
But as it faces a new map
passedbytheNepalgovernment,
New Delhi finds itself inadiffi-
cultposition, asKathmanduhas
etchedtheredlinesonstone.This
may force Delhito draw its own
redline andask its counterparts
in Nepal to walk back on the
boundary issue and then come
tothetable.
If the government doesn’t
choosethepathtodiplomaticne-
gotiations,ithasoptionsofhard-
ening its stance against Nepal
and could opt for the punitive
measures — which is fraught
withrisksandcouldalienate the
peopleofNepal.Thegovernment
had tried suchatactic in 2015,
duringtheblockade,anditwould
weigh the consequences before
opting for thispath.
It could also open its lines of
communication and engage-
mentwiththeNepalesepolitical
and civil society — outside the
government — and could try to
communicate its point of view.
Butgiven thebipartisanunityon
theissueofmap,asithasunder-
taken strong nationalistic tones,
it may find few takers in the
Nepal’s political spectrum and
societyof Delhi’spoint of view.
This comes at a time when
Kathmanduhasbeenrebuffedby
Delhi on its requests for a meet-
ing between the two Foreign
Secretaries — which has been
agreed by Prime Ministers from
both sidesback in 2014.
Nepal was open to holding a
virtualmeetingwith Indiaonthe
issue of border dispute that has
threatened to adversely impact
the bilateral relationship be-
tween the two countries.
Kathmandu has conveyed to
New Delhi over the last one
month— throughanoteverbale
(a diplomatic note)—that they
are open to have Foreign
Secretaries of the two countries
meet through any option — in
personorvirtual.
ButNew Delhihas sofar said
that they will discuss the issue
“after” the two countries have
“successfully dealt” with the
COVID-19 pandemic.
“Bothsidesareintheprocess
of schedulingForeignSecretary-
level talks which will be held
once the dates are finalised be-
tweenthetwosidesafterthetwo
societies andgovernments have
successfullydealtwiththe chal-
lenge of Covid-19 emergency,”
theMEA’hadstatedonMay9,in
its first statement after the con-
troversyemerged.
TheideaofForeignSecretary-
level talks — which began in
1997duringthenPMIKGujarat’s
visit, and again during A B
Vajpayee-BPKoirala talks in
2000 — was recently floated by
Nepal since November last year, but couldn’t be held twice.

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