Nepal Conundrum: Why India Must Move First to Defuse Tensions Amid Rising Trust Deficit, China Instigation

The publication of a restructured map of India demarcating the new Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh in November 2019 had reopened old wounds in the Indo-Nepalese relationship, with Nepal protesting the representation of ‘Kalapani’ as part of the Indian state of Uttarakhand. With the onset of COVID-19 and its evolution into a pandemic this Indo-Nepalese impasse appears to have been on the backburner. However, with the recent inauguration by the Indian Defence Minister of a new road stretching around 80 kilometres from Darchula in Uttarakhand to Lipulekh pass, the trijunction of the India-Nepal-China borders, seems to have resurrected the Indo-Nepalese dispute.

This border dispute is of significant antiquity dating back to the 1816 Treaty of Sugauli which states that all the land that lies east of the Mahakali river is part of Nepal. Consequently, Kathmandu’s claim over the disputed area lies in the fact that the territories of Lipulekh, Limpiyadhura and Kalapani fall south east to the alleged source of Mahakali.

India and Nepal have shared a long history of cooperation and have successfully in the past solved existing territorial ambiguities through diplomatic dialogue.

However, this remains disputed as what Nepal claims as the source of Mahakali, is actually just a stream called ‘Lipu Gad’ which is one of its many tributaries that merge into Mahakali near the trijunction. Consequently, India has contested Nepal’s claims arguing that the area north of its actual source is not demarcated by these treaties. Furthermore, administrative and revenue records dating from the late 1800s prove that Kalapani was indeed part of India’s Pithoragarh district.

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