For age-old neighbours India and Nepal, the border was formally demarcated for the first time with the Treaty of Sugauli (1816). The original treaty drafted by the British East India company called for a “fluid border”. Thus, when the region was delineated, the boundaries were not based on physical landmarks but on rivulets, which have since then considerably changed their courses.
The current bone of contention – Kalapani — lies in this ill-defined region. This issue returned to the forefront when the Government of India released its revised map of India in November 2019. The new map, in addition to the other changes, continued India’s claims to the Kalapani region as a part of the Pithoragarh district in Uttarakhand. This publication was swiftly denounced by the Nepali officials.
And in 2020, the Nepal government led by K P Sharma Oli introduced a constitutional amendment which made changes to the Nepali map. The new map claimed the Kalapani region as a part of the Dharchula district in Nepal. The update also claimed the Lipulekh pass and the area of Limpiyadhura for Nepal.
The tri-junction of Kalapani-Limpiyadhura-Lipulekh carries immense geostrategic significance for India as it serves as a vantage point to keep track of Chinese movements. Thus, the constitutional amendment made by Nepal raised flags for the Indian government and signalled the start of a formal rift in diplomatic relations.
The contemporary interactions and diplomacy of these neighbouring countries are guided by the Indo-Nepalese Friendship Treaty, which was signed in 1950. The treaty had opened up the borders and allowed citizens of both the countries, especially the ones residing on the fringes, to inter-marry and conduct cross-border trades or jobs.
Despite having its fair share of critics, the treaty did improve relations between both the countries, leading to the emergence of a unique “roti-beti relationship”.