A wobbly Nepal invites undue foreign attention, and the Modi government has not been sensitive enough to this aspect
The inability of Nepal foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali — who was on a three-day visit to New Delhi last week to attend the sixth meeting of the India-Nepal Joint Commission — to call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in spite of his request for a meeting is in an indicator that India does not regard bilateral relations as being normal until Kathmandu restores status quo ante on the sensitive border issue.
In May last year, Nepal — without warning — incorporated Indian territories of Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyudhara, into its maps. Prime minister K.P. Sharma Oli — raising a nationalist chorus to attract the support of other parties for the move — even had the Constitution changed to show these areas as part of Nepal. More, it placed its military police to demarcate these areas, although these had long been acknowledged as Indian lands by Kathmandu.
The Joint Commission has a development agenda. India stuck to that in talks with the Nepal foreign minister. New Delhi has also promised the Covid vaccine once domestic requirements are met. These steps suggest India’s position of maintaining solidarity with the people of Nepal but not necessarily with its government until Kathmandu reverses its unilateral actions on the border issue. Only when that happens is India likely to discuss the boundary question with Kathmandu.
The domestic politics in Nepal is unsettled, and also evidently unstable. PM Oli has dissolved Parliament. National elections are scheduled for April. However, it is to be seen if these can indeed take place in the present atmosphere when the ruling Communist Party of Nepal has, in reality, split.
China is taking an unusual interest in the situation and may well engender political impulses to prevent return to status quo ante on the border issue with India. In these circumstances the actions of the various domestic constituencies, including the armed forces and the royalists, besides the Madhesis — the terai people — bear watching. A wobbly Nepal invites undue foreign attention, and the Modi government has not been sensitive enough to this aspect.