Lipulekh, Nationalism and Nepali leaders


Nepal is a politically ‘volatile’ country. Politicians in Nepal uses “nationalism” (aka nationalism is always concerned with safeguarding sovereignty from India) as a double aged sword to flame people in the street for protest. When politicians graduated to regime; all their prior commitment of nationalism i.e. protection from Indian assertiveness becomes “fairy tale”. Then, another political groups takes this scenario as a opportunity and protest by flaming people in the street( as former didn’t stood up for its promise). Ultimately, this new group joins the government and the scenario is again same. It also do nothing for nationalism. This is happening since 1990 with more than 25 government changes. And there is only one prime reason: India had series of “covert” operation on Nepali affairs and Nepal politicians has converted this operation in to their true benefit. But after 2015; Nepal had rejected the “mantra” of New Delhi to re-correct constitutional clauses by addressing the demand of agitating Madhesis. This had made Nepali people happy because Nepal for the first time since 1950; had “kicked” India while doing maneuvering on Nepal. Unfortunately, New Delhi became “silence” player in Nepal since then with the arrival of far more powerful player i.e. West & China. Nepal rejoiced and unknowingly Nepal had given its platform for International Great Game. Who had known by kicking little Tiger it had welcomed bunches of Lion in its political field.

But in 2019 after India’s new release of map, which had shown Kalapani in its side again fired relationship of Nepal-India. In the current context, India had constructed link road that passes Lipulekh( Southern part claimed by Nepal but lacks significant document for this) but India and China bilaterally had agreed to build Lipulekh as a trade hub in 2015 without presence of Nepal. The newly constructed 80 KM Link Road inaugurated by Defense Minister Rajnath Singh of India on 8th May, 2020 could make pilgrims easy to do journey of Kailash-Mansarovar by one week compared to two-three weeks it took earlier. When inauguration news of this link road came out; Nepali political circle boiled up and started protest online and offline front like that of November 2019 protest against India’s new release of map where Kalapani was on the India side.  

Nepali protest against India can’t be understood easily. Mostly student groups in Nepal had protested on the inauguration of this road network. There are some sections of Nepali student groups who die hard for getting Indian Embassy scholarship in Nepal. On the other side, Nepali journalist and leaders are invited on luncheon and dinner of Indian Embassy in Kathmandu. Not all invites are diplomatically charged but might be way of influencing Nepali sections.

Why India is interested in Lipulekh?

Without finding answers of this question, we Nepali are chanting slogan of nationalism without aware of international politics.  It’s all about strategic route that is suitable for military maneuvering.  Only burning streets won’t give us way to understand its Indo-China strategic complexities. In this case, either Nepal need to assure New Delhi against any security threats from Beijing or carefully lobby with Indo-China for granting trade permits to do trade in the proposed Lipulekh trade hub.  

All current political leadership of Nepali Congress and Nepal Communist Party some way or another groomed, took political shelter and had received support( ideological, logistics and financial) from Indian establishment to trigger movement in Nepal. This makes them morally weak, to raise any issue of Nepali nationalism with India. Because bluntly speaking; Indian establishments has ‘invested’ on Nepali leaders to promote New Delhi influence in Nepal. Here, to carefully mention not all leaders became New Delhi puppet while carefully examining history. Praise-worthy leaders includes B.P Koirala; who was born, raised and taught in Varanasi had always stood up for Nepal’s sovereignty and nationalism.

It is estimated that, around 3 million Nepali are working in India mostly general labor. Nepal is more than 80% dependent on India and Nepali currency is pegged with Indian currency. Open border between India and cultural-historical ties makes relationship more complex and connecting. There are several attributes of Nepal-India relationships. This time and several times; we only have issue with politics. All other relationships are working fine. Why only political relationship? Political relationship is high paying relationship comparing to other. It brings certain section of people, groups to power and manipulate and influencing games happens. It involves money, brain and muscles. In addition to this, Nepal’s international position is also influenced by the radar of Indian foreign ministry which has much more lobbying power than our foreign ministry in global institutions like  UN.  Oli government had only taught us to react on Indian assertiveness but makes us every time silence when receiving regular financial and logistic support from India. Border disputes with India is as it is subject and none of the Prime Minister pushes it hard. If pushed, it is only for the namesake. And, we have also found this with Oli government.  

Way Forward

Nepal-India political issues are solvable. There are no one-line mantra for this. It is process of continuance evolution. At this time, For Nepali side; it needs to re-strengthen its documentation and lobbying power. For Indian side; it needs to give up “big brother” attitude and sole fully implement “neighborhood first “ policy. Irritating Nepal makes India more complicated to handle foreign powers in Nepal and annoying India by Nepal makes it difficult to secure its interest of regional survival and global lobbying from Delhi establishments for Nepal. India should remember Nepali security leak( open or closed border) could trigger greater security risk in India and Nepal should note; Indian reserves vast market for Nepal ultimately useful for Nepal’s great economic transformation. This is due to the fact that harnessing Indian market is easy for Nepal comparing to China because we all knew Nepal is circled by three sides India( East, South and West). At last, both needs to secure these above objectives to make this very old relationship working efficiently. Seasonal winds in the bilateral relationship comes and go.

Saurav Raj Pant
Saurav Raj Pant
PhD. Student of International Relations & Diplomacy of Tribhuvan University, Nepal


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