By Nabin Kumar Chhetri
The Indo-Nepal discourse would be incomplete without reviewing the land encroachment agenda. Some of the crucial issues like Kalapani and the Susta land grab have frozen with time. The impasse is further postponing the issue into oblivion. Is Nepal willing to forget the long stretch of land in Kalapani that has been illegally occupied by the Indian army since 1962?
India is reluctant to retract from Kalapani as it serves as a vantage point to eye over Chinese border activities. The bilateral dialogue; tainted by Indian hegemony and political volatility of Nepal has failed to solve the dispute. As a result, the silence is intimidating Nepal’s sovereignty. Nepal covers a total area of 1, 47,181 Sq km according to the official record. However, owing to the Indian land grab of nearly 59,970 hectares, the overall size of Nepal has been reduced. The encroachment spreads to 54 points covering 21 districts. In kalapani alone, the disputed area is 372 Sq km.
Nepal has a unique relationship with India. Both the countries share a long stretch of open border. The Indo-Nepal friendship has been beneficial for both the countries however there are a few issues where Nepal is at lost. Nepal falls within India’s top watch list due to its exclusive geographic location. It is due to this distinction that it frequently intrudes into Nepal’s domestic affairs.
Analyzing India’s perspective on Nepal; If we look back at the refugee issue, the Bhutanese Refugees were not allowed to settle in India. The first batch of refugees were loaded on trucks and dropped at the Indo-Nepal border near Kakarbhitta. The other refugees followed later. Why did India deny asylum to the Bhutanese Refugees when it had allowed Tibetan and Bangladeshi Refugees? The Bhutanese refugees were later prohibited from going back to Bhutan by the Indian Border Security Force.
In May 2007, The Indian police fired randomly and killed a refugee teenager at the Mechi border. The only fault that he had committed was that he wanted to go back. If India can train the Bhutanese Army, install an Army base in Bhutan, interfere in Bhutan’s foreign policy, why did it remain passive in resolving the refugee issue?
The hardest slap on Nepal’s sovereignty comes from the protracted border encroachments by the Indian force. Throughout history, Nepal has lost lands and rights at different times. Why is Nepal silent in this issue? India has always denied the allegation of any encroachment. Indian officials have threatened numerous times showing security concerns. Rakesh Sood, the former Indian ambassador had once warned of sealing the entire Indo-Nepal border. India’s frequent violation into Nepal’s internal affair seems normal today due to our corrupt political leaders. If they had not relied on India for their political stability, the Indian encroachments would not have been as severe as it is now.
On the contrary, various Indian media like the CNN-IBN had accused Nepal of land grab in Bihar. Another news channel called News X had blamed the Nepali authority for uprooting the demarcation pillar. The Junge pillars that demarcate the borders have disappeared in most places, some are uprooted and some are intentionally shifted by the Indian authorities to claim their possession. At many places where the border between the two countries is the river, the problem seems to get worse as the river changes course every year. This shifting natural tendency has allowed the Indian authority to occupy more Nepali lands. The case of kalapani and Susta shows gross bilateral failure thus it has to be addressed by the UN.
The presence of Indian Air Marshals at the Tribhuwan International airport (TIA) raises a lot of question about India’s intention. If India is reluctant to trust the local security at TIA, why does it allow planes to Nepal? Is it possible for Nepalese officials to operate at the Indira Gandhi International Airport under similar excuse? If not, the Indian officials should immediately retract.
Nepal is passing through a troubled time. New Delhi directly godfathers the political picture of Nepal. Most of the Nepalese political parties are like mosaics that India arranges as per its convenience. Despite the restoration of democracy and the abolition of monarchy, the ongoing political turmoil that has been brewing, poses a great threat for the unity of Nepal. The rift between parties may serve as a harbinger in inviting foreign elements into our political system. There has to be a great focus shift amongst the Nepalese before the country sinks into the quagmire of foreign trap. Petty issues should not act as impediments in uniting the Nepalese for the greater cause of Nepal.
Nabin Kumar Chhetri graduated with a degree of M.Litt in Novel from the University of Aberdeen. His articles have appeared in the International Herald Tribune, The Statesman, Eurasia Review, The Kathmandu Post, Nepal News, Darjeeling Times, etc. He can be reached at [email protected]