ByBuddhi Man Tamang
The India-Nepal Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950 covers ten articles and includes the free movement of people and goods as well as the issuance of work permits. In recent years, voices have emerged calling for a revision of the treaty. What is the reasoning behind this demand for revision? What is the existing debate between Nepal’s political parties and its civil society on the issue?
It is mainly the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), the largest party in the Constituent Assembly, which wants the revision of the treaty on the grounds of it being ‘unequal’ and ‘unsuitable to the changing timeframe’. When the (UCPN-M) became the largest party in the Constituent Assembly (CA) and formed the government in 2008, the issue of the treaty’s revision was further highlighted. Also, on his visit to India as Nepal’s Prime Minister, Prachanda proposed a revision of the treaty. However, his government fell in May 2009 and the issue could not move any further. This proposal for revision pertained to renegotiating cooperation on water resource development, halting the recruitment of Gurkhas in the Indian army, solving issues like land encroachment by the Indian side and border management and regulation. These defined the political agenda of the UCPN-M before, and after the Constituent Assembly elections. A revised treaty would also have to look at additional problems of human trafficking (especially trafficking of women as sex workers into India) and cross-border criminal activity.
Nepal’s other left-wing party, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) equally rallied for a revised treaty with India, although it was not the main tenet of its election agenda. Unlike the (CPN-UML) and (UCPN-Maoist), the Nepali Congress has been silent on this matter. However, their political manifesto states that Nepal’s relationship with its two large neighbours has to be maintained on the basis of changing norms in international relations. The Madhesi parties believe that border management as an inevitable corollary to the revision will devastate the special relation between people of the southern plains (Terai) and the people of the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The traditional ties of roti-beti (bread and daughter) in the region cannot be ignored by those proposing revision. Moreover, they argue that this will greatly impact the Nepal’s Pahadi (hill) people who also earn their living in the different cities of India.
It is not only Nepali political parties who attend to the cause of a revised India-Nepal peace and friendship treaty; Nepali academics, border experts and civil society members also maintain strong opinions on the revision of the treaty. Nepali academics in their writings claim that the debate has to be democratized and resolved with the mutual consensus of the governments of the two countries. Civil society representatives and notable experts believe that the open border should be regulated in order to stop the intrusion of terrorist, which affects both countries. Nepali economic experts express a serious concern for Nepal’s economic benefits reaped from remittances earned by Nepali migrant workers and Gurkha soldiers in India. These remittances contribute considerably to the Nepalese GDP; these may reduce after the revision of the treaty. Some experts also believe that the India-Nepal Peace and Friendship Treaty has strengthened the scope of easy transference and access to the art, culture and literature of both countries.
India has expressed its readiness to ‘review’ the treaty each time Nepali Prime Ministers made a visit to India (from Prachanda to Man Mohan Adhikari). But the Nepali side has not been able to emerge with a concrete model for a revised treaty.
A revision of the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950 has to be realistic and practical, taking note of the citizens of both countries who enjoy various privileges reciprocally. Any revision of the treaty may directly or indirectly affect the day-to-day life of citizens on both sides of the border; an aspect that needs to be carefully considered. The long-standing India-Nepal relationship based on the inseparable bonds of culture and history cannot be ignored in the name of treaty-revision. Nepali experts believe in the short-term, a reconsideration of the treaty and claims for the sealing of borders can make political elites sufficiently happy; however, in the long-term, it cannot work in favour of India-Nepal relations.
Therefore, the continued rhetoric calling for a revision of the Peace and Friendship Treaty leaves many questions unanswered: Can a revised treaty truly transform India-Nepal relations for the better and solve existing disputes? Would the Indians and Nepalese arrive at a consensus if the treaty is to be revised? Are the calls for revision merely a political agenda of the Nepali political parties for election purposes?
Buddhi Man Tamang
Research Intern, IPCS
email: [email protected]