River of Rancour

Nepalese Prime Minister’s recent visit to India could end border disputes between both countries.

By Sajad Jatoi | June 2022

The Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba visited India in early April. In his three-day visit, he met his Indian counterpart Narendara Modi and several other BJP leaders in order to strengthen both his country’s ties with India and his Congress party’s connectivity with BJP. With that end in view he, along with the Indian leader, launched multiple projects which included energy projects and a 35 km long cross-border railway line from Janakpur in Nepal to Jaynagar in India. No doubt, the visit will improve relations between the two countries, but there is a question: will it put an end to the years long border dispute between them? Before going further, it would be better to have an overview of the historical background of the issue.

The border dispute between them has been brewing for years now. Since 1995, Nepal has been claiming that the 335-km region consisting of Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura, belongs to it in accordance with the Treaty of Sugauli. However, India says that the disputed zone is its part as it has been under its administrative control ever since independence. What is the Treaty?

The Treaty of Sugauli was signed between the British and Nepal in 1816, two years after the Anglo-Nepalese War. Under the pact, the two rivers, Mahakali and Mechi, were used to define the western and eastern borders of Nepal. The border of India with the Himalayan nation ran along those rivers. This solved the problem apparently, but there was a possibility that an issue might develop along the western border because the river Mahakali, near the region of Kalapani and Lipulekh, splits into two. In fact, two tributaries merge into it. So it could confuse matters as to which side should be taken for the main river, the eastern or western. If the western side was recognised as the boundary, then the said area would go to Nepal. And if the eastern part was accepted, then the territory would be given to India.

At the time of concluding the Treaty, the British felt no need for the territory so they took the western flank of the river as the border line. But in the 1860s, they realised its strategic importance and altered the map in a way that the disputed regions became a part of India. The monarchs of Nepal voiced no concern. Since then the area remained under the British Raj till 1947. After that it is under the jurisdiction of India.

The issue came to the fore in 2015 when India and China decided and signed an agreement to develop trade and transit via Kalapani. The public in Nepal protested against this agreement and termed it violation of Nepal’s territorial integrity. The issue remerged when, in November 2019, the Indian government issued a new map of the country, which included the disputed territory of Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura. This provoked widespread protests in Nepal. On 20 May, 2020, the Nepalese government amended its constitution and published a map which showed the disputed area as part of Nepal.

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