Reshaping Nepal-India Ties

Nepal and India have been the closest neighbours since time immemorial. Civilisational ethos, religious sentiments and socio-economic interactions have defined their bond. The people of both nations share an open porous border, giving an impression that they are living in the same geography. Nonetheless, the open border has its own pros and cons. While facilitating the smooth and unhindered movement of people and goods, it also gives leeway to miscreant elements to abuse the open border. The smuggling of goods, human trafficking, abduction and killing of innocent people and other criminal activities occur through the open border, causing tension at the administrative, political and government levels of both nations. Moreover, the encroachment of Nepali territory and Das Gaja (no man’s land) has strained the bilateral ties time and again. This has led to increasing calls to review or replace the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty that guides Nepal-India relations to date. There is almost unanimous position in Nepal that the treaty does not reflect the changing spirit and dynamism of the time, and needs drastic revisions to the interest of the people of both nations. With a view to revisiting Nepal-India ties in the changed context, the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) on Nepal-India Relations was constituted two years ago. It has been mandated to review the whole gamut of bilateral issues and recommend ways to improve Nepal-India ties. It will submit a common report to both the governments before completing its term in July.

The EPG is going to hold its sixth meeting in New Delhi on Thursday and Friday, and the Nepali team has sought inputs from the top political leaders while apprising them about the progress of its previous meetings. Talking to Nepali members of the EPG the other day, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur asked them to keep national interest at the centre as they sit for discussions on bilateral matters.“We have to focus on what the people want and what our national interest is,” PM Deuba told the four-member Nepali delegation that has already held consultations with chairmen of the CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre. The sixth round of the EPG meeting is likely to draft a common report, so their interaction with the PM is relevant. The EPG members of both sides had discussed the 1950 Treaty, trade and transit, open border, commerce, socio-cultural issues and water resources, among other issues. It is encouraging that PM Deuba expressed commitment on behalf of the government and his party to fully support the efforts of the EPG and urge it to advance some good initiatives, taken by the political leadership, to a meaningful conclusion.

It is known to all that the 1950 Treaty was signed under specific circumstances motivated by the primordial instincts to save the autocratic Rana rule from immediate collapse. It was designed in haste to meet the vested interest of the then establishment classes of both countries. Many of its articles and clauses go against the grain of democratic spirit and sovereignty of Nepal. Therefore, it is imperative for both sides to revise the treaty taking cognizance of the shifting domestic, regional and global realities. Given that a stable government is being formed in Nepal in the near future, the EPG should be able to present pragmatic recommendations that are applicable to both sides. As the Left Alliance, which is set to form the new government, has stressed adopting a ‘balanced’ foreign policy, the EPG’s suggestions carries significance in shaping Nepal-India relations in the 21st century.

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