Reviewing The Treaty Of 1950
Hira Bahadur Thapa
The bilateral relationship between Nepal and India has been largely shaped by the Indo-Nepal 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship though the same has not escaped continued criticism since the time it was concluded. The timing of the conclusion of the treaty makes it controversial because then Nepal did not have enough bargaining power in the aftermath of the change of a political system in bringing which India had played a major role.
The history of bilateral negotiations reveals that the countries engaged in such discussion try to maximise each one’s position depending on the prevailing circumstances. Countries’ political stability and economic strength basically determine their bargaining power in negotiations. Bilaterally, the stronger ones always succeed in extracting more concessions in their favor capitalising on the weakness of the other negotiating partner.
This being the reality we have seen the powerful countries in the world preferring bilateral treaties to multilateral ones when they are in a position of gaining more at the expense of the other weaker contracting party. The international trade provides the most fitting example of this trend. Since its establishment in 1995 the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has not been able to produce one single trade deal although multilateral negotiations have been going on intermittently.
The bilateral trade agreements seem to be the most preferred options mainly because the countries with greater power and influence are in a position of advantage. While negotiating deals countries are constrained by the resources they possess which decide their real strength. Under circumstances like Nepal’s in the early 1950s, no better outcome could have been expected from the conclusion of any bilateral agreement with India.
The irritation felt by Nepal since the signing of the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship is related to the unjust clauses incorporated in the same, which was due to the weak position of Nepal and the assertiveness of India. It is obvious from the treaty clauses that the above agreement was imposed on Nepal at a time when she could have hardly said no to the Indian proposals.
Some clauses in the treaty are so unequal that anyone can feel that there is clear infringement on Nepal’s sovereignty. One of the articles in the treaty requires Nepal to seek the approval of India if she imports military weapons from the country other than India. This is just one example to prove how Nepal’s sovereignty has been compromised.
The bitter memories of year-long economic embargo imposed against Nepal in 1989 and attendant pain invoking the above article concerning the import of weapons from China are still fresh in the minds of the Nepali people.
Moreover, there are articles in the treaty that treat Nepal at par with India although the latter is many times larger in terms of population, area and the size of economy. Demanding reciprocal treatment of Indian citizens in the field of employment and ownership of property in Nepal is not fair.
Despite these anomalies the treaty has some provisions like the unrestricted movement of the people of the two countries to each other’s territory, which Nepal has been finding beneficial seen from the perspectives of employment opportunities. This may be a short-term advantage for us. In the long run the free flow of people to one another’s territory may prove harmful to Nepal’s national interests. Due to our economic compulsions we may not be in favor of having a visa regime vis-à-vis India at the moment but we need to craft policies that help us gain economic prosperity so that we do not depend unsustainably on the neighbor for our citizens’ employment.
The bilateral relationship existing between our two countries is multifaceted encompassing areas like social, cultural besides economic and political. This reality makes our relations with India unique. It is also referred to as special relationship because no other friendly country is as linked to us as India is in terms of socio-cultural affinities.
One cannot ignore the fact that India’s cooperation to Nepal has been extensive economically especially taking into consideration of her assistance in building infrastructures in the early years of our development soon after the dawn of democracy in the 1950s. Such cooperation has been continuing though at times frustration has occurred as the pace of Indian-assisted projects in Nepal slows disappointingly like Mahakali hydro project, among others.
Against such backdrop there is no denying the fact our relations with India need to remain cordial. Being neighbours problems do arise sometimes but there is deep antagonism towards the treaty, which needs either revision or replacement by a new one that takes equitable care of common interests. There is a school of thought in India that holds the view that Nepal cannot expect to reap all the benefits of the treaty with its reluctance to go along with it.
This attitude of the Indian bureaucrats as evidenced by the observation made by Shyam Saran, a former foreign secretary of India, in his recent book “How India Sees the World “ is a stumbling block to Nepal’s desire to see the 1950 treaty revised to make it consistent with the current reality.
In September 2008 when Prime Minister Prachanda visited India at the invitation of then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the joint Statement issued after the visit mentioned that both countries agreed to review, revise and update the treaty. But not much happened in this regard until the incumbent Indian prime minister consented to set up an Eminent Persons Group comprising representatives of Nepal and India tasked with making recommendations regarding the overall review of bilateral relations, including the 1950 treaty.
Since 2016, the group has met several times. Based on the press conference in Kathmandu following EPG’s seventh meeting, hopes have been raised that its recommendations will be beneficial to both the parties. But the question is whether such recommendations would be endorsed by the government of India. Its position on the EPG report will indeed test if there is a real change in the Indian mindset vis-à-vis the treaty.