May 20, 2020-Wednesday
There has been a dip in the relationship between India and Nepal in the past month. Two issues have contributed to it. The first was an internal rift within the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) where Prime Minister (PM) KP Sharma Oli faced a challenge from senior party leaders and former PMs, Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” and Madhav Kumar Nepal. The crisis was defused after China mediated a deal between the leaders. If there were any doubts about the Chinese investment in the NCP and backing for Mr Oli, it was dispelled. Delhi noted the development, quietly.
The second, more public, episode has been the controversy over the border. India inaugurated a road that crosses through Lipu Lekh Pass, part of an area both countries claim as their own. There is a long history to claims and counter-claims, but what is relevant is this. India possesses the territory; it sees it strategically important; and it will continue to expand infrastructure. The issue is, however, a subject of ultra-nationalist politics in Nepal. Mr Oli’s own nationalist politics (which seems to disappear when it comes to China), and domestic political opinion resulted in Kathmandu taking a strong position. While Beijing supports Mr Oli in general, domestic factors are driving Nepal’s rhetoric on this issue. In fact, India and China, in 2015, agreed to have trade across the pass, an acknowledgement by Beijing of India’s control over the area. Nepal should reconcile to the status quo and stop its anti-India rhetoric. India can offer a diplomatic sop by agreeing to start a dialogue on border issues. But Delhi must be vigilant, and keep a check on the Chinese-backed Oli regime.