In the second scenario, the two countries may sit for some dialogue within next fortnight. There are strong voices emerging in India in favour of negotiations at the earliest, and this even from the RSS (Rastriya Swansevek Sangh), the ideological backbone of the ruling BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party).
The Indian government may reach out for a ‘constructive’ and ‘positive’ atmosphere to hold talks by de-escalating the situation. After being short-sighted by inaugurating the new road, India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh has been sending constant messages in recent days through tv interviews that India wants to resolve the matter through negotiations.
Stating that India-Nepal relation is “an emotional” one, he added in one interview: “I look at Nepal as our brother. We will sit and find solution. We will resolve (the dispute) through talks.”
It is noteworthy that the Indian Army Chief Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane is being rebuked openly in the Indian media now for his statement of 15 May in which he claimed that Nepal was acting on the border issue at the behest of a third party, implying China. His remark has been labeled as most insensitive, inapt and irresponsible on both sides of the border.
There is a realisation that the Indian Army cannot afford to have bad relations with the Nepal Army which reacted strongly to some Indian media implying that it refused to agree to its government to counter the Indian position.
There is a possibility that even in the present deadlock, there can be negotiations and it will give the two sides credible reasons to stay engaged.
Since the 1990s, India has constantly pressed on Kalapani and Susta as the points of disagreement between the two countries. In almost all MoUs signed at the highest level between the two countries, there is mention only of these two points and not of Lipu Lekh and Limpiyadhura as disputed territories.
This has been deliberately calibrated as a border tri-junction with strategic importance to India. Thus, even when the British Indian maps post 1860 showed the contested territories in Nepal, unilateral manipulations emerged soon after. Independent India inherited the later maps and stuck to them for its own interest. India has often used this point to press that only Kalapani and Susta are contested lands and for which it even seemed willing to go for land swaps not too long ago.
“India is willing to negotiate on Kalapani and Susta, but not on Lipu Lekh and Limpiyadhura,” one credible source in New Delhi told me. This means that India still considers the small rivulet at Kalapani as the source of origin of Kali river, thereby purposely sidelining evidence provided by the Nepali side that the origin of the river is Limpiyadhura. (See map)
Taking its relations with Nepal for granted and laden with complacency has landed India in a position of no-return. Since bureaucratic influence is usually high in India when it comes to foreign policy decisions, there could have been lapses leading to failures in diplomatic relations or wrong briefings to the executive leading to misguided actions.
The border row has flared at a time when Indo-Nepal relations were just emerging from the low-point of the 2015 blockade crisis. Indian think-tanks have called it “unfortunate” and “ill-timed” and warn the dispute has the potential to derail the relationship beyond repair.
This will not only have implications on the political connections between the two countries, but will also damage the people-to-people relations, signs of which are already being felt by Nepalis living in India.
Akanshya Shah is a Nepali journalist and researcher based in New Delhi. She writes the regular column DEL-KTMfor Nepali Times.