Nepalis in Kathmandu light candles on June 13 in celebration after parliament approved a map that includes territories disputed with India. Photo: AFP/Prakash Mathema

MUMBAI – Tensions stoked when Nepal revived a two-century-old border dispute with India eased on Monday (August 17) when officials resumed talks on the issue.

Nepal, emboldened in May by support from China while it was pushing troops into Indian territories in Ladakh, dredged up a border issue that had been settled with India in 1816.

The Nepalese Communist Party, leveraging its two-thirds majority in parliament, amended its constitution in May to include in its national map the three Indian territories of Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura.

The areas are on its northwestern tip at the tri-junction of India, China and Nepal, and are considered to be of strategic importance to India. Nepal also submitted the new map to the United Nations and incorporated it on Nepal’s national flag.

Source: Twitter/BBC

The border was agreed to on March 4, 1816, and named after the signed Treaty of Sugauli. However, Nepal disputes the demarcation of the border and seeks the three areas in question.

India dismissed Nepal’s May revision as a “unilateral act not based on historical facts and evidence.” It urged Nepal to respect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The sense in New Delhi is that Nepal seized an opportunity while India was bogged down and on the back foot contending with China’s incursions in its claimed Himalayan territory.

Kathmandu’s relations with Beijing are on a warming trend facilitated by infrastructure projects that are opening the landlocked country’s northern frontier, providing an alternative route than India for fuel and other crucial imports.

India-Nepal relations hit a nadir in 2015 when, from Kathmandu’s perspective, Delhi imposed an undeclared fuel blockade on Nepal. India has denied the allegations.

The recent two-month freeze in relations was defrosted at talks of the 8th Oversight Mechanism in Kathmandu between Vinay Mohan Kwatra, India’s ambassador to Nepal, and Shanker Das Bairagi, foreign secretary of Nepal, in a video conference.

Teams led by India’s ambassador to Nepal and Nepal’s foreign secretary extended a thaw initiated by Nepal’s Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli.  Oli phoned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to greet him on India’s Independence Day on Saturday (August 15).

Sources in India said neither the map nor the border was discussed at Monday’s official meeting or during Saturday’s call between the prime ministers.

The Oversight Mechanism was created in 2016 to monitor projects being carried out with India’s assistance in Nepal. The last such meeting was in July 2019.

Monday’s meeting reviewed development projects including reconstruction of 46,301 houses that were damaged by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 2015.

It also reviewed progress of the 69-kilometer cross-border pipeline for petroleum products. When finished, it will be the first cross-border pipeline in South Asia and will be crucial for meeting land-locked Nepal’s fuel requirements.

Nepali Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli (right) greets Indian PM Narendra Modi during a guard of honor in Kathmandu. Photo: AFP / Ashok Dulal

India is also helping Nepal in its battle against Covid-19 with supplies of medical equipment and medical supplies, both countries said after Monday’s meeting.

India and Nepal are the world’s only Hindu majority nations. Most of their 1,800 kilometer border is open and citizens from both countries live and take up jobs in either country.

At Monday’s meeting, the potential of a Ramayana Circuit was also discussed. Interestingly, as India celebrated the ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of the temple of Lord Ram on August 5, Oli claimed Nepal, not Ayodhya, to be the birthplace of Ram.