India Nepal Relations | UPSC GS Notes

In this Lesson of UPSC International Relations, we will discuss the India Nepal relations. It has many facets and deep roots in history. We will start with the historical background of India Nepal Relations first.

Historical Background of India Nepal Relations

Political interaction between India and Nepal started when British-India invaded Nepal in 1814. Anglo-Nepal War started.

Treaty of Sugauli (1816)

territories annexed from Nepal after Treaty of Sugauli by British India
Territories annexed from Nepal after Treaty of Sugauli by British India

Treaty of Sugauli or Sagauli was signed in 1816 at the end of the Anglo-Nepal War. The British took away one-third of the territory of Nepal, including Kumaon-Garhwal (Uttarakhand) and Kangra (Himachal Pradesh). River Kali was set as western border of Nepal. They also took away Sikkim (Chogyal rulers of Sikkim had supported British) and some parts of Terai.
Nepal remained an independent country. However, a British Resident was appointed as an ambassador to the independent country

India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship (1950)

This Treaty was signed by Rana ruler of Nepal with India in 1950. The salient provisions of the Treaty were:

  1. Everlasting friendship between the two governments.
  2. Mutual respect for territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence.
  3. Nepal is free to import arms and ammunitions for their security from or through Indian territory. The two governments will act in consultation in this regard.
  4. Both to give National treatment to each others citizens in their territory, with regards to industrial and economic activity.
  5. Both to give privileges in matter of residence, ownership of property, participation in trade and commerce, movement, etc to each other’s citizens.

Criticism of Indo-Nepal Peace and Friendship Treaty

This treaty has been a controversial political matter in Nepal. There are certain criticism of the treaty by a section in Nepal:

  1. Rana was unpopular among the masses and was not democratically elected.
  2. Nepal citizens were hurt that while their PM signed the treaty, from India’s side, it was the Ambassador. It was taken as an insult.
  3. Nepal Congress Party projected it as Rana’s compromise with India.
  4. Maoists of Nepal, led by Prachanda, were dead against this Treaty. However, nothing was done to scrap it when he himself became the PM.

In 2014, both the countries agreed to review the Treaty and make adjustments so that it reflects current reality. However no progress happened further. It is the trend. Every time Nepal creates issue about this, India creates a mechanism for redressal. But Nepal never follows up on their complaint!

Turbulent Indo-Nepal Relations (1960-90)

In 1955, King Mahendra succeeded his father King Tribhuvan. Monarchy was only nominal head then. Real powers lied with the Prime Minister and his cabinet. But in 1969, King Mahendra staged a Coup and grabbed all the powers. He ended Parliamentary democracy and set up fake Panchayati Raj system.

King Mahendra was suspicious of India as he thought India was supporting Nepali Congress to establish democracy. He increased contact with China. He started arms import from China. He also allowed them to build roads in Nepal.

He was succeeded by King Birendra in 1972. King Birendra finally gave in to large scale pro-democracy protests and promulgated Constitutional Monarchy in 1990. But the extreme Maoist movements kept Nepal on the boil from 1996-2006. During this whole period, India Nepal Relations faced troubles.

Crisis in Nepal in 2001

King Birendra was assassinated in a massacre where almost all family members were killed in the royal palace. King Gyanendra came in power who did not see India favourably. It was compounded by the Maoists of Nepal who were anti-India. India helped broker peace between Maoists and Nepali Congress. This led to Nepal’s transformation into a federal democratic republic country.

Current Issues in India Nepal Relations

There are multiple issues between India and Nepal. It is important to note that India has been used by Nepalese politicians to evoke public sentiments for political gains. Added to it is the fact that due to cultural similarities, Nepal faces identity crisis. Moreover, Nepal is almost completely dependent on India as that is the only route for its essential supplies. Thus many of the issues stem from those factors.

Trade & Transit Issues

  • Nepal always wanted two separate agreements with India for trade and transit respectively. But India wanted Trade & Transit agreement to be in the same document.
  • Nepal accuses India of using their dependency on India for transit as a bargaining chip.
  • In 1978, the Janata government agreed to the demands. However, PM Rajiv Gandhi did not renew the transit treaty and imposed an economic blockade for 45 days.
  • Nepal’s trade volume with India was about $8.2 billion of which Nepal imports $7.7 billion. Thus Nepal has massive trade deficit with India.

Indo-Nepal Border Disputes

India and Nepal share about 1800 Km long border. There are 2 major border or territorial disputes:

  1. Kalapani
    The British has set River Kali as Nepal’s western border. However due to some map issue, the origin of Kali is disputed. Nepal claims that river Kali originates slightly west. It claims the Kalapani land as their own. However, India has control of Kalapani since 1962 Indo-Sina War. According to maps produced by India, Kalapani falls in Uttarakhand.
  2. Susta
    It is about 140 sq. km land in Uttar Pradesh at Nepal border in the Terai area. India has control of the territory. Nepal claims this territory.

Human Trafficking and Counterfeit Currency

Trafficking of humans, particularly young girls and women from Nepal to India for sex trade is a major issue. Some estimate that nearly 5-10,000 girls are trafficked every year. CNN featured this in a documentary called Freedom Project.
The open borders also act as channel for fake Indian currency notes (FICN), pushed by Pakistan. There are reports of terrorist activities too. There is a lot of criminal activity in the border area as criminals can easily hide in another’s territory.

Madhesi Crisis in 2015

Madhesis are Nepalese citizens in the plains area of Nepal. But the Pahari Nepalese wrongly consider them as Indian settlers. In the new Constitution promulgated in 2015, the political rights of the Madhesis were diluted. They started massive agitation and caused blockade of Indo-Nepal border. Nepal accused India of giving them support in the blockade. But it was a spontaneous movement against the injustice to Madhesis.

Why Nepal is Important for India

  1. It acts as a strategic buffer against the aggression of China.
  2. The Pakistan factor: peddling of FICN, drugs and terrorism from through Indo-Nepal border. It makes cooperation of Nepal important.
  3. India and Nepal share common culture. There is a lot of interdependence. Gurkha Regiment in Indian Army is known for its valiance (National Security). There are huge Nepali communities in Darjeeling and Sikkim. Many marital relations across the border exist.
  4. Ministry of External Affairs term India-Nepal Relation as “Roti-Beti ka Rishta” (Relation of food and marriage)
  5. Energy Security: Nepal has potential of 80 GW of hydroelectricity. But only 600 MW potential is realized so far. Nepal’s lack of cooperation in this regard has hindered development. The surplus could be used for Indian border states.
  6. Nepal could play in the hands of China which could be detrimental to Indian interests. Hence they need to be kept as close as possible.

Future Roadmap for India

India should do the following to improve the Indo-Nepal relations and gain from it:

  1. 4Cs: Connectivity, Culture, Civilization and Cooperation
  2. Better media management to create positive public perception in Nepal
  3. Take interest in Madhesi issues without antagonizing Nepal
  4. Create economic dependency for Nepal
  5. Improve road/rail connectivity with Nepal before China does it.
  6. Resolve border disputes like we did with Bangladesh

Future Roadmap for Nepal

  1. Nepalese politicians have to realize the inevitability of India and the strong cultural and civilizational link.
  2. China is an aggressor. Their help in short term may cost them their sovereignty in long term.
  3. They are bound by geography to maintain relations with India. No one can win war against geography.
  4. Nepal needs India more than India needs Nepal. Thus they must take efforts to improve relations.

So this chapter was about India Nepal Relations. In the next lesson we will learn about India-China Relations.

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