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Modern-day India and Nepal initiated their relationship with the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship and accompanying secret letters that defined security relations between the two countries, and an agreement governing both bilateral trade and trade transiting Indian territory. The 1950 treaty and letters exchanged between the then Indian government and Rana rulers of Nepal, stated that "neither government shall tolerate any threat to the security of the other by a foreign aggressor" and obligated both sides "to inform each other of any serious friction or misunderstanding with any neighbouring state likely to cause any breach in the friendly relations subsisting between the two governments." These accords cemented a "special relationship" between India and Nepal that granted Nepalese the same economic and educational opportunities as Indian citizens in India and preferential treatment to Indians compared to other nationalities in Nepal. The Indo-Nepal border is open; Nepalese and Indian nationals may move freely across the border without passports or visas and may live and work in either country. However, Indians aren't allowed to own land-properties or work in government institutions in Nepal, while Nepalese nationals in India are allowed to work in Indian government institutions (except in some states) and some civil services (the IFS, IAS, and IPS).
Independent political history
In the 1950s, the Rana rulers of Nepal welcomed close relations with India. Rana rule in Nepal however collapsed within 3 months of signing the PFT. As the number of Indians living and working in Nepal's Terai region increased and the involvement of India in Nepal's politics deepened in the 1960s and after, so too did Nepal's discomfort with the special relationship. India's influence over Nepal increased throughout the 1950s. The Nepalese Citizenship Act of 1952 allowed Indians to immigrate to Nepal and acquire Nepalese citizenship with ease—a source of huge resentment in Nepal (This policy was not changed until 1962 when several restrictive clauses were added to the Nepalese constitution). Also in 1952, an Indian military mission was established in Nepal. At the same time, Nepal's dissatisfaction with India's growing influence began to emerge, and overtures to China were initiated as a counterweight to India.
Following the 1962 Sino-Indian border war, the relationship between Kathmandu and New Delhi thawed significantly. India suspended its support to India-based Nepalese opposition forces which India had been doing in violation of 1950's PFT, which clearly stated 'not to allow any country's soil to be used against the other'. The defeat of Indian forces in 1962 provided Nepal with the breathing space and Nepal extracted several concessions, including transit rights with other countries through India. In exchange, through a secret accord concluded in 1965, similar to an arrangement that had been suspended in 1963, India won a monopoly on arms sales to Nepal.
In 1969 relations again became stressful as Nepal challenged the existing mutual security arrangement and asked that the Indian security checkposts and liaison group be withdrawn. Resentment also was expressed against the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950. India withdrew its military checkposts and liaison group, although the treaty was not abrogated.
Tensions came to a head in the mid-1970s, when Nepal pressed for substantial changes in the trade and transit treaty and openly criticised Sikkim's 1975 annexation by India. In 1975 King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev against the backdrop of Indian annexation of Nepal's close neighbor 'The Kingdom of Sikkim' proposed Nepal to be recognized internationally as a 'Zone of Peace' where military competition would be off limits, so as to ensure no country would violate Nepal's right to sovereignty. Nepal's proposal received support from China and Pakistan but not from India In New Delhi's view, if the king's proposal did not contradict the 1950 treaty that the-then Indian government had signed with the Rana rulers of Nepal, it was unnecessary; if it was a repudiation of the special relationship, it represented a possible threat to India's security and could not be endorsed. In 1984 Nepal repeated the proposal, but there was no reaction from India. Nepal continually promoted the proposal in international forums and by 1990 it had won the support of 112 countries including the USA, the UK, and France.
In 1978 after the formal acknowledgement of Sikkim being an Indian state by Nepal, India agreed to separate trade and transit treaties, satisfying a long-term Nepalese demand. However, much to the annoyance of Nepalese government and in continued violation of the 1950s PFT, India consistently allowed the opposition parties of Nepal to use Indian soil to launch agitation against the Nepalese government and refused to endorse Nepal as a Zone of Peace. In 1987 India urged expulsion of Nepalese settlers from neighboring Indian states that led to expulsion of thousands of Nepali-speaking people from Meghalaya, and Nepal tried to retaliate by introducing a work permit system for Indians working in Nepal but the Nepalese government failed to implement the provision because of the protest from madheshis.
In 1988, when two treaties were up for renewal, Nepal refused to accommodate India's wishes for a single trade and transit treaty stating that it violates the principle of freedom to trade. Thereafter, both India and Nepal took a hard-line position that led to a serious crisis in India–Nepal relations. Nepalese leaders asserted the position that as per the UN charter, transit privileges were "a fundamental and a permanent right of a land-locked country" and thus India's demand for a single treaty was unacceptable. So, after two extensions, the two treaties expired on 23 March 1989, resulting in a virtual Indian economic blockade of Nepal that lasted until late April 1990. As time passed Indian economic sanctions over Nepal steadily widened. For example, preferential customs and transit duties on Nepalese goods entering or passing through India (whether imports or exports) were discontinued. Thereafter India let agreements relating to oil processing and warehouse space in Calcutta for goods destined to Nepal expire. Aside from these sanctions, India cancelled all trade credits it had previously extended to Nepal on a routine basis.
To withstand the renewed Indian pressure, Nepal undertook a major diplomatic initiative to present its case on trade and transit matters to the world community. The relationship with India was further strained in 1989 when Nepal decoupled its rupee from the Indian rupee which previously had circulated freely in Nepal. India retaliated by denying port facilities in Calcutta to Nepal, thereby preventing delivery of oil supplies from Singapore and other sources. In historian Enayetur Rahim's view, "the economic consequences of the dispute... were enormous. Nepal's GDP growth rate plummeted from 9.7% in 1988 to 1.5% in 1989. This had a lot to do with the decreased availability of goods. Shortly after the imposition of sanctions, Nepal experienced serious deficiencies of important goods such as coal, fuel, oil, medicine and spare parts. Nepal also suffered economically from higher tariffs, the closure of border points and the tense political atmosphere. From one of the most thriving economies in Asia, Nepal was now quickly finding itself in the league of World's poorest nation." Although economic issues were a major factor in the two countries' confrontation, Indian dissatisfaction with Nepal's decision to impose work permits over Indians living in Nepal and Nepal government's attempt to acquire Chinese weaponry in 1988 played an important role. India linked security with economic relations and insisted on reviewing India–Nepal relations as a whole. After failing to receive support from wider international community, Nepalese government backed down from its position to avoid the worsening economic conditions. Indian government, with the help of Nepalese opposition parties operating from India, managed to bring a change in Nepal's political system, in which the king was forced to institute a parliamentary democracy. The new government, led by pro-India parties, sought quick restoration of amicable relations with India.
The special security relationship between New Delhi and Kathmandu was re-established during the June 1990 New Delhi meeting of Nepal's prime minister Krishna Prasad Bhattarai and Indian prime minister V.P. Singh, after India ended its 13 month long economic blockade of Nepal. During the December 1991 visit to India by Nepalese prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, the two countries signed new, separate trade and transit treaties and other economic agreements designed to accord Nepal additional economic benefits.
Indian-Nepali relations appeared to be undergoing still more reassessment when Nepal's prime minister Man Mohan Adhikary visited New Delhi in April 1995 and insisted on a major review of the 1950 peace and friendship treaty which Nepal believed was enabling an ongoing demographic shift in Nepal's Terai region. In the face of benign statements by his Indian hosts relating to the treaty, Adhikary sought greater economic independence for his landlocked nation while simultaneously striving to improve ties with China.
In June 1990, a joint Kathmandu-New Delhi communique was issued pending the finalisation of a comprehensive arrangement covering all aspects of bilateral relations, restoring trade relations, reopening transit routes for Nepal's imports, and formalising respect of each other's security concerns. Essentially, the communiqué announced the restoration of the status quo ante and the reopening of all border points, and Nepal agreed to various concessions regarding India's commercial privileges. Kathmandu also announced that lower cost was the decisive factor in its purchasing arms and personnel carriers from China and that Nepal was advising China to withhold delivery of the last shipment.
In 2005, after King Gyanendra took over, Nepalese relations with India soured. However, even after the restoration of democracy, in 2008, Prachanda, the Prime Minister of Nepal, visited India, in September 2008 only after visiting China, breaking the long held tradition of Nepalese PM making India as their first port-of-call. When in India, he spoke about a new dawn, in the bilateral relations, between the two countries. He said, "I am going back to Nepal as a satisfied person. I will tell Nepali citizens back home that a new era has dawned. Time has come to effect a revolutionary change in bilateral relations. On behalf of the new government, I assure you that we are committed to make a fresh start."
In 2006, the newly formed democratic parliament of Nepal passed the controversial citizenship bill that led to distribution of Nepalese citizenship to nearly 4 million stateless immigrants in Nepal's Terai by virtue of naturalisation. While the Indian government welcomed the reformed citizenship law, certain section of Nepalese people expressed deep concerns regarding the new citizenship act and feared that the new citizenship law might be a threat to Nepalese sovereignty. The citizenship bill passed by the Nepalese parliament in 2006 was the same bill that was rejected by Late King Birendra in 2000 before he along with his entire family was massacred. Indian government formally expressed sorrow at the death of Late King Birendra of Nepal.
In 2008, Indo-Nepal ties got a further boost with an agreement to resume water talks after a 4-year hiatus. The Nepalese Water Resources Secretary Shanker Prasad Koirala said the Nepal-India Joint Committee on Water Resources meet decided to start the reconstruction of the breached Koshi embankment after the water level went down. During the Nepal PM's visit to New Delhi in September the two Prime Ministers expressed satisfaction at the age-old close, cordial and extensive relationships between their states and expressed their support and co-operation to further consolidate the relationship.
The two issued a 22-point statement highlighting the need to review, adjust and update the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, amongst other agreements. India would also provide a credit line of up to 150 crore rupees to Nepal to ensure uninterrupted supplies of petroleum products, as well as lift bans on the export of rice, wheat, maize, sugar and sucrose for quantities agreed to with Nepal. India would also provide 20 crore as immediate flood relief.
In return, Nepal will take measures for the "promotion of investor friendly, enabling business environment to encourage Indian investments in Nepal."
In 2010 India extended a Line of credit worth US$50 million & 80,000 tonnes of foodgrains. Furthermore, a three-tier mechanism at the level of ministerial, secretary and technical levels will be built to push forward discussions on the development of water resources between the two sides. Politically, India acknowledged a willingness to promote efforts towards peace in Nepal. Indian External affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee promised the Nepali Prime Minister Prachanda that he would "extend all possible help for peace and development."
However, in recent years, the increasing dominance of Maoism in Nepal's domestic politics, along with the strengthening economic and political influence of the People's Republic of China has caused the Nepalese government to gradually distance its ties with India, though Nepalese government does support India at the UN. Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi visited Nepal in August, 2014 marking the first official visit by an Indian prime minister in 17 years, provided Nepal with USD 1 billion as concessional line of credit for various development purposes to Nepal and a HIT formula, but he insisted that Indian immigrants in Nepal don't pose a threat to Nepal's sovereignty and therefore open border between Nepal and India should be a bridge and not a barrier. Nepal and India signed an important deal on 25 November 2014 as per which India will build a 900 MW hydropower plant at a cost of another USD 1 billion. An amount of US$250 million has been granted to Nepal as a part of the agreements signed on 22 February 2016 for post-earthquake reconstruction.
A perpetual issue for many people of Nepali origin; the birthplace of Gautama Buddha has long been a cultural and social issue devoid from the political landscape of both Nepal and India. However, since the souring of relations between the two countries, the issue has been used to undermine relations between the two countries both politically and socially. The two-day-long International Buddhist conference in Kathmandu which ran from May 19–20, 2016 marked Vesak and the 2,560th birthday of the Buddha was also used to promote the Buddha's birthplace which lies in modern-day Nepal. The decision of the Nepal Culture Ministry to change the theme, "Preservation and Development of Buddhist Heritage of Nepal" with the sub-theme "Lumbini - Birthplace of Buddha" under the name "Lumbini - Fountainhead of Buddhism" was met with criticism from India which subsequently boycotted the conference due to this and on the back of China's supposed monetary involvement in the conference. Nepali Prime Minister, K.P. Oli told the media that the conference, "should help us make clear to the world that Buddha was born in Nepal and that Buddhist philosophy is the product of Nepal".
The current border between Nepal and India exists as a legacy of British India. The present border between Nepal and India was set after the former's defeat at the hands of British in 1814 which led to the Partition of Nepal under Treaty of Sugauli with Nepal losing the territories of Darjeeling to the East and Kumaon and Garhwal up to Sutlej river in the West. Mechi river was set to the be the Eastern border between British India and Nepal whereas Mahakali river was set to be the Western border. However, lack of clarity in defining the exact tributaries and point of origin of the rivers has led to border disputes.
The Territorial disputes of India and Nepal include Kalapani 400 km2 and Susta 140 km2 . Nepal claims that the river to the west of Kalapani is the main Kali river, hence it belongs to Nepal. But India insists that the river to the east of Kalapani is the main Kali river, and therefore claim the Kalapani area belongs to India. The river borders the Nepalese zone of Mahakali and the Indian state of Uttarakhand. The Sugauli Treaty signed by Nepal and British India on 4 March 1816 locates the Kali River as Nepal's western boundary with India. Subsequent maps drawn by British surveyors show the source of the boundary river at different places. This discrepancy in locating the source of the river led to boundary disputes between India and Nepal, with each country producing maps supporting their own claims. The Kali River runs through an area that includes a disputed area of about 400 km² around the source of the river although the exact size of the disputed area varies from source to source. The dispute intensified in 1997 as the Nepali parliament considered a treaty on hydro-electric development of the river. India and Nepal differ as to which stream constitutes the source of the river. Nepal regards Limpiyadhura as the source; India claims Lipu Lekh as the source. Nepal has reportedly tabled an 1856 map from the British India Office to support its position. Kalapani has been occupied by India's Indo-Tibetan border security forces since the Sino-Indian War with China in 1962. Nepal has called for the withdrawal of the Indian border forces from Kalapani area.
As the first step for demarcating Indo-Nepal border, survey teams from both countries will locate and identify missing pillars along the border and construct new pillars. According to the Nepalese government estimates, of the 8000 boundary pillars along the border, 1,240 pillars are missing, 2,500 require restoration and 400 more need to be constructed. The team will conduct survey of the border pillars based on the strip maps prepared by the Joint Technical Level Nepal-India Boundary Committee (JTLNIBC). The JTLNIBC was set up in 1981 to demarcate the India-Nepal border and after years of surveying, deliberations and extensions, the Committee had delineated 98 per cent of the India-Nepal boundary, excluding Kalapani and Susta, on 182 strip maps which was finally submitted in 2007 for ratification by both the countries. Unfortunately neither country ratified the maps. Nepal maintained that it cannot ratify the maps without the resolution of outstanding boundary disputes, i.e. Kalapani and Susta. India, on the other hand, awaited Nepal’s ratification while at the same time urging it to endorse the maps as a confidence building measure for solving the Kalapani and Susta disputes. In absence of a ratification, the process of demarcating the India-Nepal boundary could not be undertaken.
Nepal’s trade deficit with India has surged in recent years with continuously rising imports and sluggish exports. Indo-Nepal trade continues to remain massively in India's favor. Bilateral trade was US$4.21 billion during the fiscal year 2010-11 (July 16 – July 15). Nepal’s import from India amounted to US$3.62 billion and exports to India was US$599.7 million. In the first six months of fiscal year 2011-12, Nepal’s total trade with India was about US$1.93 billion; Nepal’s exports to India were about US$284.8 million; and imports from India were about US$1.64 billion.
Nepal’s main imports from India are petroleum products (28.6%), motor vehicles and spare parts (7.8%), M. S. billet (7%), medicines (3.7%), other machinery and spares (3.4%), coldrolled sheet in coil (3.1%), electrical equipment (2.7%), hotrolled sheet in coil (2%), M. S. wires, roads, coils and bars (1.9%), cement (1.5%), agriculture equipment and parts (1.2%), chemical fertiliser (1.1%), chemicals (1.1%) and thread (1%). Nepal’s export basket to India mainly comprises jute goods (9.2%), zinc sheet (8.9%),textiles (8.6%),threads (7.7%), polyster yarn (6%), juice (5.4%), catechue (4.4%), Cardamom (4.4%), wire (3.7%), tooth paste (2.2%) and M. S. Pipe (2.1%).
Human trafficking in Nepal is a serious concern. An estimated 100,000-200,000 Nepalese in India are believed to have been trafficked. Sex trafficking is particularly rampant within Nepal and to India, with as many as 5,000-10,000 women and girls trafficked to India alone each year. The seriousness of trafficking of Nepalese girls to India was highlighted by CNN Freedom Project's documentary: Nepal's Stolen Children which caused an outrage among Nepalese. Maiti Nepal has rescued more than 12,000 stolen Nepalese children from sex trafficking since 1993.
2015 Madhesi crisis and Nepal
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Nepal promulgated its new Constitution in 2015 but the Madhesi immigrants, the Janajatis and the Tharus, who are considered as the marginalized groups felt they were being left out in the new constitution. These groups, Madheshi immigrants in particular then blockaded the border points. However, the Nepalese government accused India of deliberately worsening the embargo by not allowing vehicles to pass from check-points where no protests were held. Indian government denied this.
The Madhesi parties after Madhesh andolan accepted two Madhesi provinces instead of one. But there was heavy disagreement over three districts in the east (Sunsari, Morang and Jhapa) and two in the west (Kanchanpur and Kailali) among the top parties. Excluding Sunsari takes away the key border town of Biratnagar and the Kosi basin while Kailali has a large Tharu population but not a majority, which it shares with neighboring Bardiya. Madheshi people of these districts want these districts to be included in the Madhesh pradesh. However, these sentiments are not apparent over all of the people of the aforementioned districts. Jhapa, for example has a majority of Nepalese Brahmins and Nepalese Kshtiryas, who are staunchly against being included in the Madhes state. Madheshi parties have demanded that districts in Terai, which don't have majority of madheshi immigrants nor indigenous Tharus, to be included in Madhesh pradesh. All of the other major parties are opposed to this. During the India-backed madhesh andalon, 11 policeman including a 2 year old child of a policeman were killed by madheshi immigrant protesters. Since then anti-Indian sentiment has massively spread over the rest of Nepal.
The other issue pertains to defining electoral constituencies. The 2015 Constitution reduces the weight-age given to proportional representation. Terai constitutes 51 per cent of the population but according to calculations, it would have got only 75 out of a total of 165 seats under the first past the post system, instead of 83, as per its population. The notion of fixing electoral constituencies after taking into account ‘population and geography’ was intended to ensure that the sparsely populated trans-Himalayan districts are not left out of the democratic process. The outgoing government had worked out a compromise safeguarding the interests of six mountain districts while raising the number of Terai constituencies to 81. The new provisions however has meant that district in Mid-western hill region are likely to be seriously under-represented in the new parliament, despite people their being more marginalized and discriminated than the madheshi of Terai. Under the new provision, the districts of hills will have their total number of constituents decreased by 20% that previous constitution had ensured.
Citizenship has long been an emotive issue among the madhesi immigrants as they always marry Indians from the northern districts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and spouses of Nepali citizens become ‘naturalized Nepali citizens’. However, there is a provision regarding the offspring of such marriages. Children of a Nepali male marrying a foreigner are ‘Nepalis by descent” whereas if a Nepali woman marries a foreigner, their children are ‘naturalized Nepalis’ which bars them from important and powerful constitutional positions, the same as Indian constitution. This is an issue that has been taken up by women’s groups on the grounds that it violates the basic principle of equality guaranteed by the Constitution. However, in Hindu tradition, unlike in the western societies, it is common for the wife to move to the husbands's house but not vice versa. Many real Nepalese deeply fear the long term effect of allowing 'Nepalese by descent' provision to children born to non-Nepali father, as it would mean people who were neither born in Nepal nor have lived a day of their life in Nepal would be able to contest elections and hold high offices, something almost entirely banned in all other democratic countries of the world including the USA, UK and Australia. While it is one of the main demands of madheshi immigrants, many Nepalese remain deeply skeptical about the real motive behind such a demand by Indian immigrant madheshis.
- Nepali Indians
- Nepalese people of Indian ancestry
- Foreign relations of Nepal
- Foreign relations of India
- Territorial disputes of India and Nepal
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