Of maps and moralsWith an amicable solution to the current dispute, Nepal and India can forge a new global ideal of living together peacefully.
The House of Representatives on Saturday unanimously endorsed the second amendment to the constitution to update Nepal's political map on the national emblem. The government and the parties in Parliament deserve applause for standing together on national interest and for initiating the process to repossess the territory the country claims as its own. But this is just the beginning of what is going to be a protracted and intense process of claims, counter-claims and negotiations between Nepal and India, and it calls for a steady commitment from all stakeholders today and in the future.
The unprecedented unity the lower house showed in its endorsement of the cartographic update has provided the current government with the moral support it requires for a productive dialogue with India. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has already expressed his eagerness to join the talks table to see it through. India, on its part, was quick to express its discontent with Nepal’s 'artificial enlargement of claims that are not based on historical fact or evidence' but has not denied the possibility of talks altogether.
It is only natural for India to react to Nepal’s new move on the territory it has possessed for almost six decades, but it is all too aware that the best way out of this imbroglio is a serious dialogue. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is yet to meet members of the eminent persons’ group to receive its report on the outstanding issues—including border management—between the two countries. The time for PM Modi to translate into action his commitment to the neighbourhood-first policy that he has professed since he came to power in 2014 is now.
In any case, India being a powerful country in the neighbourhood, with the aim of becoming a ‘vishwa guru’, is morally bound to be more accommodating in its dealings with its smaller but closest neighbour. This does in no way mean ceding its claims altogether, be it historical or territorial, but the very least it must do is respond to calls for a dialogue. In finding an amicable solution to the dispute with Nepal, India is in a position to get a moral edge in its dealings with other countries in the neighbourhood as well.
That the bill was passed by a supermajority in the lower house—with all 258 lawmakers present endorsing it—should also put to rest the speculations by Indian politicians and intelligentsia that Nepal’s recent moves had been guided by Chinese interests. Before speaking ill of each other, leaders, journalists and civil society members of both the countries would do well to remember that the Indo-Nepal relationship is one of shared history, culture, economy and geography beyond the 335 square kilometres of the disputed territory. The only mantra for all to follow at the moment is: keep calm and sit for talks.
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