No trifling matterInflaming public passion against an important neighbour is not the best way to regain the country’s lands.
To say the country’s territories and borders are sacrosanct is to state the obvious. Yet say it with enough passion and conviction and you will instantly get a sizable audience. Perhaps this is why political parties have started openly debating and trading accusations on the India-occupied Kalapani area in the build up to the November polls. The main opposition CPN-UML in particular seems minded to make the sensitive issue its central election plank. On Friday, two-time prime minister and UML chairman KP Sharma Oli, while addressing a mass gathering in Darchula district, which includes the occupied area, guaranteed that he would return to Nepal the land that currently houses Indian forces. A day later, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba responded to Oli’s statement, saying that bilateral dialogue rather than electoral grand-standing is the need of the hour. Another former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai also took to social media, asking political leaders to refrain from politicising such a sensitive issue.
On this issue, Deuba and Bhattarai are right. The UML is evidently under pressure to shore up its votes as it faces a formidable foe in the five-party ruling alliance. As inflaming anti-India sentiments has traditionally been an effective electoral agenda in Nepal, it has chosen this easy way out. But in doing so the party and its chairman are doing the country disservice. There is no question that Nepal should get back its territories. Yet the best way of doing so is not to inflame public passion against an important neighbour. Now that both the governments have made their respective claims in the past few years, their representatives must sit down to hammer out outstanding differences. There is no other way.
Nepal has solid historical grounds to reclaim the area, which is also why both the houses of the federal parliament updated the country’s map to include it. With history on the country’s side, what the country’s representatives should be doing is clearly communicating their case before the Indians. They should do so with a resolve that forces the Indians to listen—eventually. In this sense, Deuba sounds more sensible than Oli, in that even while responding to Oli’s barbs painting Deuba and his party as traitorous, Deuba chose to emphasise the need for dialogue to resolve the boundary issue.
On outstanding Nepal-India bilateral issues, the southern neighbour often blames Nepali leaders for their failure to come up with one voice. In this aspect the unanimous parliamentary approval of the new Nepali map was something to be celebrated. But there is a right forum for every issue, and the country must be judicious in how it raises territorial matters, possibly the most sensitive of them all. No matter which party forms the government in Kathmandu, it will be bound by the constitution to take up the matter with India now that the charter incorporates the new map. But to try to paint yourself as ardent nationalists and your opponents as traitors is not the way to go about it. Surely a leader of Oli’s standing and experience understands the implications of such divisive politics and reckless diplomacy.