Constitution amendment bill to update Nepal map endorsed unanimously at the Lower HouseDiplomatic and political dialogue with India necessary to bring Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani back into Nepal’s possession, lawmakers say.
The House of Representatives on Saturday unanimously endorsed the second amendment to the constitution of Nepal to update the country’s new political map in the national emblem.
All lawmakers present in the House voted for the bill as all the parties had issued a whip.
“All 258 lawmakers present in the meeting voted for the bill while there was no vote against it. I announce that the bill has been endorsed by more than a two-thirds majority,” Speaker Agni Sapkota announced.
The bill now needs to be endorsed by the National Assembly and authenticated by the President before it comes into effect.
Four lawmakers from the 275-strong House have been suspended, either on corruption charges or criminal offences, while 12 others were absent during the vote. The bill needed 184 votes, two thirds of the Lower House, as per Article 274 (8) of the constitution.
The territories that Nepal has depicted in its new map have been claimed by India as its own.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, after the bill was endorsed, said there would be dialogue between the two countries. Speaking to the media, Oli said that all the parties had showcased unparalleled unity.
“We will now start dialogue and the negotiation process will move ahead,” he said.
New Delhi, however, was quick to react to the developments in Kathmandu.
"We have noted that the House of Representatives of Nepal has passed a constitution amendment bill for changing the map of Nepal to include parts of Indian territory,” said Anurag Srivastava, spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs. “We have already made our position clear on this matter.”
In line with what it said earlier after Nepal released its new map, Delhi on Saturday once again called it “an artificial enlargement”.
“This artificial enlargement of claims is not based on historical fact or evidence and is not tenable,” said Srivastava. “It is also violative of our current understanding to hold talks on outstanding boundary issues.”
The Cabinet, on May 20, had issued a new administrative map of the country putting Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani, all territories disputed with India, within Nepal’s borders. The government, two days later, registered a bill in Parliament, seeking to amend Schedule 3 of the constitution to update Nepal’s new political map in the national emblem.
Nepal decided to release its new political map after India earlier last month opened a link road via Lipulekh to Kailash Mansarovar in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China.
The development came on the heels of fast-changing internal dynamics in the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), with Prime Minister and party chair KP Sharma Oli facing a tough challenge from his opponents in the party. Internal struggles had become so intense until April that Oli was under pressure to face the Standing Committee and step down as prime minister.
But Oli’s release of the map earned him support in such a way that even the opposition parties, and all the opposing factions in his party, were on the horns of a dilemma.
Ruling party insiders told the Post on Friday that they had stopped short of upping the ante against Oli, as they feared they would be perceived anti-nationalist when the new map was being endorsed by the Lower House.
With Saturday’s developments, according to political and diplomatic experts, Nepal might have strengthened its position, but it could further escalate tensions with India.
The Nepal government now has a real challenge ahead, as diplomatic dealing is the only way out to resolve the issue and India does not seem to be very interested in going that route.
“This amendment in the constitution could further complicate relations between the two countries,” Lok Raj Baral, professor at Tribhuvan University and former ambassador to India, told the Post. “The task ahead is much more difficult.”
According to Baral, there is a huge trust deficit between the two countries.
“The success of the KP Sharma Oli government depends on how well it can restore trust,” said Baral. “There has been a complete breakdown of communication between the two countries. There are multiple ways to reach out to India but the Oli administration has failed to exercise them.”
The Oli government has consistently been asking for talks but Delhi has ignored calls from Kathmandu.
New Delhi, for the first time, acknowledged the need for dialogue after Kathmandu lodged a strong protest against the opening of a road link via Lipulekh.
Last month, Delhi said that both Nepal and India were “in the process of scheduling Foreign Secretary level talks which will be held once the dates are finalised between the two sides after the two societies and governments have successfully dealt with the challenge of Covid-19 emergency.”
Analysts and experts, however, said that India does not need to wait for the Covid-19 emergency to end if it really wants dialogue with Nepal.
When India and China had a border standoff in eastern Ladakh earlier this month, both sides had swiftly arranged for a meeting and resolved the issue.
Diplomatic negotiations are the only way out to resolve the issue, say experts in Nepal. The Nepal government, however, needs to deal strategically and in a sensitive manner, they say.
Mrigendra Bahadur Karki, an associate professor at the Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies, said that pressure had been building to reclaim Nepal’s land.
“However, the Nepali leadership has not been able to handle the issue tactically without hurting India’s ego,” said Karki. “While India is very important to Nepal, India too needs Nepal equally. So, I believe both sides will come to the negotiating table.”
Karki, however, had a caveat.
“I won’t be surprised if negotiations start after Oli is out of power,” said Karki. “Some of Oli’s remarks, especially over their national emblem, have hurt the Indians.”
While speaking in Parliament in late May, Oli had taken a jibe at Indian national emblem.
Karki said the Nepali leadership needs to showcase maturity both in its language and diplomatic dealings to create a conducive environment for table talks.
Before the amendment bill was put to vote on Saturday, cross-party lawmakers had welcomed the bill but also asked the government to expedite political and diplomatic dialogue with India to bring the land back in Nepal’s possession.
The government has based the new map on the Sugauli Treaty signed between Nepal and British India in 1816, which states that all lands east of the Kali River belong to Nepal. While Nepal has argued that Limpiyadhura is the origin of the river, India has claimed Kalapani as the source.
The government on Tuesday had presented the bill in the Lower House for theoretical discussion, which unanimously endorsed a proposal to consider a second amendment to the constitution of Nepal the same day.
Except for Samajbadi Party lawmaker Sarita Giri, no other lawmakers registered an amendment to the bill. The Samajbadi party had asked Giri to withdraw the amendment upon threat of internal action, but Giri refused to do so.
Giri's amendment to the bill had sought to retain the old map in the national emblem as there was no evidence to claim Lipmiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani as part of Nepal, she had argued.
Speaker Sapkota, however, decided to scrap her proposal, as per Clause 112 of the House of Representatives’ regulations, which say that any amendment proposal to a bill cannot contradict the primary spirit of the bill. Giri boycotted the House after the Speaker announced that her amendment proposal had been scrapped.
Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe had presented the bill for endorsement after a detailed discussion in the House. She said the new map was adopted as Nepal has all necessary evidence to claim the territory.
“We have all the necessary documents to claim our land when we sit for dialogue with our southern neighbor,” she said.