Is Oli government’s new Nepal map more about optics than substance?As India continues to expand the road via Lipulekh, Nepal has yet to make any diplomatic response. Foreign Ministry says it has asked Home Ministry to look into the matter.
Last year, the KP Sharma Oli administration unveiled a new Nepal map and got it endorsed from Parliament through a constitutional amendment. The new map depicting Limipiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani, the areas claimed by India as its own, within Nepal borders came in response to Delhi’s announcement of a road link to Manasarovar in Tibet Autonomous Region of China via Lipulekh.
Oli’s move of unveiling the new map was hailed as historic.
Exactly a year later, India last week lauded its engineers for the ongoing progress on the road expansion in the Lipulekh area. The road construction has continued, while security officials from the Indian side have been preventing the Nepali side from constructing embankment along the Mahakali river.
The Oli administration does not seem to care. His ministers rather are making statements more for optics than substance.
Last week Minister for Education, Science and Technology Krishna Gopal Shrestha directed the Curriculum Development Centre to confiscate textbooks that don’t have updated versions of Nepal’s map showing Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura as parts of Nepal.
He even called having textbooks with the old map “unconstitutional” and “unacceptable” to the government.
“The textbooks without the new map of the country are unacceptable,” said Shrestha at a meeting held with officials from the Centre last Wednesday, according to Ishwar Dhakal, his press adviser.
“Confiscate those textbooks and seek clarification from the publishers,” Shrestha said at the meeting.
The government’s decision to unveil a new map of Nepal in May last year came at a time when Oli was increasingly under pressure, with his prime ministerial position at stake. By publishing a new map, which was endorsed unanimously in Parliament, Oli had managed to pull off a coup. He was also hailed for “standing up to” India for the sake of nationalism, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
But the goings on in the region barely concern Oli now.
The recent blasts by Indian authorities on the Indian side in Garwadhar have now affected the daily lives of the people on the Nepali side. The government has not responded to India yet, rather it has left the issue for local officials to deal with.
“The debris from the blast has pushed the flow of the Mahakali river east towards Nepali territory changing its course,” said Sidda Raj Joshi, chief district officer of Darchula. “This has obstructed the road in Tawaghat to Bundi area in Byas Rural Municipality.”
The federal government has been informed about the situation but it has not taken the issue up with New Delhi.
This has left Joshi to write to his counterpart in Pithoragarh district in Uttarakhand state of India.
“The road expansion is being done by India’s central government,” Joshi told the Post. “The most the district magistrate in Pithoragarh can do is forward my letter to Delhi.”
Observers say it’s now become apparent that Oli used the Nepal map for his own political benefits. Oli needed to divert the attention of the public, so he played the map trick, according to them.
“And the minister’s statement on textbooks and maps is yet another strategy to divert the attention from the real problem,” said Geja Sharma Wagle who writes on domestic politics and geopolitical affairs. “The government has remained a mere spectator when India is expediting the road construction in the area brought under Nepal’s territory and is taking the issue of textbooks to show as if it is doing something.”
Relations between Nepal and India had hit a new low last year, as Oli ratcheted up his nationalistic rhetoric. Oli’s increasing tilt towards the north was much to Delhi’s chagrin. But as Oli found himself in a difficult position after pressure from his own party members, Oli made peace with Delhi.
Analysts say a phone call to Delhi to congratulate Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the people of India on India’s Independence Day on August 15 paved the way for rapprochement. In the third week of October, Modi sent Samant Goel, the chief of Research and Analysis Wing, India’s spy agency, to hold talks with Oli. Soon afterwards, there was a flurry of visits from the south.
According to Wagle, Oli has compromised with the south now to remain in power.
“He won’t be raising the Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani issue now,” said Wagle. “The education minister’s directive to confiscate books is ridiculous while authorities have not even revealed the new area of the country with the incorporation of the disputed region within Nepal’s borders.”
Oli’s ministers in the past too have been involved in such optics and stunts.
On September 15 last year, then education minister Giriraj Mani Pokharel released a 110-page book for high school students titled, “Self Study Material on Nepal’s Territory and Border” which dwelt on historical facts about the country’s territory and its border disputes, mainly with the southern neighbour.
But the book ran into controversy after it was found to have a number of factual errors and “inappropriate” content. Consequently, the Cabinet on September 17 directed the Ministry of Education to halt its distribution and not to print any more copies of the textbook. The Ministry of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation and Ministry of Foreign Affairs had expressed serious reservations over the book’s content.
Now the current education minister’s diktat to recall books without the new map is nothing but a charade, analysts say.
According to them, India’s strategy is to create a crisis in Nepal to fulfil its interests.
“The Indian government has expedited road expansion drive as Nepal is in a crisis created as per its strategy,” Mrigendra Bahadur Karki, executive director of Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies under the Tribhuvan University, told the Post. “The government is doing nothing except publicity stunts like decisions to confiscate textbooks.”
Oli’s advisers say it was but natural for the chief district officer to raise the issue because the official knows the actual scenario by virtue of being there.
“The federal government will write or respond when necessary,” Rajan Bhattarai, Oli’s foreign relations adviser, told the Post. “The prime minister has directed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to coordinate with the local authority. The Foreign Ministry is the right agency to deal with the matter.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, pointed to the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Sources at the Foreign Ministry said the Home Ministry has been asked to report on the present situation in Darchula.
“We will study the Home Ministry’s report before making any correspondence with India,” said a source requesting anonymity. “The Home Ministry is currently analysing the actual situation on the ground.”