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When Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla arrived in Kathmandu on November 26 and spoke in fluent Nepali to the media, there was some hope that the visit would go beyond the traditional exchange of pleasantries.
When he departed, the hope was that his visit would be the beginning of a continued dialogue between the two countries that have had a strained relationship since the imposition of a five-month-long blockade in 2015 in Nepal.
Nepal is an important neighbour of India and occupies special significance in its foreign policy because of the geographic, historical, cultural and economic linkages/ties that span centuries.
India and Nepal share similar ties in terms of Hinduism and Buddhism with Buddha’s birthplace Lumbini located in present day Nepal.
The two countries not only share an open border and unhindered movement of people, but they also have close bonds through marriages and familial ties, popularly known as Roti-Beti ka Rishta.
The India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950 forms the bedrock of the special relations that exist between India and Nepal.
What is Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950?
The treaty talks about reciprocal treatment of Indian and Nepali citizens in the two countries, in residence, property, business and movement.
It also establishes national treatment for both Indian and Nepalese businesses (ie once imported, foreign goods would be treated no differently than domestic goods).
It also gives Nepal access to weaponry from India.
What is the importance of Nepal?
Nepal shares border with 5 Indian states- Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Sikkim and Bihar. Hence an important point of cultural and economic exchange.
Importance for India can be studied from two different angles: a) their strategic importance for India’s national security; and b) their place in India’s role perception in international politics.
Nepal is right in the middle of India’s ‘Himalayan frontiers’, and along with Bhutan it acts as northern ‘borderland’ flanks and acts as buffer states against any possible aggression from China.
Rivers originating in Nepal feed the perennial river systems of India in terms of ecology and hydropower potential.
Many Hindu and Buddhist religious sites are in Nepal making it an important pilgrim site for large number of Indians.
What is the way forward?
Given the importance of ties with Nepal, often romanticised as one of “roti-beti” (food and marriage), India must not delay dealing with the matter, and at a time when it already has a faceoff with China in Ladakh and Sikkim.
Since the free movement of people is permitted across the border, Nepal enjoys immense strategic relevance from India’s national security point of view, as terrorists often use Nepal to enter India.
Therefore, stable and friendly relations with Nepal is one of prerequisites which India can’t afford to overlook.
India should also try to convey to Nepal’s leadership about the congenial and friendly environment that 6 to 8 million Nepali citizens living in India enjoy.
Therefore, any thoughtless erosion of this centuries old togetherness may prove difficult for both countries.
The existing bilateral treaties between India and Nepal have not taken the shifting of Himalayan rivers into consideration. A primary reason for this is the lack of an approach where ecological concerns and needs of rivers are often discussed.
Therefore, India and Nepal should try to resolve the boundary dispute by taking into account all shared environmental characteristics.
There are some fundamentals that we simply cannot forget: geography will not change, the border will remain open as millions of livelihoods on both sides depend on it, and China is going to be a big global player with varied interests in the neighbourhood.
Therefore, the India-Nepal relationship has to be recalibrated.
Source: The Hindu.