STRUGGLING FOR TRUE SOVEREIGNTY
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 5 Apr 2010
Land-locked Nepal has always existed in giant India’s shadow. However, now that its people have tasted democracy, they want to shake off Indian influence and become masters of their own destiny. Nepal has long historic, strategic, geo-political, commercial and socio-cultural relations with India. There has been a protracted debate and discourse to continuously improve such relations. But history also shows that whenever Nepal is in its transition phases, its people encounter several problems at national and regional levels owing to the role of India. Nepalis living on the Nepal-India border have suffered in particular at the hands of Indian border security forces and criminal groups. In spite of such suffering, they have failed to attract the country’s attention as most governments and mainstream parties have turned a deaf ear to their problems, fearing reprisals from India. A principal reason behind such practices is that the Nepalese authorities seek personal/family/party/cadre benefits whenever they get an opportunity to meet the Indian establishment, pushing behind the crucial issues faced by the people.
In the course of agitation to restore civilian supremacy, the UCPN (Maoist) initiated an anti-Indian campaign torching the 1950 India-Nepal treaty, displaying black flags in front of senior government officials, protesting in front of the Indian Embassy, boycotting CA House on the issue of intrusion and holding mass assemblies at the alleged Indian-encroached border regions from January 5, 2010 for a month. On January 11, the UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, alias Prachanda, in a mass meeting at Mahendranagar, said, "I will fight for national independence and sovereignty till my last breath."
Addressing the assembly, he said that the tradition of bowing to foreigners staying in Singhadurbar needed to be ended. He further said that the whole nation should be united to safeguard Nepal and its border regions. Similarly, four other Maoists leaders such as Mohan Baidya, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and Narayankaji Shrestha also inspected Ilam, Susta and Lakshmanpur dam cross-border areas respectively and protested against alleged Indian encroachment.
The anti-Indian campaign in Nepal should be analyzed in the context of India’s role and Nepal’s stand. India has given top priority to its own territorial integrity, security and national sovereignty. Due to the fragile security situation and the long transition phase, Nepal has been fertile ground for terrorist activities and the fake currency racket. India fears that rifles lost in the 1962 Sino-India war may have reached the Indian Maoists via Nepal’s Maoists. Besides, people living on the India-Nepal border are desperately poor, which makes smuggling an attractive activity on both sides. The Nepal-India border of 1,751 km is largely unguarded, unmarked and highly porous.
There are a number of pros and cons contributing to the worsening Nepal-India relations. The peace and friendship treaty of 1950 signed between the two countries was inked between two unequal protocols – a prime minister and an ambassador. The treaty was signed between the world’s largest democratic country India and Nepal’s authoritarian regime Ranarchism. The treaty influenced Nepal to demoralize the regional competitor, China. India sent military and intelligence missions to Nepal to control communism, believing that communism was being supported by China.
One-fourth (estimated) land of Nepal (called Greater Nepal) was ceded to the British East India Company under the Sugauli Treaty of 1816 when the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814-1816) ended.
Before the war, Nepal had annexed from the Tistha River including West Bengal and Sikkim in the east to Himanchal and Uttrakhanda such as Kumaon, Dehradun, Shimla, Kangra, etc. Sutlej River to the west. Even today, great majority inhabitants of these territories are Nepali-speakers whose population belong more than 6 million. The article 8 of the treaty 1950 superseded all previous treaties, agreements and engagements signed between the East India Company and the Government of Nepal. However, Nepal did not get back its lost territories.
India wanted to establish Nepal as a dependent state since it had ousted the British colonial regime. It did not want Nepal to have independent foreign relations. Nepal forced the Indian military mission to leave Nepal. It also discontinued circulation of Indian currency and launched Nepal’s own currency.
Nepal protested annexation of Sikkim to the Union of India in 1975, claiming Sikkim to be a part of Greater Nepal. In 1975, the late King Birendra had proposed Nepal to be recognized internationally as a "zone of peace" which had received by 1990, support of 112 countries, including that of China and Pakistan. India remained silent on this count despite repeated proposals put forward by Nepal.
Nepal pressed for considerable separate trade and transit treaties which succeeded in 1978. However, Nepal refused to accommodate a single trade and transit treaty against India’s wishes. This led to a serious economic blockade against Nepal that finally fuelled restoration of a multiparty democracy in late April 1990. The economic blockade was the result of weapons taken from China on the personal initiative of late King Birendra in 1988.
Two films, Kalapani and Dasgaja, tell the story of the tribulations and insecurity faced by the Nepalis. They focus on the no man’s land between Nepal and India where boundaries are affected by rivers changing course. They tell the story of people who go to sleep in the night in Nepal but when they wake up the next morning, they find themselves in India.
There are frequent reports of Indian authorities harassing Nepali nationals at the customs, subjecting them to physical torture and meting out degrading treatment to women entering Nepali territories, arresting Nepali nationals without permission from Nepal’s security forces, etc. This has created tremendous antipathy against India.
On successful mediation by India, the Seven Party Alliance (SPA), the constitutional forces and the Maoists revolutionaries signed a historic and unprecedented 12-point memorandum of understanding in New Delhi on November 22, 2005. The understanding became instrumental in restoration of peace and democracy for elections to a Constituent Assembly to establish a Federal Republic of Nepal. The uprising in 2006 ousted the autocratic rule of the then King Gyanendra and abolished the monarchy. However, the role of India was discouraging as it wanted to keep the monarch and give him some kind of a constitutional role despite the mood of the people. The invitation to the UNMIN and its establishment increased the resentment of India which had a vested interest in the entire peace process including army integration.
India informally proposed the Maoists party its full-fledged moral, technical and financial support to integrate, manage and rehabilitate their army. The relationship between the Indians and the Maoists party started to deteriorate when the Maoists denied the proposal.
On December 28, 2009, the Indian Army Chief Deepak Kapoor, advising Nepal’s army chief Chhatraman Singh Gurung, said that the Maoist guerrillas should not be merged with the Nepali Army as they would politicize the national army. The Maoist party said that this was naked intervention in Nepal’s internal affairs and asked the Indian government to clarify its position. Kapoor’s remarks have become a principal reason for the Maoists to launch a nation-wide anti-India campaign.
The Maoists’ want to eliminate India from Nepal’s power and politics. Prachanda who has held more than a dozen formal and informal meetings with the Indian ambassador at his premiership has stated that the present coalition is a robot-controlled government managed by India and is serving Indian interests, but the Nepali government is silent on such allegations.
Nepali society has displayed anti-Indian sentiments for a long time. Nationalism generally emphasizes the collective identity of all castes and ethnicities. In collective identities, people must be free, autonomous, united, should coexist and express the national culture. The Nepali nation has experienced a huge discrepancy between the rich and poor, men and women, castes and ethnicities, cultures and languages and religions and regions. It will only be a united nation when its leadership protects its sovereignty, integrity and independence. National sovereignty must be homegrown, developed and decided by the country’s own citizens and not neighboring power centers.
Bishnu Pathak is Director of the Conflict Study Center in Nepal, the South Asia Convener for TRANSCEND International, and a Board Member of the TRANSCEND Peace University. His book, Politics of People’s War and Human Rights in Nepal, is a widely circulated volume. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 5 Apr 2010.
Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: STRUGGLING FOR TRUE SOVEREIGNTY, is included. Thank you.
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.
Click here to go to the current weekly digest or pick another article: