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Indo-Nepal Kalapani Dispute and Hidden Politics

Saurav Raj Panta and Anil Sigdel

Government of India released a new political map on 31st October 2019 after scraping the Article 370 of the Indian constitution. In addition to changes in Kashmir and Ladakh region including POK, the new map shows disputed border territory of Nepal, Kalapani, inside India. This caused Nepalis to protest India. Nepal government insists that Kalapani area is its integral part, whereas India says that India hasn’t change its border status with Nepal.

Historical facts

As per historical records, since 1952, Indian Military Mission started to cover Nepal-China border to fulfill India’s security interest against China. Indian Military Mission remained until 1970. During these periods, according to the book Border Management of Nepal by Buddhi Narayan Shrestha, in total 18 Indian Military Check Post were established , deployed from 1952- 1969, and they were located at:

Tinker, Taklakot, Muju, Mugugawn, Chharkabhot, Kaisang, Thorang, Larkay Pass, Atharasaya Khola, Somdang, Rasuwagadhi, Tatopani, Lambagar, Namche, Chepuwa Pass, Olangchungola, Thayachammu and Chayangthapu. (These locations are illustrated in the following map)


Illustration by Anil Sigdel, Source: Google Map.

The dots do not accurately show the exact locations: blue dots represent the location of Indian military deployment explained above; A red dot shows the Kalapani currently under dispute; Green dots refer to districts that have border issues with China according to SCMP news. 

Nepali Foreign Ministry doesn’t have the exact date since when Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiadhura has been encroached but historical events show that it might have begun at the time of Sino-Indian war of 1962. The high-altitude Kalapani area is a strategic location for India and China because it has a tri-country juncture (Nepal, China and India) and overlooks the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) of China. India sees Kalapani as a valuable strategic point against Chinese aggression.

Regarding the dispute between India and Nepal, major argument is about the source of Mahakali river. India claims that the source of Mahakali river is Kalapani, whereas Nepal maintains that it is Limpiyadhura. The Sugauli Treaty of 1816 between Nepal and East India Company demarcated the boundary between Nepal and British India. The east of Kali River is Nepal and the West of Kali River is the British India. The then Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana and the East India Company approved the source of the Kali river was Limpiyadhura. However, Nepal believs that India is claiming the artificially created Kalapani lake as the source of Mahakali river without considering historical documents( Lumsali, 1996; K.L. Shrestha, 1996).

Serious lapse on Nepali side

Nepal faces a serious challenge as it has been so far unable to raise the issue internationally owing to various weaknesses of Nepali government.:

  • Missing document of 1958 General election voter list of Kalapani area, missing document of 1961 National Census (according to Bhairab Risal)
  • After 1962 Sino-Indian war, people living in Kalapani area were displaced and Nepal government doesn’t have a document showing their location of displacement (according to Bhairab Risal)
  • State Affairs Committee of the Federal Parliament of Nepal directed the government to release new map incorporating Kalapani inside Nepal’s national border. This indirectly means that the current political map of 2015 constitution excludes Kalapani and that Nepal has long before unlisted the Kalapani area in its national political map. So, what would be the relevance of raising this issue with India without strong proof? And, how would internationalization of this issue be possible?
  • Nepal released a statement against India’s new political map showing Kalapani region as its part by releasing a statement in Nepali language without signatories in the letter. This letter limits Nepal’s proper communication on the issue with India due to language barriers. This also shows Nepal’s weak diplomatic exercise.

Politics behind ‘Kalapani’

‘Kalapani’ is like a political rhyme in Nepal chanted by every politicians since 1990s as the issue especially came to the limelight after the 1990 people’s movement. The border encroachment issue in Kalapani was strongly raised by the-then Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, argues Bhek Bahadur Thapa. Ever since, subsequent prime ministers continued to raise the issue just for the sake of raising. Protesting India by raising several issues is a regular political stunt in Nepal. Since 1950’s it has been observed that politicians make Nepali people anti-India despite the fact that from Royals to political and business leaders everyone has strong ties with India. Public vote political leaders to establish them in power hoping they may take strong steps against India for saving Nepal’s sovereignty. But once in power they act like a ‘puppet’ of Indian government. Current Nepali Prime Minister K.P Oli was a staunch Indian critic during 2015 blockade by India. People voted him to continue his strong stance against India. But he is now mute ( although of late he made some statements domestically to take the land back) and decided to hold secretary level meeting to resolve this border crisis issues although for such critical matter Prime Ministerial level meeting was expected.

During Indian Prime Minister Indra I K Gujaral’s visit to Kathmandu on 9th June 1997, formation of Joint-Boundary Working Groups was agreed to resolve the Kalapani crisis. In addition, the then Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala conveyed to the Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that there are historical maps and documents, which depict that Kalapani belongs to Nepal (Colombo, 28 July ’98).  Koirala had further said that: “I cannot say, it was the positive achievement but I am sure that Vajpayee understood well what I wanted to tell him concerning the border problem.” (Budhi Narayan Shrestha, 2006).

In the meantime, some news media outside Nepal also reported about China’s encroachment of Nepal’s land. However, Nepal’s foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali said, talking to the Kantipur media’s Fire Side program, that there are few “minor problems” on Chinese side, especially the measurement of the height of Mt. Everest and Nepal’s own lackadaisical performance on saving the banks of our rivers. The minister also said that such news seem to be trying to distract Nepal from the main issue.

Finally, Nepal government has to do some serious homework to protect its territorial integrity while the nation has to refrain from street agitation.

Saurav is Associate of Nepal Matters based in Kathmandu, Nepal; Anil is Director of Nepal Matters based in Washington DC.

November 18, 2019

Reference read:

Chinese Construction along the Nepal-Tibet Border Puts Strategic Land at Risk”  in The Kathmandu Post by Anil Giri and Dipendra Shakya

“Xi comes to Nepal, Modi responds by changing Nepal’s map” – Nepal Matters

South China Morning Post news on China-Nepal border problems – Click here

सीमा सुरक्षा: मर्मत गरिनुपर्ने ३७ सयमध्ये २२ सय सीमास्तम्भ गायब — BBC Nepali

कालापानी: प्रधानमन्त्री केपी शर्मा ओली भन्छन्, ‘एक इन्च नेपाली भूमि पनि मिचिन दिन्नौँ’ – BBC Nepali