External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visited Nepal and met with his Nepalese counterpart at the seventh Nepal-India Joint Commission meeting.

About India-Nepal Relations:

Historical background:

  • India and Nepal, as close neighbours, share a millennia-old bond of friendship and cooperation that is characterized by an open border and profound people-to-people connections rooted in kinship and culture.
  • India and Nepal, share an ancient cultural history that predates modern political boundaries. Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, is located in present-day Nepal, further solidifying the cultural and spiritual ties between the two nations.
  • India played a crucial role in the evolution of Nepal from a monarchy to a democratic Republic.

Political Relations:

  • The foundation of the unique bond between India and Nepal lies in the India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950.
  • India has had a significant role in the framing of the constitution of Nepal, as it was one of the major supporters of the peace process and the democratic transition in the Himalayan nation.

Defence Cooperation between India and Nepal:

  • India actively supports the modernization efforts of the Nepal Army by supplying equipment and providing essential training.
  • Regular joint military exercises, including the ‘Indo-Nepal Battalion-level Joint Military Exercise SURYA KIRAN,’ contribute to enhancing the coordination and capabilities of the armed forces.
  • Approximately 32,000 Gorkha Soldiers from Nepal are currently serving in the Indian Army.

Economic Ties:

  • Trade: India is Nepal’s largest trading partner.
  • Investments: India is the largest source of investment in Nepal, accounting for more than 32% of the total FDI stock of Nepal.
  • Diaspora: The Nepali rupee is pegged to India’s; landlocked Nepal relies on Indian ports for trade, and 8 million Nepalis work in India.
  • Connectivity: India and Nepal have a Treaty of Transit, which confers transit rights through each other’s territory through mutually agreed routes and modalities. 
  • Development programme: The India-Nepal Rail Services Agreement (RSA) 2004 governs the rail-freight transport between the two countries.
  • Cooperation in the Power sector:
  • India and Nepal have had a Power Exchange Agreement since 1971 for meeting the power requirements.
  • India has undertaken the construction of various hydroelectric projects in Nepal, such as Pokhara (1 MW), Trisuli (21 MW), Western Gandak (15 MW), and Devighat (14.1 MW), Arun III among others.

Cooperation on Water Resources:

  • The Koshi Agreement (1954, revised 1966) and Gandak Agreement (1959, revised 1964) mark significant India-Nepal cooperation in water resources. 
  • The Mahakali Treaty (1996) ensures equitable use of the Mahakali River’s waters among others.

Cultural ties: 

  • B.P. Koirala India-Nepal Foundation established in 1991, promotes educational, cultural, scientific, and technical cooperation, fostering mutual understanding and knowledge exchange.
  • Twinning of sister cities Kathmandu-Varanasi, Lumbini-Bodhgaya, and Janakpur-Ayodhya.

Humanitarian assistance

  • In the wake of the earthquake that hit Nepal in 2015, India swiftly responded.
  • India also became the first nation to provide COVID-19 vaccines to Nepal.

Mutual Strategic Significance

Strategic location:

  • Nepal’s geographical location holds significance for India, contributing to its strategic interests. Nepal, positioned in India’s ‘Himalayan frontiers,’ acts as a crucial buffer state alongside Bhutan.

Challenges in India-Nepal Relations

  • Unease with Peace and Friendship Treaty: The 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship granted Nepali citizens rights in India, but some factions in Nepal view it as unequal and imposed by India.
  • Unresolved Territorial Disputes: Ongoing disputes, particularly in areas like the Kalapani-Limpiyadhura-Lipulekh trijunction area in western Nepal and the Susta area in southern Nepal, persist along the India-Nepal boundary due to British colonial legacy. 
  • Chinese Influence: Nepal’s shift towards China, marked by investments and aid, challenges India’s influence. China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Nepal raises concerns about its role as a buffer state.
  • Security Challenges: The porous India-Nepal border poses security threats, allowing the smuggling of weapons, ammunition, and fake currency, posing risks to India.
  • Trust Deficit: Some ethnic groups feel India undermines their political independence.

Way Forward:

Emphasizing Diplomacy over Rhetoric:

  • Prioritize quiet dialogue over territorial nationalism rhetoric for a mutually sensitive and feasible resolution.
  • India, as a generous neighbour, must adhere to a neighbourhood-first policy.

Amicable Resolution of Water Disputes:

  • Advocate for bilateral diplomatic negotiations under international law for transboundary water disputes.
  • Propose a resolution mechanism using the successful India-Bangladesh boundary dispute resolution as a model.

Proactive Engagement with Nepal:

  • Enhance engagement with Nepal through people-to-people interactions, bureaucratic collaboration, and political dialogue.
  • Respect Nepal’s internal affairs while guiding towards more inclusive rhetoric as a gesture of friendship.

Guidance for Inclusive Policies:

  • Guide, not dictate Nepal towards more inclusive policies without interfering in its internal matters.
  • Promote a spirit of friendship and cooperation, subsiding India’s image as a Big brother.

The 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship 

The 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship is a bilateral treaty between India and Nepal that establishes a close strategic relationship between the two South Asian neighbours. The treaty was signed on 31 July 1950. 

key provisions of the treaty:

  • The two Governments undertook to inform each other of any serious friction or misunderstanding with any neighbouring State likely to cause any breach in the friendly relations subsisting between the two governments.
  • The Government of Nepal shall be free to import, from or through the territory of India, arms, ammunition or warlike material and equipment necessary for the security of Nepal.
  • National treatment of citizens of each other about economic activities residence, property, free movement, etc.

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