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South Asia

India Hopes for a Breather While Nepal Postpones Bill to Update Political Map

At a meeting on Tuesday evening, the Nepali government decided to postpone tabling the Bill until all the parties can forge a national consensus.

New Delhi: While the Indian government is relieved that the constitutional amendment Bill to update Nepal’s political map has been postponed, the delay seems to be more procedural, with no sign that the Nepal government has shelved it and all parties have given their principled support.

Last week, the Nepal government had issued a new political map which had incorporated Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limipiyadhura, claimed by India, into its territory. Riled, India had immediately retorted that this “cartographic assertion” will not be acceptable.

The latest conflict on the India-Nepal boundary had been triggered after India announced the completion of a link road to Lipulekh earlier this month.

On May 22, the Nepal government registered a constitutional amendment in parliament that would update the map in its national coat of arms with the new boundaries of Nepal. It was supposed to have been tabled in parliament on Wednesday, but it was postponed as Prime Minister K.P. Oli called for an all-party meeting on the passage of the Bill.

At the meeting on Tuesday evening, it was decided that the tabling of the Bill would be postponed until all the parties can forge a national consensus, as per Nepalese media reports.

While some of the political parties had sought time to get an official nod from their members, a couple of Madheshi parties reiterated their demand to revise the constitution to ameliorate the concerns of the Madheshi community.

To allow the parties more time, the discussion on the constitutional amendment Bill was removed from the parliamentary business schedule for Wednesday at the request of the Nepal government.

Meanwhile, back in New Delhi, there was no official statement on the delay in tabling the constitutional amendment.

But, official sources said that the Indian government had taken “note that there is a larger ongoing debate on this matter in Nepal”. “It underlines the seriousness of this issue. It also demonstrates the value being attached to relations between Nepal and India,” they said.

India’s new political map (left) includes the territory of Kalapani. Nepal’s official map (right) also shows Kalapani inside its border. Photo: India’s home ministry and Nepal’s survey department

Also Read: The Kalapani Imbroglio: Has India Pushed Nepal Too Far?

Stating that they were monitoring the situation, sources also added that border issues are “sensitive by nature and require trust and confidence to be resolved to mutual satisfaction”. It effectively signals that the Indian government is hoping that the Nepal side would read between the lines and get the message that the border talks could not be expedited and require tempers to cool down.

As the Kathmandu Post reported, a constitutional amendment Bill requires to be approved by a two-thirds majority in both houses of Nepal’s federal parliament.

The ruling Nepal communist party has the required strength in the upper house, it is ten short of the two-thirds majority of 184 seats in the lower House of Representatives.

So far, no party has expressed any opposition or criticism of the amendment Bill.

However, Madhes-based parties have also raised that their concerns about representation and citizenship should be addressed as the constitution was being revised for the second time. But, they have been also insisted that they do not oppose this issue of “national interest”.

The Nepali Congress, the principal opposition, had said that they wanted the endorsement of the central working committee before they gave their official assent.

In fact, the Nepali Congress issued a press release on Wednesday expressing dissatisfaction over certain reports in the media that the constitutional amendment Bill has been removed from the schedule due to the party’s request.

Taking to Twitter on Wednesday evening, Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba urged people not to heed “misleading” information. “We are clear that Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipulekh are part of Nepal. Therefore, the proposed amendment to the constitution registered in the parliament is positive,” Deuba said. He added that the central working committee will take an institutional decision on Thursday.

The Nepali Congress also pointed out that they had supported the release of the new political map.

While India is hoping that the constitutional amendment Bill is postponed, the Nepal government is still insisting that it will be cleared by the end of this week.

A report in the Kathmandu Post on Thursday clearly indicates that Nepal’s political parties are jostling to garner political capital from this move, so that the nationalist government of PM Oli does not have all the advantage.

Blaming the government for the delay in tabling the Bill, the Nepali Congress said that the discussions could have started two days after it was introduced in parliament.

The Indian government’s reference to creating a positive atmosphere for any talks was assumed to be a signal that the passage of the constitutional amendment Bill would not be helpful. While the opposition blamed the Nepal government, ruling party functionaries pointed the finger back at the Congress.

“If the Congress party desires, we can present the proposal on Friday itself, as tomorrow [Thursday] is the budget day… The amendment proposal won’t be delayed at any cost. We will take a shortcut if necessary,” Subas Chandra Nembang, deputy parliamentary party leader of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) told the Post.