South Asia

India Reacts to New Nepal Map, Says Kathmandu's 'Cartographic Assertion' is Unacceptable

Breaking its silence, China's foreign ministry on Tuesday also said India and Nepal should "refrain from taking any unilateral action that may complicate the situation,” a reference to the recent road built by India.

New Delhi: India has described the unveiling of a new political map with Kalapani as Nepali territory as an “unjustified cartographic assertion” which will “not be accepted”.

Two days after the Nepali cabinet gave its approval, Nepal’s minister for land management, cooperatives and poverty alleviation, Padma Kumari Aryal on Wednesday released the new political map that shows the areas of Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh within its borders.

India regards these areas as part of its territory.

According to Nepali media reports, the map increases Nepal’s total area by 335 square kilometres. “The areas including Gunji, Navi and Kuti near Kalapani, which had been left out in earlier maps, are also included in the new map,” said Aryal.

While the cabinet had approved the map on Monday, India waited till it was officially released to give its formal response.

In a strongly worded statement, MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, “The Government of Nepal has released a revised official map of Nepal today that includes parts of Indian territory. This unilateral act is not based on historical facts and evidence”.

Asserting that this move was contrary to “bilateral understanding” to resolve issues through dialogue, Srivastava asserted, “Such artificial enlargement of territorial claims will not be accepted by India”.

He noted that Nepal is well aware of India’s consistent position and urged Nepal to “refrain from such unjustified cartographic assertion and respect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

“We hope that the Nepalese leadership will create a positive atmosphere for diplomatic dialogue to resolve the outstanding boundary issues,” added Srivastava.

The current friction over border with Nepal began six months ago after India issued a fresh political map to show the newly-bifurcated union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh in November 2019. Kathmandu had protested that Kalapani and Lipulekh were being depicted as part of Indian territory was part of Nepal, as per the 1816 treaty of Sugauli.

The Nepal government sought dates for a meeting at foreign secretary level, but they were not confirmed in New Delhi where the post was seeing a transition.

The border issue flared up again recently when Indian defence minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated a link road till Lipulekh, which would shorten the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage.

This led to a furious response from Kathmandu, with foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali personally summoning the Indian ambassador and calling for an immediate high-level meeting on the disputed boundary. A team of Nepal Armed Force Police was deployed at a new border outpost at the Lipulekh border point. The Indian response had been that the matter can be resolved through dialogue, which could be held once the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic blows over.

After Indian army chief Mukund Naravane implied that Nepal may have raised the pitch on China’s behest, the tone in Kathmandu became even more aggressive.

A day after Nepal cabinet approved the new political map, Nepali prime minister K.P. Oli said in his address to parliament on Tuesday, “India’s Ashokan pillar has the lions with “Truth shall prevail” inscribed in the bottom. They actually mean “Lion [might] shall prevail. But Nepal is certain that truth shall prevail”.

He had also implied that Nepal was facing a more imminent threat of coronavirus from the porous border with India.

The Nepal government had earlier pointed out that Kathmandu had protested even when Lipulekh pass had been listed as a bilateral trade point by India and China in their joint statement in May 2015.

China has remained largely silent on this controversy, but on Tuesday, its foreign ministry issued a terse response. “The issue of Kalapani is between Nepal and India. We hope the two countries will resolve their differences properly through friendly consultations and refrain from taking any unilateral action that may complicate the situation,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian. The use of the phrase – “unilateral action” – implied criticism of India’s acts.

Meanwhile, outgoing US acting assistant secretary of state Alice Wells told reporters on video conference from Washington that she was sure that Nepal could speak for itself. “I am sure Nepal is a sovereign country and won’t take dictation from China. Hope that leaders of Nepal stand up for the people of Nepal,” said Wells on Wednesday.