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The 80-km long road connecting Lipulekh pass with Dharchula in Uttarakhand is aimed at shortening the travel time for those undertaking the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage to China by about a week. File Photo: HT
The 80-km long road connecting Lipulekh pass with Dharchula in Uttarakhand is aimed at shortening the travel time for those undertaking the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage to China by about a week. File Photo: HT

India leaves the door open for talks with Nepal amid map row

  • New Delhi has, however, put the onus on Kathmandu to create a conducive atmosphere for a dialogue
  • Development cooperation and medical aid for the covid-hit in Nepal will continue

NEW DELHI : India has not ruled out talks with Nepal to resolve tensions over a new map of the Himalayan country that incorporates three areas that are part of Uttarakhand. But New Delhi has put the onus on Kathmandu to create an atmosphere that will be conducive to such a dialogue for restoring their “unique and natural partnership," two people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

India also made it clear that it will not pull back on any efforts that will jeopardize people-to-people ties between the two countries. Development cooperation, connectivity projects and medical aid for people stricken by covid-19 in Nepal will continue, one of the people cited above said.

Signalling the underlying cooperation, India on Monday signed a pact to build a sanitation facility near the Pashupatinath temple complex. India will extend assistance worth Nepali 37.23 million for the purpose, according to the Indian embassy in Kathmandu.

“The bedrock of our relations is people-to-people ties (besides) historical and cultural and economic linkages," the first person cited above said. “All this translates into a unique and natural partnership which transcends the economic and political scenario at any given point in time."

The new map brought out by Kathmandu shows Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura, that are part of Uttarakhand as lying within the boundaries of Nepal. It was cleared by the lower house of parliament on Saturday and given the go-ahead by the upper house on Sunday.

Responding to Nepalese Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s charge that India did not respond to offers of talks from his government, this person said that India had told Kathmandu it was ready for talks to sort out the issue.

In 2014, the two sides had agreed on a framework for talks to sort out the boundary issue. While 98% of the 1,750 kilometre border has been delineated, two stretches one in Uttarakhand and another in Bihar—remain undemarcated.

New Delhi offered talks last year when Nepal protested a new map brought out by India, which had shown the areas disputed by Nepal as part of India. The offer was repeated before the Nepalese government tabled a constitution amendment bill to update its map this month, he said. The offer of talks included telephonic conversation between the two foreign secretaries, a video conference and also visits by the two foreign secretaries.

“We don’t know why Prime Minister Oli did not tell the Nepalese people and parliament about our offer of talks because we always keep hearing that we never offered talks," the person said. “It points to the primary motivation that it (the new map) is driven by domestic political agenda," the person added

Oli and his government “prejudged the outcome" and went ahead to get the map cleared by parliament, this person said. The reference was to political challenges faced by Oli within his Nepalese Communist Party. According to analysts, the stance against India is an effort by Oli to get his detractors to back him on an issue seen as nationalistic. “It is up to them (prime minister Oli and the Nepal government) to create a conducive and positive atmosphere for further talks to take place."

On the road inaugurated by defence minister Rajnath Singh on 8 May —that is seen as the trigger for the current tensions – the person said it had been under construction for almost a decade.

Even before the road, the route was used by Indians going the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage in China. “At no point any objection was raised by Nepal," he said.

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