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Nepal defers map update amid row; India hopeful of better ties

PUBLISHED ON MAY 27, 2020 11:42 PM IST

New Delhi

The Indian government believes the debate in Nepal’s parliament over a constitutional amendment to give legal backing to a new map, which depicts Kalapani and Lipulekh as part of Nepalese territory, reflects the importance attached to improving bilateral ties, people familiar with developments said on Wednesday.

The government of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli was forced to defer its plan to move the constitutional amendment in parliament to update the map after the main opposition Nepali Congress party sought time for more discussion on the issue.

There were also reports from Kathmandu that the move could be linked to efforts for back channel contacts between the two sides to address a row that erupted after India recently inaugurated an 80-km road to Lipulekh on the Chinese border. Nepal, which claims Lipulekh, protested the opening of the road but the external affairs ministry contended it was “completely within the territory of India”.

The people cited above, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Indian side is monitoring the situation and has noted the larger ongoing debate on the border issue within Nepal.

“The debate underlines the seriousness of this issue. It also demonstrates the value being attached to relations between Nepal and India,” said one of the people cited above.

“Border issues are sensitive by nature and require trust and confidence to be resolved to mutual satisfaction,” the person added.

People familiar with developments in Kathmandu said the country’s budget for fiscal 2020-21 is scheduled to be presented in parliament on May 28, which would mean that the constitutional amendment to alter the country’s political map is unlikely to be taken up anytime soon.

“The focus will move to the budget and this could create some space for negotiations on the border issue,” said a person who declined to be identified.

However, the Nepal government is apparently miffed that the country’s ambassador to India, Nilamber Acharya, has not yet been granted a meeting with senior officials in the external affairs ministry to discuss the border issue.

The Oli government planned to table the constitutional amendment in parliament on Tuesday to give legal backing to the new political map released on May 18 that shows Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura as part of the country’s territory. All three regions are the subject of disputes with India. The constitutional amendment will have to be passed with a two-thirds majority by the House of Representatives and the National Assembly.

When Oli called a meeting of all political parties on Tuesday to seek backing for the amendment, two parties from the Madhes region demanded that their calls for constitutional amendments should be incorporated, while the main opposition Nepali Congress said it needed to discuss the proposal further, The Kathmandu Post reported.

“We support the territorial integrity of the country and we also support the government’s release of the map,” Nepali Congress leader Krishna Prasad Situala said. “But a decision on the amendment to update the map will be made at the forthcoming Central Working Committee meeting. So we requested that the amendment be put on hold for the time being.”

The ruling Nepal Communist Party has a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, but needs support from other parties to pass the constitutional amendment in the House of Representatives.

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