“ To build a theory in international relations on accidents of geography and history is dangerous” Kennith Waltz
The Indian subcontinent has a unique place in the comity of nations which has been the birth place of maximum number of religions to include Hinduism,Buddhism ,Jainism and Sikhism to name a few. Nowhere else on this blessed planet of ours do we find such a rainbow of faith interacting with such intensity as India.The cacophony thus generated by this interfaith interaction is a matter of spite for India’s neighbours who are still wallowing in theocracy.India is one of those few countries in this world which despite being ravaged from times of yore by marauders has risen like a phoenix from its ashes to reclaim its art ,culture and tradition guarded so jealously by its benefactors. The various places of reverence spread far and wide and often in remote corners of Indianever acted as a dampener for a diehard pilgrim to pay his obeisance.KailashMansarovar is one such place of reverence beyond the national boundaries of India which every year attracts thousands of pilgrims from all faiths to its holy abode from all over the world.
The KailashMansarovryatra route is considered as one of the most hazardous of all the yatras so far till date in the recorded history of pilgrimage in India with major part of the route traversing in Indian territory of Kumaon/Uttarakhand leading finally on to TAR/Tibetan autonomous region ending at the twin holy abodes of Mount Kailash and Mansarovar lake.But off late this yatra’s future has come under a cloud due to an ongoing territorial dispute over Kalapani/Lipulekh between India and Nepal,which are the final staging areas for a pilgrim to jumpstart this yatra just before crossing the Indian border.My interest in penning this article arose from the fact that I happen to go on this yatra twice in 1992-93 as part of a reconnaissance party while in service when posted at Pithoragarh.At the center of storm between India and Nepal on this sensitive issue are the twin locations of Kalapani and Lipulekhwell within Indian territory ,but which Nepal claims as its own .The 35 Square Kms of area of Kalapani at more than height of 16,000ft in a maze of snow,rocks and boulders strewn all over is part of DistPithoragarh.
At the root of this dispute is the differing perceptions /interpretations of the map of this area by both India and Nepal .The genesis of this present imbroglio can be traced right after the treaty of Sagauli came into being and signed on 02nd December 1815 and ratified by 04th March 1816 between the East India company and the Kingdom of Nepal which was a natural downing of curtains for the Anglo-Nepalese war of (1814-16) .The two signatories being Lt/Col Parish Bradshaw and Raj Guru GajRaj Mishra from East India company and Kingdom of Nepal respectively.The treaty of Sigauli consisting of 9 articles in total stressed upon among other things perpetual peace and friendship between honorable East India company and Kingdom of Nepal respectively .But the most important article which has a direct bearing upon the present Indo-Nepal imbroglio pertains to article V,which clearly places Kalapani and Lipulekh with in Indian territory ,as it clearly enunciates Quote “ Rajah of Nepal renounces himself ,his heirs and successors all claim to or connection with the countries lying to the west of river Kali and engages never to have any concern with those countries or the inhabitants thereof.Article 9 of the treaty says that it shall be approved by the king of Nepal ,but records show that the approval was not to be found anywhere. The British had anticipated that Nepal may never implement the treaty,hence General David Ochterlonyon behalf of British Govt ratified the treaty and same day handed over to his Nepalese counterpart .
The intention of Nepal was suspect right from the time of inception of Sigauli treaty.Infact after India gained independence and signed the treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950 with Nepal murmurs of protest from some Nepalese nationalists started emanating saying the treaty of Sigauli was null and void,since it was signed by the then East India company and the Kingdom of Nepal and not between independent India and Sovereign Nepal. Infact Nepal invented an alibi to discard Sigauli treaty by way of questioning the origin of river Kali itselfwhich in article V clearly says is the international boundary between the two countries. Nepal says that Kali river originates from Limpiyadhura ,north west of Lipulekh and flows south west.Thus contends Nepal that Lipulekh and Kalapani fall within Nepal .India on the other hand says that river Kali Ganga originates in black water springs well below the Lipulekh pass and flows south and slightly east.This territorial dispute came into public discourse in Nepal last November when India released new political maps depicting revised status of J&K as the two new territories of Ladakh and J&K. Fresh protests broke out in May 2020 this year when Defence minister Rajnathsingh inaugurated a new road to Lipulekh pass on 08th May 2020. Nepal immediately objected claiming that the new road passes through its territory and accordingly on 18th May 2020 passed a new political map of that country showing this area as part of Nepal.
Most of the readers may not be aware that this Kalapani imbroglio is a legacy which has been given a boost by “Gujral doctrine” during ex PM IK Gujral’s tenure in 1997. On an official visit to Nepal in the summer of 1997 this issue was brought up before him by his Nepalese counter part BamdevGutam who claimed the area as part of Nepal.IK Gujral was in fact the Foreign minister during PM DeveGowda’s term and enunciated his infamous “GujralDoctrine”a naïve and altruistic set of guidelines to steer India’s foreign relations with its immediate neighbours.As per this doctrine India should try to accommodate all the demands of its neighbouring countries and give with an open hand without any thing as a quid pro quo.Nepal took full advantage of this more than magnanimous offer by India and at the end of the state visit issued a joint declaration with India that this issue be referred to a joint technical boundary committee headed by both Surveyors generals of India and Nepal.Gujral like Nehru was more than obsessed with casting his personal imprint in the foreign affairs as a corner stone of foreign policy.Now Nepal has latched on to this Gujral doctrine to advance its claim in this dispute. When seen in the light of the recent Ladakh standoff the present imbroglio with Nepal seems to be a part of greater Chinese game plan to use Nepal as a proxy boxer in shadow boxing India into submission. India on its part does have a very strong case in its favour by floating geographical, revenue and historical records to underpin its claim in this issue.For hundreds of years Hindu ,Buddhist and Jain pilgrims have been undertaking the KailashMansarovaryatrawhich pass through Lipulekh and Kalapani on way to KailashMansarovar in Tibet.Similarly the land revenue records of local Kumaonis staying in the border district of Pithoragarh bear testimony to the fact that that the area west of river Kali in dispute belonged to district Almora as late as Feb 1960 ,when a separate district of Pithoragarh was carved out .Hence from the principles of long usage and customs India can and should lay claim to this disputed area.The need of the hour for India is to get its act together and put all the evidence in a very cogent manner and reject the claim of Nepal as put forward by it.
(The writer can be approached on his email…)