India and the pain of Kalapani and Sustas
By Anand Gurung
Just a day after the parliamentary committee on Human Rights and International Relations led by Amik Sherchan and an “all-party” monitoring team concluded that Indian side had indeed encroached upon Nepali land in the bordering areas of Dang district and that locals living there were forced to flee their homes due to continued atrocities on them by the Indian border security force personnel, an interview of the Indian ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood appeared in the leading Kantipur Daily on Sunday in which he again dismissed claims (based on media reports) that Nepali land has been encroached upon by India in Dang and that its Border Security Force were involved in appalling atrocities against Nepali citizens living there.
“The surveyors Delhi sent (to Dang) found that there was absolutely no untoward incident,” Ambassador Sood said in the interview with the daily which was originally taken on Friday.
In a persuasive tone of a seasoned diplomat, he assured that when the new border pillars are installed after the “strip maps” signed by Nepal and India in December 2007 is formalized by the Nepal government, “around 98 percent of the border disputes will be resolved”.
“The rest concerning Kalapani and Susta needs to be re-solved at the political level,” he said.
In saying this Ambassador Sood was only repeating what has been officially told on numerous occasions in the past – that long-standing border dispute between Nepal and India has largely been solved except in two areas Kalapani and Susta.
In the rare interview, New Delhi’s representative in Kathmandu who has seen, or if media reports are to be believed, presided over three ‘change of guard’ at Singha Durbar, tried to allay further claims about New-Delhi’s alleged role in bringing down the Maoist-led government and its anxiety over Nepal’s supposed closed ties with China.
And he did this in the classic South Bloc jargon for all seasons, something which his predecessors in Kathmandu used often and which the government and the media here have lapped up without a second thought.
“It is completely an internal affair of Nepal and India had nothing to do with.” --- on New Delhi’s role in toppling Maoist-led government
“Nepal is a sovereign country and it will decide what kind of relationship it will have with any other country.” - on Nepal’s relationship with China.
But the smooth-talking ambassador made a major slip in his attempt to make the border encroachment issue - due to which Nepal-India’s relationship has received a major beating in recent times - a non-issue.
Going by Ambassador Sood’s claim, the disputed areas of Susta and Kalapani are just a small part of the big problem that is already on the way of being resolved and that it needs just a formal acceptance on the part of Nepal to make it a thing of the past, a thorny but forgettable episode in the “age-old, friendly and cordial” ties between the two country.
It is not so.
Various reports backed by credible evidences have shown that India has encroached upon and continues to illegally occupy more than 60,000 hectares of Nepali land at 61different places across the country.
The total area occupied by India in Kalapani and Tinker area of far-western Nepal (an area which has always featured highly during bureaucratic and ministerial level border talks between the two countries) alone is said to stand at 37,000 hectares. Similarly, additional 14,000 hectares of Nepal land has been encroached by India in Susta.
These figures makes it quite clear that Indian occupation of Nepali territory in Kalapani and Susta, which have been erroneously labeled as mere ‘border disputes’ to tone down the seriousness of the situation, in fact lies at the heart of long-standing border problem between the two countries.
This was perhaps why during the Maoist led government few months back, then foreign minister Upendra Yadav and his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee had confined their talks on resolving the dispute particularly in Kalapani and Susta.
Few weeks before the series of reports about encroachment of Nepali land in Dang and atrocities against Nepali citizens living there hogged the media headlines, a field study conducted by the same parliamentary committee had found that an additional 34 hectares of land belonging to people of ward no 6, 7 and 8 of Jhitakaiya VDC in Bara district has been encroached by the Indian side.
The parliamentary committee led by Nepali Congress leader Nabindra Raj Joshi concluded that as many as 264 border pillars were missing out of the original 685. It also found that Indian farmers encroached Nepali land on the backing of Seema Surakcha Bal (SSB) personnel for farming purposes.
Joshi had in an interview with a daily paper at that time said that change in the course of the river also pushed the Nepali land to the Indian side of stream, encouraging Indian farmers to capture it later.
Surprisingly, he refrained from calling this a seizure of Nepali land, instead preferring to just call it a mere ‘border dispute’.
“It is the fact that there is border problem in Bara, but it will not be wise to conclude that the Indian side has encroached Nepali land,” he said. “We may have to go for further study after the technical team hands over its report on this.”
In her tell-all article on encroachment of Nepali territory by the Indian side, P.K Pant, a veteran journalist who regularly writes on border-related issues, sheds some important light on the history of Indian occupation of Kalapani.
She writes: “After India lost to China in the 1962 border war, Indian soldiers gradually receded from the frontline. They learnt a crucial lesson from this war and found the Kalapani area in Nepal as a strategically appropriate and sensitive area because of its potential of acting as a buffer zone between India and China. So, Indian military decided to stay there. (Almost fifty years later) Indian soldier have still been occupying that area, but no voice has been raised against it from any quarters.”
Pant has another interesting revelation that lays bare what she describes as “meekness” of Nepali leaders.
She further writes that in regards to Susta the government deliberately refused to make public the map of the Susta area prepared by the Survey Department in collaboration with the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA)
“The map, prepared in 2003, clearly illustrates the blatant encroachment of some 14,000 hectors of Susta by Indian side,” she writes, and further adds, “Nepal government is surreptitiously trying to suppress the prevalent geographical truths about the area by citing that it failed to confirm the measurement of the encroached land due to the absence of the map.”
She insists that the whole matter is related with foreign-policy conduct.
“We must be determined to clear out differences within ourselves and bring to an end this long-lingering and turbulent issue in the larger interest of the country by reaching to a national consensus,” she implores. “The consensus will thus uphold the dignity of the nation and its people as a whole, and would especially help in dealing with border disputes, water resources, foreign policy and development issues.”
Border experts say that when the time called for it India easily relinquished its traditional “twin pillar theory” (that of democracy and constitutional monarchy) which it held dear when it came to its relation with Nepal, but now it must turn a new leaf in its relation with the Himalayan republic by amicably resolving the long-standing border problem with the new, unwavering pillars of fairness, trust and mutual-respect.
Better fences make better neighbors.