New Delhi: On 31 July 1950, India and Nepal signed a treaty of peace and friendship in an effort to “strengthen and develop these ties and to perpetuate peace between the two countries”. Over seven decades later, clamour is now growing louder in Nepal to “revise” the pact to reflect “new changes and realities”.
The call for revision was once again raised during the India-Nepal Joint Commission Meeting held on 15 January.
This came nearly seven years after both sides agreed to “review, adjust and update” the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first visit to Nepal in 2014.
“They (PMs) welcomed the decision of the Joint Commission to direct the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries to meet and discuss specific proposal to revise the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950, which the Government of Nepal agreed to provide at the earliest. Both sides agreed that the revised Treaty should better reflect the current realities and aim to further consolidate and expand the multifaceted and deep rooted relationships in a forward looking manner,” a Ministry of External Affairs statement said then.
Subsequently, an India-Nepal Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG) was created to look into this issue and other matters of bilateral importance. The EPG report, which was finalised in 2018, had prominently recommended revision of this treaty. But the report has not yet been officially adopted.
What lies in the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship?
The Treaty of Peace and Friendship was officially signed by Chandreshwar Prasad Narain Singh, then Indian ambassador to Nepal representing New Delhi, with Nepal Prime Minister Mohun Shumshere Rana, who had a troubled relationship with the King of Nepal Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah.
Nevertheless, the fact that the treaty was signed on India’s behalf by someone who was in lesser designation compared to the Prime Minister of Nepal was seen by Kathmandu as an insult and disrespect for protocol.
Besides, Nepal has always had reservations with Articles 2, 6 and 7 of the treaty. Revision of these particular clauses has featured in Left parties’ election manifestos in Nepal several times in the last seven decades.
Article 2 states that both governments should “inform each other of any serious friction or misunderstanding with any neighbouring State likely to cause any breach in the friendly relations subsisting between the two Governments”.
Articles 6 and 7 stipulate India and Nepal will give the same privileges of economic activity, employment, resident and ownership of property to each other’s nationals in their territory.
Why Nepal wants the treaty to be revised
After almost a decade of the treaty being signed, an issue came to light that the pact was also accompanied by an exchange of letters, which was made public only in 1959 when they were tabled in the Indian Parliament.
As time passed, Nepal believed the treaty was “not compatible with national self-respect” due to the problems between PM Rana and King Tribhuvan, wrote K.V. Rajan, India’s former envoy to Kathmandu, in a column. The exchange of letters seemingly indicated that India was interfering in Nepal’s internal matters, especially Kathmandu’s foreign policy and defence.
India was seen interfering in the internal political matters of Nepal by brokering its first steps towards achieving democracy with the ousting of the autocratic Rana regime and restoring the monarchy. New Delhi also helped finance Nepal’s first two five-year plans, Rajan wrote in the book, External Affairs: Cross Border Relations.
Nepal was also questioned, albeit not publicly, for establishing defence ties with its northern neighbour China.
The treaty was also questioned during former Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi’s era when ties between India and Nepal underwent considerable strain.
At the time, even the monarchy wanted to revise the treaty as Gandhi, during the second half of his tenure, supported the rising Democratic Movement against the King, wrote J.N. Dixit, former national security advisor and foreign secretary, in his book India’s Foreign Policy 1947-2003.
Rajan also highlighted that the provisions to give equal treatment to the nationals of each other were never respected. Moreover, Nepal had issues with market access and transit facilities for trade since it is a landlocked country.
“In general terms, a feeling was encouraged that India was domineering,” Dixit wrote.
Under his ‘Gujral Doctrine’, former prime minister I.K. Gujral assured all neighbours including Nepal that New Delhi will not interfere in their internal matters.
In August 1997, India and Nepal held a round of discussions to review the treaty keeping in mind Nepal’s growing resentment but it was never taken further by successive Indian governments until PM Modi promised to look into the matter during his Kathmandu visit in 2014.
Under the Modi government
However, even in the second tenure of the Modi government, no formal steps have been taken to review it.
Matters only got worse during a stiff economic blockade between India and Nepal due to the agitation by the Madhesi population there over Nepal’s Constitution promulgated in 2015. The blockade led to the restriction of food and essential supplies from India to Nepal and New Delhi was blamed for steering the agitation.
“Revision of the treaty has mostly been an issue with the Nepali Left parties. However, some sections of Nepali people also want it to make it more relevant according to the present times. There is a general feeling of inequality between people when it comes to provision like national treatment to both its people,” said Vijay Kanta Karna, professor of political science at Nepal’s Tribhuvan University, told ThePrint.
Karna, a former diplomat, added, “The issue needs to be discussed keeping all stakeholders in mind and not just by a few who are aiming to do this for narrow political gains.”
Nepal is presently reeling under a political turmoil with a split in the ruling Nepal Communist Party even as the country is likely to head for another round of polls in April-May this year.
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