Nepali Times
Plain Speaking
Revisiting 1950


Patna - The India-Nepal conference organised by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs this week in Patna featured the cream of the Nepali political landscape. Dr Baburam Bhattarai, Barshaman Pun 'Ananta', Pradeep Giri, Bimalendra Nidhi, Gagan Thapa, Pradeep Gyawali, Pradeep Nepal, MJF(D)'s Jitendra Dev, Sadbhavana's Anil Jha, and former bureaucrats and journalists participated in the seminar titled 'Towards a New Era in Nepal'.

The Indian delegation consisted largely of former bureaucrats and academics. Former ambassador Deb Mukherjee, former deputy national security advisor Leela Ponappa, RAW chief during the drafting of the 12-point agreement Hormese Tharakan, former Intelligence Bureau director AK Doval, constitutional expert Subash Kashyap, serving Indian officials, and Nepal experts were present.

There were different sessions on the Nepali peace process, water resources, federalism, and the role of the media and civil society.

But the most interesting conversation was regarding the 1950 treaty and the open border. It showed the fragmented nature of Nepali political opinion, but gave Nepalis a chance to understand the Indian security establishment's concerns and reflect on what overhauling the treaty would mean. What became quite clear is that no side is quite willing to stand up and defend the 1950 pact anymore.

This may come as surprise to many, but the Indian side feels the treaty is highly unfavourable to it. Those clauses that held any advantage in the security realm are now non-operational, while Nepal continues to enjoy benefits from other provisions.

An Indian participant argued how millions of Nepali citizens enjoy national treatment in India without a reciprocal arrangement. What would revising the relevant clause mean for them, particularly when India is planning to introduce national identity cards for its citizens? Would they need work permits and visas, and is that what Nepal wanted?

A precondition for the open border was a special security relationship with absolute co-operation. But Nepal was not seen to be as sensitive to Indian concerns. And while the open border was meant for the nationals of these two countries, many third national countries were using it for other purposes. A former official argued for a regulated border regime to track cross-border movement.

For their part Nepali politicians, particularly the Maoists and UML, feel the treaty is inherently unequal, signed as it was when a newly independent India was dealing with a decaying, feudal Rana regime on its last legs.

Dr Bhattarai noted that the treaty was based on India's Himalayan frontier policy. Specific provisions, according to him, give India a de facto say over Nepal's security, be it through consultations about third country threats or the acquisition of arms. The change in context needed a new arrangement. He also argued that while India had an advantage in the economic and commercial realm, the weaker economy, i.e. Nepal, should be given preferences and privileges. Claiming one third of border activity was illegal, led to a loss of revenue for the state and encouraged crime, Bhattarai agreed with the need to regulate the border. After all, the Maoists see out-migration as a liability that helps sustain the old semi-feudal economy.

But this was not a position shared by all Nepali participants. Madhesi leaders emphasised the roti-beti relationship and said revising the open border arrangement would devastate lives and families. Others pointed to the huge working class population, including pahadis, who would suffer.

It is clear that Nepal is yet to develop a broad national consensus on the 1950 treaty and the border. While doing so, it should be aware of the risk of ending up with a more unfavourable arrangement.

Does the Nepali state want a special relationship with India based on the logic of socio-economic integration and security linkages? Or does it want to chart out a more autonomous path and have a friendly, but routine, bilateral relationship? Answering that fundamental question will unlock the India-Nepal maze.

1. tesroankha
Sometimes it is better to have assymetrical treaty provisions for the benefit of both parties. If Nepal was to give indians the national treatment just as india does it to us, then we can only imagine the chaos that would bring. One percent of Nepalis going to India is not the same as one percent of Indians coming to Nepal. We havent been able to give national treatment to our own population let alone being able to do that to the indians. So in the realm of international bargaining it is but natural to benefit from one clause in the treaty provisions and lose out in the other. Afterall arguably treaties are just another word for compromises.

This article has shed a new perspective on India's view of the 1950 treaty but what would be even more interesting to  understand is - if India is as dissatisfied as Nepal with the provisions of the 1950 treaty, then what is stopping both nations to initiate a revision of this treaty. Maybe Mr. Prashant has answers to that.

2. Sameer
"Does the Nepali state want a special relationship with India based on the logic of socio-economic integration and security linkages?"  Translation:  Does Nepal want to be like Bhutan?  The answer to Prashant:  Hell NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   Why are you even asking this question by being a Nepali and a Nepali passport holder?

3. Budabaaje
Slowly but surely people will realize that the monarchy had always tried to do what it could to ensure Nepal's interests. It may not have done a great job of developing Nepal, but its main concern was always to ensure the integrity and sovereignty of the country, and on this score its record is very good. During the last few days of Jana Andolan 2, India's emissary, Karan Singh, reportedly offered to save Gyanendra's throne if he agreed to make Nepal like Bhutan. Gyanendra refused outright. Same thing in 1990. Apparently, Birendra too was given the same choice. The monarchy of Nepal has been willing to give up its own power rather than to sell Nepal's sovereignty to India. When can we say the same of the political parties of "Republican Nepal"???

4. rame
The biggest problem in Nepal is that we have too many Bahuns here. They say that, ''too many cooks spoils the brooth'', Nepal is the best example. Bahuns are too complicated (red taped), extremely greedy and first, a people with no self respect. An example, How can Mr. Babu Bhai Bhattrai, a prime beneficiary of any and all treaties between Nepal-India, raise a question on those treaty. Hah! I enjoyed you should not, is that his mantra? Surprisingly, some people still thinks Indians will come to Nepal, for what? One need to go to Delhi and see how much Kanchas have benefited from 1950 treaty. Which Idiot Bahun Neta has not visted Delhi? Yet another case of shameless Bahun hypocricy.

5. nidhi
Well said. 

6. rame
And some people dream of Monarchy. Wow, Paras Bdr. Shah as a King or may be a baby king, something called some Hirdaya crap- a latest Vishnu Avataar. I don't understand why people don't let the last remaining Shahs in peace. I seriously hope that they don't do any adventure either. Otherwise the end may be bloody, just as it generally happens, the ex-royals are brutally hanged in public.

7. shristi

nepal's socio-economic linkages with india is unevitable but nepal does have a lot of issues it could raise...such as the issue of autonomy...and like sameer said we DO NOT want to end up like bhutan.

@ rame  i dont see why race is an issue..i mean i thought we were talking about the 1950's treaty whatever u said about bahun netas going to delhi...i mean thats not even remotely related to the issues. fyi bahuns and chettris combined account for 78% of the total nepalese as much as ud hate it but ure gonna see us everywhere man.and more importantly i think u should do your homework first..ure clearly not intellectual enough to leave your opinion on the discussed issue.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)