Nepal moves closer to endorsing new map

Nepal govt tables Constitution amendment bill in parliament amidst border row with India

epal's Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada (center R) and Prime minster KP Sharama Oli (L) arrive at the parliament to announce the government's budget for the 2020/2021 fiscal year, in Kathmandu. (AFP Photo)

Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli’s government in Kathmandu on Sunday moved closer to granting statutory approval to the new map, which it recently released showing the areas claimed by India as part of the territory of Nepal.

New Delhi, however, has reached out to Kathmandu to soothe the ruffled feathers, with both sides exploring the possibility of a high-level contact – maybe between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart in Nepal.  

The Oli Government on Sunday introduced in the lower House of the Nepalese Parliament a Bill to amend the country’s Constitution to endorse the new map.

The Bill was introduced after the main opposition party, Nepali Congress, finally agreed to support, after initially dithering on it for a few days. The move came as a setback for New Delhi, which was relying on lack of political consensus in Kathmandu to counter what it suspected to be a ploy by China to drive a wedge between India and Nepal.

Sources in New Delhi, however, said that Indian and Nepalese diplomats were in touch to defuse tension between the two nations.

New Delhi mooted a proposal for talks between Modi and Oli over the phone in order to ease the strains in ties and start a process for scheduling formal dialogue between the two nations to resolve the dispute.

The new map of Nepal published by the Ministry of Land Management of the Nepalese Government on May 20 included Lipulekh Pass, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura – the areas New Delhi claims to be part of the territory of India. Oli’s cabinet had on May 19 decided to publish the new political and administrative map of Nepal, in order to re-assert its claim on the disputed areas. The move was in response to construction of a strategic road by India from Dharchula in its Uttarakhand State to Lipulekh Pass near its disputed boundary with China.

The Bill to amend the Constitution of Nepal to endorse the new map was scheduled to be introduced in the country’s House of Representatives – the lower House of Nepalese Parliament – last Wednesday, but it was dropped from the list of business. The government backed out after the main opposition party – Nepali Congress – conveyed to the Prime Minister and his Law Minister Shiva Maya Tungbahamphe that it would need more time to study the proposed legislation before taking a stand on it.

The Bill would not have been passed without the support of the Nepali Congress. Any proposed legislation to amend the Constitution of Nepal would require the support of two-thirds of the members of the country’s parliament.

The Nepali Congress, however, decided on Saturday that it would support the Bill – ostensibly to avoid taking a contrarian stand and risking political backlash at a time when Beijing made the ruling NCP in Kathmandu whip up nationalist sentiment against India.

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