"Nepal would get back about 100,000 sq km. It will extend Nepal's borders upto Bhutan and Bangladesh. This means Nepal will no longer be bound by India or dependent on it for trade."
Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
Already badly shaken by crucial Kashmir problems and Pakistan destabilization issues, all of its own making, India has got another issue to be settled quickly in its northern neighbourhood, Nepal. With the rise of nationalist sentiments and emotional outbursts in Nepal about Indian pressure-cum-sideline tactics, Nepalese are putting up a joint front to redeem the lands lost long ago and now under Indian custody.
Common faith and similar practices helped India advance its territorial expansion goals as a key policy, historically. Several Nepalese have made significant contributions to Indian in various fields, including film industry, the known actress Manisha Koirala, a close relative of Nepal leader Girija Prasad Koirala and play back singer Udit Narayan, among others. The anti-Indian sentiments triggered by banned Bollywood film 'Chandni Chowk to China' has stoked fresh demands for the recovery of the land acceded to India by Nepal nearly two centuries ago. On 26 January, as India celebrated its 60th Republic Day, students staged a noisy protest in front of the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu, asking for the restoration of 'Greater Nepal'. The Front is trying to cash in on the fresh anti-Indian feeling that arose after the Bollywood film 'Chandni Chowk to China' wrongly stated that the Buddha was born in India, instead of Nepal. Monday's rally called the film an attack on Nepal's sovereignty and underlined the need for a Greater Nepal.
Awakened by the realization that India exploits its neighbours to its own advantages Nepalese have woken up to reclaim its lost territories. Led by a Nepali literature professor, Phanindra Nepal, the Unified Nepal National Front is asking India and Britain to separate certain areas from four Indian states and return them to Nepal since they were part of Nepal's territory in the 19th century. "If our demand is not heeded now, one day, it is going to become an even bigger issue in India than Kashmir", the 58-year-old Nepali told IANS, "I have visited these areas and found that Nepalis of Indian origin as well as Nepalis forced to seek menial jobs in India support the demand."
The roots of the movement for a 'Greater Nepal' go back to the 19th century when Nepal fought a series of grim battles with the British, who had turned their eyes towards the Himalayan kingdom after colonizing India. After several exhausting Anglo-Nepalese Wars, Nepal narrowly averted conquest by agreeing to sign a treaty that however stripped it of almost one-third of its territory. The infamous Treaty of Sugauli signed in 1816 saw Nepal concede territory in Sikkim, Darjeeling and Siliguri which lie in India's West Bengal state, and territory that now lies in India's Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal.
Nepal also lost tracts of fertile land in its southern Terai plains but recovered that from the British later for helping the East India Company in 1857 to put down the Indian rebellion against the colonial rulers. Now, the Front is seeking to get back the conceded territory that is still part of India. "This is a just and legitimate demand," says Nepal. "In 1950, an independent India signed a treaty of peace and friendship with Nepal and both sides agreed that the earlier bilateral pacts signed during the British rule stood scrapped. Therefore, the Sugauli Treaty is now invalid and India has no further rights to the ceded Nepali territory."
Last year, the Front unveiled a new map of Nepal, depicting the Himalayan republic with the addition of the land lying in India. It also sent a memorandum to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well as Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, pointing out that Britain also has the responsibility of resolving the dispute since it was party to it.
Nepal wants the land saying that India has a precedent of returning ceded territory. "The Indo-Bhutan Treaty of 1949 returned to Bhutan a 32 sq km strip of land known as Diwangiri", it says. Nepal feels the demand would become a mass movement once Nepalis realize how they would benefit from it. "Nepal would get back about 100,000 sq km. It will extend Nepal's borders upto Bhutan and Bangladesh. This means Nepal will no longer be bound by India or dependent on it for trade."
The demand of the Nepalese could cause further embarrassments in New Delhi and strategists would lose sleep for yet another reason. But India has to resolve all disputes one by one and become a real secular democracy. In stead of considering the Nepalese claim as another serious threat to Indian hegemonic ambitions in the region, India should strive for resolution of all its problems with neighbors including Kashmir thereby making the region secure and stable. Hopefully India will revise its policies abroad including Pakistan, Kashmir and Nepal by initially softening its petrified mindset skillfully hoisted on the region and settle the disputes amicably. Indian strategists might not need any reminder of the celebrated phrase: "where there is a will, there is a way too".
(Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal is a Researcher in International Relations, Analyst, Columnist & Commentator for South Asia based in New Delhi)