The age-old friendly relationship between India and Nepal seems to be rapidly going downhill. It has now touched a new low with Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli making a bizarre allegation that India was responsible for the spike in the number of Covid-19 cases in his country. There has been a concerted effort by the Oli government in recent days to play the anti-India card to whip up ultra-nationalistic emotions to settle domestic scores. By raising the anti-India rhetoric, Oli has left his comrades — former Prime Ministers Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and Madhav Kumar Nepal — with no option but to side with him and make India the casualty in the cross-firing. It was a deliberately provocative move on the part of Kathmandu to have released a new political map, showing the disputed territories of Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani in Uttarakhand within its borders. The unilateral territorial claims run contrary to the bilateral understanding to resolve the outstanding boundary issues through diplomatic dialogue. The fact that Oli has taken such a hard stance against a friendly neighbour like India, especially amid a pandemic, is indicative of the fact that his Nepal Communist Party is facing severe opposition from rival factions and opposition parties in the country. The two former prime ministers are being accused of destabilising the Oli-led government while the Communist Party of China’s international liaison wing has reportedly stepped up efforts to broker peace among the warring comrades in Nepal. It is clear that China is using Nepal’s shoulders to fire salvos at India.
The border dispute between India and Nepal is more than two decades old. Though it was agreed at the level of Prime Ministers in the past that a political resolution was required to put an end to the border controversy, it never made any headway. Oli, whose tilt towards China is well known, has been facing severe criticism over the way his government has been handling the pandemic. There have also been charges of corruption against some of his ministers over procurement of medical devices and other equipment from China to tackle the Covid-19 crisis. The Prime Minister is also being accused of losing grip on his party while leaders like Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ are tightening their grip, leading to infighting within the ruling Nepalese Communist Party. The ruling party apparently came under pressure from opposition parties like the Nepali Congress to take a firm stand against India’s move to open a new road recently connecting the Lipulekh pass with the Kailash-Mansarovar route in China. Despite these domestic pressures, the Nepalese government must refrain from making provocative moves against India in the interest of the long-standing friendly ties between the two countries.
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