SOURCE: The Tribune
With the world, including India, preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic, a monumental double whammy unfolds in South Asia, across the northern frontier of India’s traditionally fraternal neighbour Nepal, and those of Indian territories in Ladakh and Sikkim, two most vulnerable and sensitive of Indian highlands which have been on the Chinese radar for more than seven decades.
Targeted, long ago, explicitly by Mao Zedong, first head of the state of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), the coveted five fingers are — Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal. Three of these are with India and the sovereign Nepal and Bhutan have always been close to India, unlike Tibet, which despite being forcibly vanquished in 1950, continues to be anything but friendly or fraternal with Beijing, notwithstanding the plethora of development projects undertaken by the remote mainland’s CPC.
The Chinese aim is strategic. To command and control vast water resources and reservoirs of the entire Himalayas; the virtual lifeline for more than 1.8 billion people of South Asia. For India, however, the situation today suddenly is the revival of double whammy, not necessarily on water. But, how to deal with the source of trouble, which uncannily, is single? The Chinese loom large without doubt. The developments nevertheless are pregnant with far-reaching grave fallout, if not dealt with deftly, and with dour foresight. It’s potentially dirty, tricky and graver than ever before, requiring all the skills of the Indian state to deal with a state desperate to attain numero uno status in a world in which it never mattered before; being nowhere, except on the fringe, during at least the past thousand years.
It’s thus a three-pronged challenge for India. First, the China-origin virus, which has already shattered all hopes of India’s goal of $5-trillion GDP by 2023-24. Second, the unusually coincidental political-diplomatic headache originating from Kathmandu, and third, the military-political muscle-flexing of the wolf warrior diplomats of Beijing, and the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) attacks on Indian soldiers in Ladakh’s Galwan valley, Daulat Beg Oldi sector, and Naku La in Sikkim.
Coming back to the landlocked Himalayan state of democratic Kathmandu, bilateral though India-Nepal relations are, the 21st century seems to have turned every South Asian bilateral of India into trilateral or multi-lateral, owing to the brash diplomacy of Beijing to fulfil its global goal. Thus, Kabul to Colombo, Male to Myanmar, Thimpu to Kathmandu, India faces the long shadow of the CPC coming from over the Himalayas, trickling down and tricking its way from territory to trade, telecommunication to terror, tourism to technology.
At this point in time, however, it’s the territorial scheme of the Hans, colloquially known as ‘Salami slicing’, which is creating turbulence; both on land and in the sea. Nevertheless, the focus today for India originates from Kathmandu, from the Kali river to the road to Tibet.
The story begins with the indisputable Article 5 of the Treaty of Segowlee or Sigauli/Sugauli, December 2, 1815, between Nepal and the British, preceded by the ‘war arisen between Honourable East India Company and the Rajah of Nipal’. The treaty was received from the Rajah of Nipal on March 4, 1816, and approved by him on December 8, 1816.
The most significant development of this treaty, however, was the emergence of the Gurkhas of Nepal highland, as they were recruited into the nascent British Indian Army and given the pride of place on a par with, if not superior to, recruits from the hinterland of Hindustan. Thus, an ‘alien’ homogeneous ethnic combat Gurkha Regiment was born to be the prima donna of Indian military in no time, thereby setting an unprecedented change in the war machine structure of South Asia. Tribal hillmen from the Nepal Himalayas became integral and an inalienable part of the folklore of India’s military operations from Hindustan to Han land; Meerut to Mesopotamia; Aliwal to Ardennes; and, Lucknow to Libya for over 200 years now.
In fact, so pleased were the handful of part-time English trader-cum-aspiring rulers — lording over part of Hindustan heartland— with the Kathmandu king, that they concluded a second treaty with him in November 1860. It thus elaborated: ‘During the disturbances which followed the mutiny of the Native army in Bengal in 1857, the Maharajah of Nipal not only faithfully maintained relations established between the British Government and State of Nipal by the Treaty of Sugauli, but freely placed troops at the disposal of British authorities for preservation of order in frontier districts, and subsequently sent a force to cooperate with the British Army in the recapture of Lucknow and final defeat of the rebels. On conclusion of these operations, the Viceroy and Governor-General, in recognition of the eminent services rendered to the British Government by the State of Nipal, declared his intention to restore to the Maharajah the whole of lowlands lying between the Kali river and the district of Gorukpore, which belonged to the State of Nipal in 1815, and were ceded to the British Government in that year by the aforesaid treaty of Sugauli.’
The treaty, signed by Lt Colonel George Ramsay, for Charles John Earl Canning Viceroy and Governor-General of India and by Maharaja Jung Bahadur Rana for Maharaja Dheraj Soorinder Vikram Sah Bahadoor Shumsher Jung was sealed at Kathmandu on November 1, 1860, and ratified at Calcutta on November 15, 1860.
Significantly, as can be found from the language of both Nepal-British treaties pertaining to Indian territories lying to the west of the Kali river, there is neither any ambiguity nor dispute that these have been with India. The British were fighting a sovereign Nepal, ostensibly on behalf of a dependent India of several scattered indigenous rulers and battered princes. Nepal, therefore, could be seen as an aggressor of Indian soil, like the British, in the 19th century. Hence, it was clearly a fight between two foreign powers — British and Nepal — for parcelling out Indian soil in the 19th century. Nevertheless, that should not come in the way of the 21st-century bilateral ties between Kathmandu and New Delhi.
Indian rulers, irrespective of the political party in power, have always wished for the best bilateral ties with Kathmandu. Being closest to Nepal, New Delhi invariably set the shiniest example to the traditional, brazen, bullying big brothers of the world, as there is always a third-person singular number in the 21st-century bilateral politico-diplomatic scenario in South Asia. One, therefore, needs to avoid the temptation of false and frivolous shenanigans of such power. Both Delhi and Kathmandu will do better to ignore such a disruptive actor, lurking in the vicinity, for instigating fractious diplomacy.