By Maila Baje
If events in Nepal tend to move in clock-like precision, they also simultaneously defy other laws like those of proportionality. In other words, we are caught between time and space.
The Kalapani controversy – shortened to its generic catchiness also to avoid the cartographic complexities involving the other two terrains of Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh – was not on our minds when soothsayers and politicians warned of a post-Dasain/Tihar conflagration against the existing political order.
Still, Newton’s Third Law prepared us for an uneasy aftermath of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit. Caught between the Belt and Road Initiative and the Indo-Pacific Strategy, Nepalis also had to contend with the fact that Xi arrived after informal sessions with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in southern India where Nepal was said to have figured in some way. This detail starts making greater sense after you recall how studiously Chinese leaders once delinked those itineraries.
India’s new political map – which triggered our latest outburst of patriotic fervor – did not change that country’s disputed status quo with Nepal. That reality may have prepared some Indians to digest the ensuing Nepali opprobrium. If their real prize was the concurrent anti-China protests – the most serious in Nepal since 1967 – forbearance has paid off.
The extent of the land the Chinese are being accused of encroaching on pales in comparison to India’s infringements. The equivalence of Nepal’s two giant neighbors as equal-opportunity plunders may have energized those Indians who roundly reject the Wuhan Spirit/Chennai Connection roadmap in favor of the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the Quad. Still, those grinning the widest are constituencies farther afield who fear being edged out of the grand succession struggle in Tibet creeping upon us.
If Nepalis seemed to have a better chance of extracting payments for India’s leasing Kalapani et al than securing an outright return of those territories, the former prospect can only recede in direct proportion to the theatrics and tantrums surrounding the latter. (Just imagine how rich our coffers might have been had we set a price on the cusecs flowing south instead of just grandstanding on Tanakpur/Mahakali.)
Our territorial dispute with India has defied a bureaucratic/political solution to the point where it may have now become moot. When Nepal Communist Party co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ advised us against the hastiness of internationalizing the issue, he was not shooting from the hip. The street, that other arena of practical action, is bound to lose its clout as the financial taps turn dry. Even the most profligate donors know where and when to put their money.
Locked or linked by it, fate has inextricably entwined Nepal with land. The only ‘political’ solution that can be conceived is the return of the territories as part of a grand bargain masquerading as a gesture of goodwill. Given our accumulated experience, who’s to say the solution might not end up being worse than the problem? This may be a good time to delve deeper into why Xi might have chosen to coarsen the overall cordiality of his visit with that ‘crush bodies, shattered bones’ comment.