During its formation the government of the day did not bother to make Nepal’s EPG inclusive
The third meeting of the joint Indo-Nepal Eminent Persons Group (EPG) ended on April 6, 2017 in Kathmandu. During the meet, the Nepali side, expressing its reservations over Articles 5, 6 and 7 of the 1950 treaty, said it wanted the treaty revised. These three articles are the cornerstones of Nepal-India relations established through the Treaty of Peace and Friendship in 1950.
Significantly, the treaty, a ‘treaty of unequals’ as the Rana prime minister had signed it to save his 104-year-old Rana family rule, deserves a review. The issue has been pending since Nepali Prime Minister Manmohan Adhikari took it up with his Indian counterpart in 1995. After 16 years, during PM Baburam Bhattatai’s visit to India in 2011, the Manmohan Singh government had agreed to form an EPG, from each side, to review the treaty.
But it was PM Modi who took up the initiative during his visit to Nepal in 2014.
Interestingly, PM Sushil Koirala had failed to put together the Nepali EPG, whereas, his successor, PM KP Oli, known for his anti-Madhesi stand, succeeded in forming the Nepali EPG of four persons before embarking on his official India visit in January 27, 2016. India followed suit.
To some, the treaty opened up new opportunities for development in Nepal. Before 1951, Kathmandu valley was Nepal, and it was foreign land even for Nepali citizens who had to acquire visas before entering. It was Tribhuvan Rajpath, built with India’s help, which made travel to the valley easy. More and more people started coming to the valley. Kathmandu gradually became the real capital of Nepal. The Indian currency (IC) that was the legal tender (as land revenue was collected only in IC) throughout Kathmandu was replaced by the Nepali currency.
Indian citizens used to be recruited as school and college teachers. The constructions of barrages on Koshi and Gandak relieved millions of people in Bihar from suffering caused by yearly floods. Gradually, we have done away with all such provisions of the treaty, rendering it ineffective in course of time, except the provision on free movement of two citizens in each other’s country (Article 7). Credit goes to unseen forces, which made the treaty useless. They ignored security concerns of India and put pressure on India to regulate, if not seal, its border with Nepal.
The open border situation was painted as a factor minimizing Nepal’s independence. This ignored the old dispensation whereby people from Nepal and India crisscrossed the border to visit pilgrimage sites. It also ignored the fact that millions of our youths were earning their bread and butter in India, and that Madhesis continue the age-old tradition of establishing marital relations across the border in Bihar and UP. Over and above, thousands of common Nepalis visit the local bazaars across the border to meet their day to day needs cheaply. Moreover, Nepal-India relations are decided by nature, the lofty Himalayas and perennial rivers.
In view of multifaceted relations between the two countries, the formation of the EPG left a lot to be desired. During its formation, the government of the day did not bother to make it inclusive enough, considering that its recommendations could have far-reaching consequences for the country.
The recommendations of such an EPG will be hard to implement and in fact may perpetuate another conflict. Some skeptics believe that the vastness of the TOR of the EPG and complex relations between Nepal and India will render the whole exercise futile.
Moreover, in the 21st century international borders are losing their relevance. So what the EPG recommends may not matter one way or the other.