Nepal tables amendment for new map as rift with Madhesis re-appear

Crowds gather outside House; Indian envoy not allowed in

The government of Nepal on Sunday tabled the crucial Constitution Amendment bill to formalise the country’s new map which claims parts of India as its territory. The bill was tabled by Nepal’s Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe even as Nepal’s Madhesi parties refused to welcome the bill as of now.

The bill was tabled by Nepal’s Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Shiva Maya Tumbahangphe amid high drama on the streets with reports that senior diplomats wanted to reach the parliament to witness the historic session.

Strategic sliver 

The Constitution Second Amendment bill will change the Schedule 3 of the Nepalese Constitution and replace the existing map with the map that was unveiled on May 20. The new map depicts the sliver of strategically important land covering Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani as part of Nepal. The area is currently part of Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand but Nepal has disputed the Indian position based on historical documents and bilateral understanding. 

Political map of Nepal released by the country on May 20, 2020.

Ms. Tumbahangphe said the Coat of Arms of Nepal will be altered after the amendment is passed as it will depict the new map. The tabling of the amendment bill came a day after the chief opposition, the Nepali Congress, extended support to Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s government which ensured that the bill will get the required two-thirds majority in the parliament. The entire process is expected to take around a week.

Unanimous support

Former foreign secretary of Nepal Madhu Raman Acharya said the amendment is bound to sail through given the unanimity among major political parties. “It’s just a matter of time as all sides are united on this that Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh belong to Nepal and the map needs to show the correct territory of of our country,” said Mr. Acharya speaking to The Hindu on the phone. 

However, despite Mr. Acharya’s claim of support from “all sides”, the parliament showed the deep division within Nepal’s polity as the parties from the plains or the Madhes region, appeared less than enthusiastic about the new map, which has emerged as an emotive issue among a majority of the people of Nepal.

Upendra Yadav, leader of the Samajbadi Party maintained that his party, which has been at the forefront of struggle for rights of the Madhesis, has not taken a clear stand on the map.

“We have not decided to support or oppose the amendment bill till now. The main issue is that the bill has the single agenda of ratifying the map but we want it to reflect other concerns of the country too,” said Mr Yadav. The Samajbadi Party and the larger Rastriya Janata Party are the chief representatives of the people from the Terai plains known as the Madhesis. 

The position of the Madhesis will not make a difference in the final acceptance of the new map but it definitely indicates at the lingering internal differences in Nepal. Madhesis maintain that they have been historically marginalised in the Himalayan country and had launched the 2015 agitation to bring in changes through amendments to the constitution which was adopted in September that year.

Indian diplomatic commentators have maintained that the Constitution Second Amendment is a setback to bilateral ties as it will formalise a new territorial dispute with India. Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali has urged India to withdraw troops from Kalapani and Lipulekh and restore status quo in the region. India has maintained that it remains open to dialogue though a recent attempt to connect the two prime ministers of India and Nepal failed last week.

Latest reports indicate that a similar telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli is expected in a day or two.

With inputs from The Hindu