The alleged killing of Govinda Gautam, on 8 March, by India’s Border Security Forces in Nepal’s Kanchanpur district has yet again highlighted the urgent need to resolve the border disputes between two countries. The incident was a result of the dispute on land-related issues, which is common to the Nepal-India border.
Nepal has requested India to investigate the case and bring the perpetrator to justice. India’s National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, spoke to Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal to express grief over the killing. India has assured Nepal that it will investigate the killing and has sought the postmortem and forensic reports of Gautam, who was cremated with state honour.
Protests Against India by Youth Wings of Political Parties
Initially, the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu categorically denied the firing by its Border Security personnel. Major political parties, like the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML, condemned the firing, saying the incident was an attack on the sovereignty of Nepal.
Youth wings of political parties have taken to the street to protest while social media is being flooded with criticism of India. The protesters demand that India should apologise for the firing and provide compensation to the family of the deceased.
The incident has, yet again, sparked anti-India sentiments in Nepal, much like the atmosphere that was caused by the 2015 blockade, soon after Nepal promulgated a new constitution. India also blamed the CPN-UML Chairman KP Oli-led government for fanning the sentiments.
So far, India has been handling the issues with Nepal in a delicate manner, in a conscious attempt to diffuse the anti-India sentiment.
In February, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu and Finance Minister Arun Jaitly visited Nepal and assured their support for the nation’s infrastructural development. Nepal and India are also keen to resolve the pending bilateral issues and projects as soon as possible. There are regular meetings that are held on various bilateral issues.
The incident in Kanchanpur took place following a dispute between locals in Nepal and Indian security personnel, over the construction of a culvert in the bordering areas. Locals say that while they’ve witnessed several disputes such as this in the past, this is the first time that the Indian security agencies have opened fire and killed a person.
Disputes Will Continue Without a Permanent Solution
Nepal and India had erected a total of 8,535 pillars across the border, of which, 1,325 are missing and 1,956 are either damaged or semi-damaged. This no man’s land, then, becomes a bone of contention between the two sides, which often report frequent clashes over border issues. Fresh dispute may break out at any time if steps are not taken for a permanent solution.
Around 15 months ago, a similar incident took place at Madhes’ Sunsari District, when four people were injured in the firing.
Both Nepal and India should prioritise the resolution of the border dispute. Both sides had expressed their urgency to resolve said issues after the Narendra Modi-led government was voted to power in 2014. At the time, both sides agreed to dispatch a joint technical team to resolve the technical issues of the border.
The two countries also agreed to hold talks at the foreign secretary-level in order to resolve the problems at Susta and Kalapani. However, not a single talk in this regard has taken place yet. The technical team has been dispatched but its efforts appear to be both slow and time-consuming.
Except Susta and Kalapani, there is a need of construction, restoration and repair of boundary pillars, and the clearance of no man’s land on both sides.
Besides the technical aspect, the disputes at Susta and Kalapani must be resolved through dialogue by the political leadership. A resolution of these issues will enhance the bilateral relations between the two countries.
(Kamal Dev Bhattarai is a Nepali journalist who writes on geopolitical issues. He is the author of Transition: From 12-Point Understanding to Constitution Promulgation, a book about Nepal’s peace and constitution drafting process. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)