India Nepal Border Dispute – River Mahakali
What is not under dispute: West of river Kali is India, East is Nepal.
What is under dispute: Origin of the river Kali. India maintains the origin is Kalapani and Nepal claims it is at Limpiyadhura.
The story so far: Both countries till recently showed the origin of Kali as Kalapani which meant that Lipulekh pass is in India. This pass is on the India Tibet border. The new road built uses the pass to cross over to Tibet.
Map disputes between Nepal and India existed since 1981 as the stone markers were weathered out and destroyed. A joint commission was set up to replace the markers. This commission, like most commissions that are Indian, did not do their job fully.
In 1996 a treaty was signed with Nepal that permitted building of a hydel project on the Kali river. The dispute regarding the origin of Kali river was flagged a year later. As good neighbours and long friends the matter was referred to the joint commission set up in 1981 for resolution.
What has changed now: In November 2019 India issued a new map to reflect the changed status of J & K (from state to union territory). Nepal protested. A week or so later, a new map was issued by India, with one difference from the previous one; Kali river was not named. Did this mean the border was not recognised by India? Nepal protested more vehemently this time and demanded foreign secretary level talks. The talks though agreed to by India remain pending due to diplomatic delays.
Why the sudden flair up: India inaugurated a new road to Manasarovar reducing the travel time for pilgrims. This road goes through Kalapani to Lipulekh pass. The new road aggravated the matter many-fold and came as God sent to Nepal PM, Khadga Prasad Oli.
How does the road benefit Oli: Under the new constitution of Nepal, the prime minister enjoys a 2 years holiday from no confidence motions. During the 2 years holiday his government cannot be brought down. During this period, he has become rather unpopular and is under tremendous pressure to quit or face a no confidence motion. His rise to power was on the back of a pro nationalistic sentiment (read anti India sentiment). His campaign was marked by a strong anti-India rhetoric in which he claimed India was a worse virus that China. The road allowed him to rachet up the anti-India diatribe and stave off his detractors for now.
Nepal issues a new map: PM Oli had to act quickly. Nepal pulled out an old British era survey map that showed Limpiyadhura as the origin of Kali and the parliament adopted in as the official map. Since the river Kali defines the border between India and Nepal with everything to the west belonging to India and the east to Nepal, Kalapani and Lipulekh being east of a river beginning in Limpiyadhura are in Nepal and so the new road falls in Nepal.
Where are we now: As things stand, the disputed territory is presently under Indian control. Nepal is open to providing free and unrestricted access including use of the road in the disputed territory but is unwilling to cede the land to India. India on the other hand wants nothing short of Nepal formally acknowledging that the territory in question is an undisputed part of India.