The row between the two nations heated up when Nepal’s Communist Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli on May 20 vowed before the country’s Parliament to reclaim the three “disputed areas” from New Delhi., writes Kavita Bajeli-Datt for South Asia Monitor
In the midst of the corona crisis, India and Nepal have chosen to lock horns over an old territorial disputation, with a veteran Nepal-born Bollywood actress Manisha Koirala caught in its vortex. Her somewhat unwarranted and thoughtless move to endorse the issuance of a new political map incorporating Lipulekh, Limpiyadhura, and Kalapani as its territories amid a border dispute with India landed her in a major media controversy, with many Indians trolling and attacking the actress, who has worked in the Indian film industry for over 30 years and delivered many hit films.
The controversy erupted when the actress shared the tweet made by Nepal’s Foreign Affairs Minister Pradeep Gyawali that mentioned the three areas falling under its territory. She further extended her support. “Thank you for keeping the dignity of our small nation..we all are looking forward to a peaceful and respectful dialogue between all three great nations now,” Koirala tweeted.
Soon, Koirala, who was born in Kathmandu, but has worked all her life in Indian films, particularly Bollywood in Mumbai, was trolled and slammed for supporting the "illegal" map of Nepal. Koirala is Nepalese politician Prakash Koirala's daughter and belongs to a well known political family of Nepal. Her grandfather Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala was the prime minister of Nepal from 1959 to 1960.
One Twitter user asked her to think about the love and respect she has received in India before making such tweets while another user quoted her films to make her understand that Indians will be hurt with her tweet.
Some trolls went as far as asking her to leave India. One twitter user said,” Pls go and earn in Nepali film industry.” Yet another tweet read, “You are supporting the illegal map of Nepal to support India instead of you on such an issue which makes your identity from India. The Indian film industry gave you a lot of fame and money and that how you repay us #bycott_mkoirala.”
Even some Indian TV news channels went on to produce hourly specials slamming Koirala for speaking her mind. One of such shows was 'Khaaengey India kaa, Gaaengey China ka' (India will feed them but they will sing songs for China), in which the TV anchors seem to have been angered by not only Koirala’s stand, but also because she alluded to China in her remark.
Among the prominent persons who criticised Koirala, was Swaraj Kaushal, criminal lawyer, and husband of late External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. He responded to Koirala in a series of cutting tweets. He reminded Manisha of the traditional friendship and social bonds between India and Nepal, and why she should not have brought in China.
In his tweets, Swaraj shared the bond he and his family shared with the actress family. "Indians should know that there was a conspiracy to end the only Hindu state in the world. They collaborated with Maoists. They hosted Prachand and Babu Ram Battarai in safe houses here. They destroyed the only Hindu state. Their mission was complete. The result was that communists are using China against India. Or China is using communists against India. The result is that traditionally China's border with India was up to the Himalayas. Now China's border with India is at Birgunj.
“India may have grievances with Nepal or Nepal may have serious issues with India. That's between India and Nepal. How do you bring in China? That's bad for us. And that's not good for Nepal either. When you bring in China, you are destroying thousands of years old bonds with us. You are destroying our common heritage. Most importantly, you are reducing your own position as a sovereign country as well," he tweeted.
But there were many who came out to support the 50-year-old actress who is a cancer survivor. Nepali social media users, including some politicians and influencers, and many Indians too came to her defence stating that she has every right to express her opinion on the issue.
Koirala, however, has not reacted to the tweets against her or those in her favour yet. Koirala, who has studied in New Delhi, and later worked in Hindi movies, has given many Bollywood hits, including Dil Se, Gupt, Bombay, and others. She was last seen in Netflix film Maska.
The row between the two nations heated up when Nepal’s Communist Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli on May 20 vowed before the country’s Parliament to reclaim the three “disputed areas” from New Delhi. Speaking in Parliament, he said that the three areas belong to his country and added that Nepal would "reclaim" them from India through political and diplomatic efforts. The assertion came after Oli’s cabinet approved a new political map of the country depicting the three areas as Nepalese territory.
Oli also told Parliament that the three territories belong to Nepal but India has made them disputed by deploying its Army there. “Nepalis were blocked from going there after India stationed its Army." He also said that India has stationed its Army in Kalapani since 1962, while claiming that the country's past rulers were hesitant about raising the issue. In a follow-up, the Nepal government officially unveiled the map on Wednesday.
To make matters worse, he termed the COVID-19 virus in India "more lethal" than the one in China or Italy.
In its reply, India on Wednesday said such artificial enlargement of territorial claims by Nepal will not be acceptable to it and asked the neighbouring country to refrain from "unjustified cartographic assertion."
"This unilateral act is not based on historical facts and evidence. It is contrary to the bilateral understanding to resolve the outstanding boundary issues through diplomatic dialogue," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said. "Such artificial enlargement of territorial claims will not be accepted by India," he added.
Srivastava also asked Nepal to respect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, hoping that the Nepalese leadership will create a positive atmosphere for diplomatic dialogue to resolve the outstanding boundary issues.
"Nepal is well aware of India’s consistent position on this matter and we urge the government of Nepal to refrain from such unjustified cartographic assertion and respect India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity," he said.
On March 8, India opened an 80km road linking its northern state of Uttarakhand with Lipulekh on the border with Tibet across the controversial piece of land to open a shorter to the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrim site in Tibet. Nepal claims the territory under an 1816 treaty with the British East India Company, which sets the Kali river as its western boundary with India and says the land lying east of the river was its territory.
The Nepalese government had last week even summoned Indian Ambassador Vinay Mohan Kwatra to hand over a diplomatic note protesting the construction of a key road that connects Lipulekh pass with Dharchula in Uttarakhand.
India has also hinted at a possible China role in the development, with Indian Army Chief Gen M M Naravane stating last week that the country had reasons to believe Nepal raised the objection to the newly-inaugurated road at the behest of "someone else". He stated that India and Nepal had no dispute whatsoever in the area and the road as constructed very much within Indian territory.
India has stationed a security post in the Kalapani area since its border war with China in 1962. India and Nepal had both shown Kalapani and Lipulekh in their political maps, but Nepal had not previously shown Limpiyadhura.
(The writer is a veteran journalist. The views expressed are personal. She can be contacted at email@example.com)