As India and Nepal look to strengthen ties under their respective leaders Narendra Modi and KP Oli, an eminent person’s group (EPG) which was set up by both countries concluded recently that the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship needs to be revised. Sources in the know-how said that India has always maintained that bilateral treaties must be well in accordance with changing times. And indeed, India has made revisions to its agreements with various countries, including Bhutan, Seychelles among others.
The treaty with Nepal was signed during the time of Chandreshwar Prasad Singh, India’s former ambassador to Nepal and Mohun Shamsher Jang Bahadur Rana, then Maharaja. Governed by 10 Articles, the countries entered into the Treaty with the desire to “strengthen and develop these(existing) ties and to perpetuate peace between the two countries.”
The revision of the Treaty or a complete exclusion of it from bilateral dialogue would have huge implications, especially under the shadow of the rise of China. Among other things, the Treaty binds both countries into informing each other about “any serious friction or misunderstanding with any neighbouring State, which is likely to cause any breach in the friendly relations subsisting between the two governments.” This, when one sees it from the growing talk around China’s ambitions, seems to be of core importance. Oli has just returned from an official visit to Beijing, something that both sides have called as successful. Nepal has also shown urgency in improving connectivity via Xi’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a project that India does not support, saying that it violates its sovereignty.
Article 5 of the Treaty talks of defence, including import of arms and ammunition, either from or through the territory of India. With any revision to this Article, markets beyond India can throw their doors open to Nepal, without having to involve India. Oli has repeatedly spoken about his nationalistic ambitions and keeping “Nepal first” and strengthening the Nepali military is definitely on the agenda. Nepal’s new Defence Minister Ishwor Pokhrel had earlier this year pledged to strengthen military and defence ties with India.
Residence and ownership of property and participation in each other’s economic development too is something that has been covered in the Treaty, wherein it says that same privileges will be granted to the nationals of both countries. A change in these would mean added trouble for Indians working in Nepal and Nepalis in India. As of now, both nations do not need any visa to work in each other’s country. Once revised, that might change.
Interestingly, the treaty also mentions that it stands as it is unless either parties cancels it, giving a year’s notice. With India heading to general elections next year, it needs to be seen how the Modi government sees this revision in the Treaty, if at all.