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HomeOPINIONIndo-Nepalese joint-family and the jealous neighbour

Indo-Nepalese joint-family and the jealous neighbour

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map India and its neighbors

I was invited for a talk on World Cancer Day, 04 Feb this year at a Medical College in Nepal. Thereafter, I and my friend had a week-long sojourn in Nepal taking seminars, talks on career counseling and workshops on personality development in some major towns of Nepal including Kathmandu. Everywhere, we got a hearty welcome and utmost respect. The local citizens went out of the way to organize things willingly and ensuring that we are very comfortable. Nepal’s hospitality was par excellence. Attending the evening aarti at Holy shrine of Pashupathinath Ji with CEO of the Temple Trust and DG Nepal Tourism was divine gift and epitome of our visit. Never did we feel that we were in a different country. The culture, ethos, hospitality, humility, and societal norms were a mirror image of Indian society.

I met a young couple at Palpa, Nepal wherein the girl was from New Delhi, India, and married to a Doctor from Nepal. Both working and living happily in Nepal, after marriage. Similarly, a large no of Nepalese families is working in India and feel totally at home, including my next-door shopkeeper. In Army also, I have fought shoulder to shoulder with Nepali origin soldiers without any distinctions. When our Raksha Mantri Shri Rajnath Singh said that “India aur Nepal mein Roti- Beti ka sambandh hai”.   He couldn’t have been more apt in summarizing Indo-Nepal relations and I concur with him.


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Let me give you a simple story for a better understanding. India and Nepal are like two brothers staying together but having separate family affairs. The elder brother (India) is well to do, more prosperous, and has respect in the community as head of the family. Younger brother (Nepal) is not so well off, does farming, and agriculture but is happy and contended. He proudly associates itself with an elder brother who supports him financially and socially but also scolds him to follow the righteous path and lead a pious life. Both have been living happily for ages.

Now enters a zamindar, “Ek Villain” as a neighbour (China) who has muscle power and financial clout with him. He makes friends with his younger brother and poisons his mind. He says that your elder brother is being unfair to you, detrimental to your progress and you need to have your own business and life. Often, he offers younger one a drink,   along with long discourses on how zamindar can make him prosperous if he stands up to his elder brother’s bully. He convinces the younger that the elder is being unfair and is a hurdle in the prosperity of the younger ones. Thereby, the seeds of hatred and jealousy are sown. He gives him good food, gifts, and petty cash to spend, posing as a true friend in need. Then,  he comes up with a mega project for the younger brother, which is not approved by the elder brother. The neighbour then steps in to offer him a soft loan for the business and mortgages his land, without knowledge of his elder brother. When objected by the elder brother, he instigates the younger one to fight with the elder and says I will stand with you if you severe all links with joint family. Slowly, he gets him into a debt trap, takes control of his land, and now confronts elder brother, stepping on the estranged younger brother. Both brothers become enemies and start fighting at the neighbour’s behest. This simile aptly explains the dynamics of Indo- Nepal and China relationship, in simple terms.


India and Nepal are inseparable. Thousands of people in India and Nepal cross the open border every day to work, buy, sell, and transact businesses. India remains Nepal’s dominant trade partner, steadily accounting for approximately 60-65% of all trade with Nepal even as other countries, such as China have made significant inroads in the last few years. Cousins deal with one another across the borders; business associates with sons and daughters married into each other families. Lenders and suppliers across offered credit based on mutual trust. Cash also moved easily across the border.

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The India-Nepal border that had once never prevented cousins, brothers, sisters, friends, and associates from doing business with one other has now become a boundary that separates.


The trade war between China and the United States, along with the border skirmishes between China and India, puts Nepal back into the center of regional geopolitical activity. India’s relationship with Nepal is at its lowest point since the five-month “Indian Blockade” of 2015. For Nepal, the biggest change in geopolitics since the September 2015 blockade has been increased Chinese interest to provide an economic alternative to reliance on India.

On November 2, 2019,  India released a map that showed Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh as union territories, the government also made changes to the India-Nepal border and included the disputed area of Kalapani as part of India. The government of Nepal promptly rejected India’s claim and requested a dialogue, which never happened.   India has wrongly denied Nepal’s requests for official talks ever since releasing its own revised map.  Indian Raksha Mantri Sri  Rajnath Singh on May 8, 2020, inaugurated the Link Road to Mansarovar Yatra and this road passed through the territory Nepal claims as its own. Protests in Nepal began, despite the pandemic. Hereafter,   the Indo-Nepal ties got further strained.

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The Nepal House of Representatives endorsed a historic amendment to its 2015 constitution by updating its map and national emblem on June 13, 2020. The new political map included the territories Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura—an area of 335 square kilometers (129 square miles) that India also claims. In response, the Govt of India registered a border dispute with Nepal.

Border disputes between the two countries are another contentious issue that occasionally creates friction in bilateral relations. To enhance people-to-people relations, Nepal and India must resolve contentious issues relating to the border, including the two major areas of the dispute at Susta and Kalpani. Four years ago, the two countries agreed to start talks at the foreign secretary-level to resolve the problems at Susta and Kalapani; however, not a single talk in this regard has taken place yet.  The stalling of this border dispute can have grave consequences, which both India and Nepal need to understand. This is why they must engage in fruitful discussion as soon as possible.

Nepal understands its economic dependency on India: the Nepali rupee is pegged to India’s, landlocked Nepal relies on Indian ports for trade, and six million Nepalis work in India. Time has changed the complexion and narrative of India-Nepal relations. Instead of it being about the old relationships between people and cultures, India-Nepal economic ties have become pivotal to all future relations.   India has seen its position erode with growing Chinese investments. In 2019, for instance, China accounted for approximately 40% of new FDIs against India’s 30%.


President Xi Jinping visited Nepal in October 2019—the first visit of a Chinese Head of State after 23 years.  China has arrived in Nepal as an alternative to India’s influence as an elder brother. Often dubbed as ‘China Threat 3.0’, the Chinese sharp power in Nepal has come with massive propaganda and national interests with implications for India’s influence in the region. Sharp power often incorporates tactics of pressure and coercion as a means to interfere, control, and sway decisions of other countries.  BRI is certainly a move of China to grow its roots under its expansionist tactics across the world.

More recently, Nepal’s Communist Alliance and the Communist Party of China held a virtual meeting to share experiences on running the party and government.   These virtual meetings are a part of ‘training’ Nepal by Beijing to export its ideology, further its propaganda, and helps flex its muscles across the region.

Instigated by China, Nepal’s actions are provocative, which is not confined to just changes on a map. While introducing a new map is merely symbolic, Kathmandu has gone further with the deployment of the Nepalese Army on its border with India. India should help Nepal with its infrastructural needs to keep its Himalayan neighbour away from Beijing’s exploitative agenda.



The recent border dispute between the two countries is an opportunity for them to modernize old ties towards a shared vision of prosperity. India and Nepal must do more than merely resolve boundary issues. They must return to the core strengths of their unique social, cultural, strategic, political, and economic bonds and modernize ties to directly connect its people, markets, finance, and technology.

 Moreover, India needs to improve its communications and understanding with Nepal. India’s silence on issues has often been seen as the greatest cause of tensions and uncertainties between the two. Rather than objecting to the increased political hold of China, India must focus on advancing its relationship with Nepal. Reducing the expectations by desisting from libelling it a  “special relationship”, India must work harder in building a pragmatic and realistic partnership with Nepal. This partnership must focus on common interests and mutual gains of the two to maintain a robust relationship.

There are many things that India and Nepal could do to modernise ties. They could create modern business hubs that enable young tech-savvy Nepali entrepreneurs to connect with India’s innovations. It could offer credit lines that small and medium enterprises could directly access for cross border trade and investments. It could harmonise and ease cross border trading rules. Most importantly, it must encourage Indian and Nepali businesses to speak with each other and provide them the confidence that their governments want them to succeed.


India’s cultural, political, and economic influence over the past years has been highly counterproductive to its ties with Kathmandu. India needs to reset its relations with Nepal and re-invent its public diplomacy, rather than micromanaging Nepal, which has only undermined India-Nepal ties.  Though Hinduism is the largest religion in Nepal, it is no longer relevant to defining Nepalese domestic politics or its national interests. India, therefore, must re-calibrate its Nepal policy.

Centuries of social, cultural, political, strategic, and economic ties can only remain strong if they can remain relevant to changing times. Both countries should construct a more durable and interest-based partnership that is rooted in realism and has strong popular support on both sides. The governments of India and Nepal must reset the narrative, modernize their policies, and get out of the way so that the ties between people thrive again.

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Maj. Gen. C P Singh
Maj. Gen. C P Singh
Maj Gen C P Singh is a scholar soldier accredited with MA, MSc, LLB, MBA, M Phil (Def Mgt.) and M Phil. (International Strategic Affairs). An avid reader and prolific writer, he is a Social Activist, Career Consultant and Motivational Speaker.


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