Recently, in September, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) countries conducted a military exercise (MILEX) to raise the coordination between the armies of member nations.
Threatened from the Nepal-China’s tryst, India designed and formed this exercise in an order to help both India and Nepal to increase their ties in the region.
In spite of India’s efforts, Nepal didn’t take part in the artillery show. Later discussions with Indian Army General Bipin Rawat suggested that Nepal can’t delink from India.
Rawat believes that due to geographical reasons, Nepal has cannot completely shuts its doors on India. So, Is it possible for Nepal to maintain links with India? Can China surpass the geographical hindrance to maintaining links with Nepal?
Before making any point, firstly we have to grasp what made Indo-Nepal relations a nightmare? For the aforementioned, we have to travel back to the year 2015.
In 2015, the economic encirclement forced by India over the declaration of the Nepali constitution has alienated its natural ally. After that, Nepal started to find its ways to diminish their dependence on India. This dramatic situation elicited China’s hawkish eyes into the game which turned the table to China’s side.
Despite the geographical disparity, China inversed the graph of the trade route to fulfil the needs of Nepal. Many reports suggest that Chinese products no longer have to move through the Calcutta seaport to reach Nepal.
In 2017, more than 41% of the Chinese imports came through Tibet to Nepal which raised more concerns for the Indian side. The diminishing dependence of Chinese goods on India to reach this landlocked country has also opened the doors for new investments in the Nepal-Sino region.
The Nepal-China Trans Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Connectivity Network has brought the two sides much closer to each other and also made Nepal a part of their highly ambitious Belt Road Initiative(BRI). A proposed 170 km trans-border railway line is to connect Southern Tibet to Kathmandu & then to Lumbini on the Indo-Nepal border.
These developments have not only been erasing the line of geographical hindrance between the two nations but also poses a security threat to India. The Chinese railway is managing all the developments in Nepal to connect China from Tibet to the Indo-Nepal border.
Better railway connectivity and the Chinese interference on the Indo-Nepal border is not an only issue which India should address but also the military cooperation between China and Nepal has made clear calculations of the region.
Meanwhile, the Chinese & Nepali tryst has gained some fuel from their first joint military exercise in the history of the region. So, leaving the BIMSTEC joint military exercise and joining hands with the People’s Liberation Army has signalled a radically different story.
The Chinese are also strongly involved in the political environment of Nepal. Moreover, the unification of the two communist parties also had a strong buttress of China. The communist consensus in the two nations has also raised concern in India which believes it is not to interfere in the internal politics of a nation.
This political consensus also gives Nepal vital access to China’s sea which is a major coup for a landlocked nation. Erasing this geographical hindrance, China signed a Transit Transport Agreement(TTA) with Nepal to give them a role in the Chinese sea & land ports for trading with a third country.
Also, the increasing trade relations between China and Nepal have made India more concerned about its neighbours joining hands with China. However, these major developments also prompt India to do more in Nepal.
As per the latest report of Trading Economics, India has invested five times more than the China in July-August of 2019. Despite limited resources, India is trying to make more influence by announcing some religious trains and buses between the two nations.
Moreover, South Asia’s first gas pipeline from Barauni in Bihar to Amlekhgunj in Nepal will give fuel to boost the two nations relationship. The 69 km pipeline will transport petroleum products from India to Nepal.
All this policy shift is signalling that the Indian side is playing hard to sustain its relationship with Nepal and to overcome the Chinese influence in the region. But in the era of technology and information, it is now much easier to eliminate the rules of the geographical hindrance, so India needs to do more rather than patting it’s own back.