PM Oli had asked Nepal’s army chief General Purna Thapa to rebut Gen Naravane over his comments on the Chinese connection to the political map controversy. But he declined, saying that the matter was political
A constitutional amendment pushed hard by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to alter Nepal’s map has been put on hold, people familiar with the development told Hindustan Times on Wednesday.
The new political map placed Indian territories of Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh in Nepal and was seen as an effort by PM Oli to consolidate himself in the Nepal Communist Party government by whipping up ultra-nationalistic sentiments against India.
But he wasn’t able to build consensus around the new map among Nepal parties, many of them saw through his effort to invoke gorkha nationalism for personal gains, political sources in New Delhi and Kathmandu said.
PM Oli, who has been facing problems within the ruling Nepal Communist Party, is seen to have prompted loud protests in Kathmandu this month at a 80-km stretch of road opened by India from Uttarakhand’s Dharchula to Lipulekh. He responded to this ‘public sentiment’ a few weeks later with a new political map that depicted Lipulekh and Kalapani as part of Nepalese territory.
The map, released within a day of the cabinet approval, showed Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura as part of Byas rural municipality in Nepal’s Sudurpaschim province.
PM Oli had next raced to parliament to get its endorsement. But that plan appeared to have fallen apart after the main opposition party, Nepali Congress, made it clear that it could spell out its stand only after its Central Working Committee takes a decision.
India had rejected the new political map, underlining that it includes parts of Indian territory.
“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. Such artificial enlargement of territorial claims will not be accepted by India,” the external affairs ministry in New Delhi had said.
Army chief Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane had articulated the assessment in New Delhi when he suggested that the protests could be at the behest of “someone else” – a veiled reference to China.
That remark had riled PM Oli so much that he asked Nepal’s Chief of Army General Purna Chandra Thapa to deliver a public rebuttal to General Naravane. But General Thapa is learnt to have declined, top sources said, pointing that this was a political issue and had nothing to do with the military. Like General Naranave who is the honorary General of the Nepal Army, General Thapa is the honorary General of the Indian Army.
It is only after General Thapa declined to be dragged into the government’s politics that the Nepal defence minister Ishwor Pokhrel issued a statement criticising General Naravane.
For PM Oli, Wednesday’s developments come as another setback. This is the second time in two months that he has had to move in reverse gear. Last month, PM Oli had to scrap two ordinances that he had cleared within five days of being notified.
But the Oli government attempted to put up a brave face and claimed that he would be back with the constitution amendment bill within 10 days. It has only been deferred, not cancelled, PM Oli said on Wednesday.