India-Nepal's bittersweet relationship: a historical friendship turning grim

Edited By: Palki Sharma WION
New Delhi, India Published: Jun 22, 2020, 11:07 PM(IST)

India Nepal Photograph:( Reuters )

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Hit with an immense shortage of oil, gas and medicines, Nepal once again turned towards China, and China seized the opportunity. It ended India's monopoly in the Himalayan country, and lay a debt-trap.

The ties between Nepal and India -- roti beti ka rishta, as it is known has hit rock-bottom. But, has it happened out of the blue or was this long time coming?

An 1800 kilometer-long border, a common history, culture and religion. These are just some of the many things that India and Nepal have in common. What also binds the two neighbours is a troubled political history.

Indo-Nepal relations

A journey down this road includes several bumps, twist and turns. Going back to the Nehruvian era, the years right after India's independence, Prime Minister Nehru saw Kathmandu as New Delhi's security shield. His policy towards Nepal was based on absolute control.

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This was the beginning of anti-India sentiments in some sections in Nepal. What followed was years of personality clashes between leaders on both sides.

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Nepal's king Birendra were not the best of friends. Gandhi accused Nepal of being uncooperative. Kathmandu, on the other hand, wanted a more equitable relationship. Nepal began referring to India as a regional power with a colonial mentality.

According to reports, Rajiv Gandhi had even launched a covert operation to bring down the Hindu monarch.

India extended its support to the people's movement in Nepal. But king Birendra could not be dethroned.

In 1989, when Nepal purchased defence systems from China, the Rajiv Gandhi government retaliated with a trade blockade, and Nepal remembers it bitterly.

History repeated itself in 2015. By now, Nepal was dependent on India for 60 per cent of its trade, including all of its fuel, most of its food and medicinal supplies.

In September 2015, two-third of this was snipped. It couldn't have come at a worse time for Nepal as it was just beginning to rebuild itself after a disastrous earthquake.

The Madhesi community blocked the Birgunj checkpoint over their unhappiness with the new Nepalese constitution.

New Delhi pushed for a resolution between the protesters and the Nepali government. India's logic was that its truck drivers were too afraid to enter a burning Nepal. Kathmandu termed the situation as an unofficial blockade by India.

Hit with an immense shortage of oil, gas and medicines, Nepal once again turned towards China, and China seized the opportunity. It ended India's monopoly in the Himalayan country, and lay a debt-trap.

China termed it a strategic relationship. Beijing also stirred the anti-India sentiment.

Over the years, Nepali leaders have repeatedly stressed on the need to revisit river agreements. They have also wanted to rewrite the friendship treaty.

Kathmandu's split from New Delhi has been a long time coming. There were several alarms in the recent years.

In 2018, the Nepalese army did not take part in the first-ever joint military exercise of the BIMSTEC. The Oli government was more interested in participating in Sagaramtha friendship- 2, a joint military exercise with China.

What also drew Nepal away from India was China's Belt and Road Initiative. India and Nepal have had their differences but China's money and Nepal's myopia are turning these differences into disputes. 

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