India and Nepal: A Tale of Two Maps

The India-Nepal border dispute isn’t new — but this time, it’s louder and hyped by competitive nationalism.

Atul Bhattarai

July 21, 2020

India and Nepal: A Tale of Two Maps
Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, pictured in New Delhi in 2016. (India Prime Minister’s Office)

Last November, when the Indian government released its new map, the world was focused on Kashmir. That prior August, India had demoted and split the state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories; the new map ostensibly cemented that change. But in Nepal, the map became a target of furious criticism for another feature: India’s continued inclusion of Kalapani, a 14-square-mile strip of land that lies in a tri-junction area between Nepal, India, and China — an area that Nepal has long claimed as its own.

Protests broke out in Kathmandu accusing India of “illegally occupying” land. Nepal’s foreign ministry stated that Kalapani was a part of Nepal. India’s external ministry disputed the claim. Despite the furor, Nepal had reportedly sent diplomatic overtures to the Indian government.

But the dispute got a second wind this year on May 8, when India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted that he had inaugurated via video conference a 47-mile road in Lipulekh, of which around 12 miles lie inside Kalapani. In a diplomatic note, the Nepali government expressed “regret” over the road’s inauguration. A fresh round of public criticism and protests began, intensifying after the Indian army chief Manoj Mukund Navarane said on May 15 that there was reason to believe Nepal’s objection was at “the behest of someone else” — a comment many Nepalis saw as alluding to China and therefore diluting Nepal’s territorial claim.