EPG Report In Favour Of Both Nations

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For a country like Nepal, besides her own foreign policy, the foreign policies of her two giant neighbours, India and China, are of great interest as the development of the country depends on them. Nepal’s relation with India is special, unique and complex.  The approximately 1800-km of open border between the two countries has various advantages and disadvantages for the people of both of the countries. At a time when the world has become borderless with digital services reaching the fingertips of people globally, this open border between Nepal and India can be exemplary to encourage the whole of South Asia to go border-less. 

However, it is important to explore on how this open border has affected the people of both the nations. Due to the centuries-old social, cultural, religious and traditional relations that exist between Nepal and India, the people of both these countries share the open border which has been a blessing for people to interact with each easily across the border and renew family ties. However, when it comes to the economic and financial impacts, it is a fact that the open border has its pros and cons and has at times been used as a political tool to subjugate Nepal with blockades and embargos of various kinds, leading to hardships to Nepalis in general and to the Indian people living in the border regions. 

Responsibility 

Before his last visit to India, the Nepali think tanks had suggested Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda to take up the pending issues related to the report prepared by the Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG) in 2018. EPG is a panel of notable individuals who represented the two countries, which was given the responsibility of redefining Nepal-India bilateral ties by reviewing and revising the past agreements and treaties between the two countries, including the1950 Nepal-India Treaty of Peace and Friendship. Instead, after his India visit in 2023, the Prime Minister said that EPG was not even mentioned as this might have spoilt the environment of his dialogue with the Indian counterpart during his visit. This was not expected by many. 

This report has not yet been received by PM Modi although Nepali side has asked India for this. It is important to ask what kind of foreign policy is this between these two neighbours where a report prepared by think tanks of both the countries cannot be accepted by governments and brought to public debate. Nepal has frequently sought to revise and amend some treaties with India, especially the 1950 Treaty. Many Nepalis and some Indian experts and think tanks have voiced the need to revise these anachronistic treaties which were based on the British Umbrella Doctrine that is no longer relevant after the end of the British rule in India in 1947.

This view resonated strongly during an interaction organised by Tanka Prasad Acharya Smriti Pratisthan on 4th August 2023 at Patan Secondary School, Lalitpur. The participants included the former foreign ministers, the Nepali Ambassadors to India, and the Nepali members of the EPG. In 2011, during his state visit to India, the then PM Baburam Bhattarai raised the issues of the need to revise the treaties and agreements between the two countries and signed an agreement with the then Indian Premier Manmohan Sing to establish an EPG for this purpose. In 2014 during the India visit of the then PM Sushil Koirala the formation of EPG was raised with PM Narendra Modi. The two PMs agreed to nominate names from each country for the EPG. 

In 2015, PM Koirala proposed the names from the Nepali side to the Cabinet of Ministers. Finally in 2017, the then PM KP Sharma Oli and his counterpart Indian PM Narendra Modi nominated eight members in the panel. Four from each country and formalised the EPG. They were given the responsibility of submitting a report with suggestion for the revision but it was also agreed that it would not be binding to both the governments. 

Agreement 

So, what did this EPG do? They visited sites in India and Nepal, had several meetings, met people, reviewed documents and prepared a report as per the mandate they were given. Their last meeting was in 2018. As per the agreement between the two countries, the report was to be presented to the Indian Prime Minister first. But PM Modi has not received the report yet. The Nepal Government has not reviewed it either. Neither has it been brought out to the public for broader discussion. 

During the interaction, all the Nepali members of the EPG were present together with Former Foreign Ministers, including Kamal Thapa, Pradeep Kumar Gyanwali, Bimala Poudyal Rai, and Prakash Chandra Lohani. “The report was prepared with a lot of research and reflections from both sides but it is now locked inside a cupboard and the key is with me,” shared Bhekh Bahadur Thapa who led the EPG team from the Nepali side. All the Nepali members of this eminent group opined that it was imperative that this report should be received by both the governments and made public so that the various issues raised in the report can be discussed by the people in both the countries. However, as this has not happened it is important to question the governments of both the country what are the hitches in their foreign policies? 

(Namrata Sharma is a journalist and women rights advocate namrata1964@yahoo.com Twitter handle: @NamrataSharmaP)

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