The 1950 Treaty Is it still relevant?

The Treaty of Peace and Friendship with some provisions for trade and commerce signed between India and Nepal on July 31, 1950 has been criticised by politicians, diplomats, and elites alike as a treaty between unequals. Of late, CPN-Maoist leaders too have expressed grave concern about it. The treaty with 10 Articles appears concerned with political, diplomatic and security aspects and trade and commerce oriented. It provides for continuity to the centuries-old tradition of free movement of citizens in each other’s territory, right to participate in each other’s development projects, privileges in the matter of residence, ownership of property; apart from acknowledging sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Nepal, including deliberations on neighbouring countries affecting their relations, maintaining normal diplomatic relations, authorising Nepal to import arms and ammunition from India, cancelling all previous treaties, and termination of the treaty by any of the two countries through a notice a year in advance.

Considering its implementation in totality, several Articles, including 6 and 7, have been rendered ineffective in time. Nepal deliberately scrapped the idea of bringing Nepal under the defence-umbrella of India by ousting Indian wireless operators posted at Tibetan border in early 1960s. Armed vehicles and arms and ammunitions were imported from China and other countries. This nullified the letters exchanged between the government of India and the ambassador of Nepal on Jan 30, 1965. Since both China and India are now nuclear powers, the old strategy has outlived its utility.

Furthermore, no Indian is allowed to own land and build industries without acquiring Nepali citizenship. No bank account can be opened without citizenship certificate. No Indian is allowed to work permanently in Nepal. Even in India, no Nepali is allowed to open bank account and join Indian administrative/foreign services. Moreover, no Indian company is getting priority in Nepal in terms of contracts over industries of other countries, rendering Articles 6 and 7 ineffective.

The only part that seems to be working effectively is the provision for pilgrimage and allowing many illiterate, poor people of hilly regions to earn their livelihood in India. On the other hand, with rapid onset of urbanisation, some semi-skilled workers from Tarai and adjoining border areas in India started flocking to Kathmandu for work as there was heavy demand for carpenters, masons, plumbers, and manual labourers — the shortages Valley locals could not make up.

Along with semi-skilled workers, some vegetable vendors and hawkers too landed in Kathmandu. They were involved in all kinds of work like collecting empty bottles and waste paper. The Madhesis residing in Nepal, in turn, have been allowed to continue to stay in touch with their relatives through marriage residing in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

There is however another angle through which the treaty can be seen. The agreement has bearing on the people across Nepal in the changed contemporary context; up until 1959 (when the first elected government was formed), the treaty was only applicable in case of the capital as Kathmandu City stood for Nepal. Till then, the land revenue in Tarai was collected in Indian currency. The treaty came to cover hilly areas and their people by the first people’s movement in 1990. By the end of the second people’s movement in April 2006, it also included Madhesis.

Politically, the treaty appears to have been signed by the Rana Prime Minster to save the oligarchic Rana-rule that was threatened by democratic forces on the one hand and rising communist China on the other. The Rana ruler continued with the traditional free movement of citizens to clear the dense forest of Tarai infested with malaria for resettlement and to extract other financial benefits. Ironically, the NC-launched armed revolution of Sept 1950 ended with a tripartite agreement in India empowering the Shah King Tribhuvan, continuing with the Rana PM for some time and making the NC only a small partner in the power sharing game, a provision which satisfied no one. During the Panchayat era, the kings, apprehensive of the pro-democratic elements residing in India, proposed to declare Nepal a zone of peace in order to neutralise the treaty.

Criminal elements on both the countries taking advantage of the open border, Maoists and armed Madhesi groups utilising the facility of free movement affecting law and order situation of both the sides, in turn has led to the call for restricting unhindered cross-border movement.

As such, most political forces are unhappy with this special relationship, except two cohorts: the people of hilly origin earning their livelihood in India and second, the people in the border areas who have had cross-border blood ties for centuries.

Prof Mishra is ex-election commissioner