The cartographic dispute is based on differing interpretations of treaty signed by the British East India Company with the King of Nepal in 1816, which established the boundary between the two countries. Though both sides have long claimed the territory as their own, Wednesday marked the first time Nepal issued a map including the disputed area. India already includes the contested area in its own official map.
The dispute was reignited on May 8, when Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh virtually inaugurated a newly built 80-kilometer (50-mile) road connecting India’s Dharchula to Tibetan autonomous region via the Lipulekh pass, which is part of the contested area.
India expects the route to facilitate trade and the movement of Hindu pilgrims to Mansoravar lake in Chinese-administered Tibet, which is considered auspicious.
But hundreds of angry Nepali protesters took to the streets across Nepal opposing the Indian inauguration, burning Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s effigy and called it a violation of their territorial sovereignty.
Nepal responded quickly. On May 9, its foreign ministry issued a statement asking India to “refrain from carrying out any activity inside the territory of Nepal.”
India responded, saying that the inaugurated road section lies “completely” within its territory, and that the two countries would discuss it after the worst of the coronavirus pandemic had passed. “Both sides are also in the process of scheduling Foreign Secretary level talks which will be held once the dates are finalized between the two sides after the two societies and governments have successfully dealt with the challenge of Covid-19 emergency,” the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement.
The next day, the Nepali government summoned the Indian ambassador over the matter.
Speaking in parliament on Tuesday, Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli suggested India was bullying Nepal, and warned, “We won’t let go the issue of Lipulekh, Limpiyadhura and Kalapani. This is our land and we will reclaim it. It is not a disputed land. It is our land. India created unnecessary controversy by claiming it as theirs. This government will make concrete efforts to reclaim the territories.”
Even China weighed in that day, with Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian saying during a daily press conference: “We hope the two countries will resolve their differences properly through friendly consultations and refrain from taking any unilateral action that may complicate the situation.”
On Wednesday, Nepal officially unveiled its revised and expanded national map — a move that India’s foreign ministry quickly criticized as “unilateral” and lacking in “historical facts and evidence.” “Such artificial enlargement of territorial claims will not be accepted by India,” the ministry added in its statement.
Nepal has not explained why the areas were not previously included in its national map.
An earlier version of this story misstated Defense Minister Rajnath Singh’s role. This has been corrected.