The ‘Special’ Relationship Between India And Nepal

India and Nepal are close not only in geography but in the relationship too and this particular friendship has been one that other countries around the globe are struggling to replicate for themselves. With open borders and people-to-people contracts, the free movement alone has helped these two countries build up enviable familial ties and shared culture that is unique in every way. However, recent intervention from China has proved risky to this relationship and discussion around whether it could survive the strain is rife. Here, we’re taking a deeper look into this special relationship and what this potential disruption could mean for the two countries.

A History Of The Relationship

Since the India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950, the relationship between the two countries has proven to grow stronger with every passing year. The intimate ties between the two manifests in religion, work, trade and even politics, leaving each country to rely on the other in a variety of different areas.

Interlinking culture brings religion to the forefront as you might expect, with Nepalis and Indians alike travelling to either country on pilgrimage across different important centres in the religious network. With Pashupati, Janakpur and Lumbini are in Nepal, Varanasi, the four dhaams, Kushinagar, Gaya and Sarnath are in India, making the open borders and freedom of movement between the two countries incredibly beneficial regardless of the reason for travel.

From a corporate point of view, this freedom of movement also opens up the opportunity for Nepali and Indian residents to work in either country with ease. From students looking to study abroad, to graduates searching for management careers or something else entirely, each can benefit from the ability to job hunt across borders without the need for any visas or work permits. As a result, more and more students and workers are opting for moving from Nepal to India to study, or vice versa. This helps promote the distribution of skills and better improve the work-family relationships across the two.

Then, of course, comes the political element. For years, India has played a huge part in Nepalese politics and in particular, their democratic movements. Not only did they help to oust the monarch in 2006, but in the 1950’s, they successfully supported the ousting of the Rana oligarchy, and in 1990 saw their support for the restoration of democracy. This political influence works well while they’re working closely together, but as we know, politics isn’t always quite that simple.

What’s more, Nepal relies on India for trade too, making this relationship vital for the smaller country and therefore extremely fragile. Everything from fuel and oils, to medical supplies and investment tech protected by the SEBI can prove beneficial to Nepal and so it’s pretty much a given that this trade relationship alone is one that they want to cherish.

Could There Be A Rupture?

However, despite the apparent need to protect the relationship, things have been shaking up lately and the risk of a rupture within is the relationship starting to seem more and more likely. China has had a link to Nepal for a while now, but it was in 2015/2016 in particular that this began to heat up. From investment of 3 billion Yuan for Nepal’s reconstruction to their status as the second largest source of foreign tourism to Nepal, their influence and presence was already something to be reckoned with. Fast forward to now and it’s becoming clear that a new geopolitical alignment could be underway.

India’s control over Nepal began to suffer in 2015 when Nepal’s government adopted a constitution despite India urging them otherwise. In retaliation, India attempted to covertly support protests that were ongoing from the Madhesi at the border, but despite success at crippling essential supplies to the country, they quickly lost courage when there was backlash. This, as you might expect, began to create hostility between the countries, and the election of KP Oli certainly didn’t do much to mend the fraying relationship.

With China’s support, Nepal aren’t as reliant as they once were on Indian trade or support, however despite initial bitterness after Oli’s election as president, it’s clear that he’s willing to mend what’s been broken but with health concerns to worry about, there could very well be a time limit on mending these scattered relationships.

Whether Nepal and India mend their relationship fully in the future is a matter of watching and waiting to see what happens. While their relationship still consists of open borders and free movement, the concern amongst citizens and outsiders alike is that China’s presence in Nepal could prevent this from happening in the near future. With careful political navigation and willingness to discuss and mend, this relationship could be well on its way to repair, but it also could be a matter of letting time heal fraying wounds. What do you think?