Admist the heavy damage inflicted by Covid on the nations's economy and social structures, the threats from neighbouring countries on the borders add to the turbulence. In the northern borders, Nepal and China are causing new headaches. Ever since the first week of May, skirmishes have been happening between the forces of bilateral countries in the Lineof Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh and Sikkim sectors - in a way reminiscent of the Doklam military faceoff of 2017. On May 5 and 6, there were clashes between the two forces near the Pangong Tso lake in eastern Ladakh.
Reports say that several troopers were injured on both sides in another clash there as also in northern Sikkim on May 9. In Galwan near the LAC, China has strengthened its military presence and taken position with about hundred tents in order to 'face any threat'. The new provocation is said to be India's building of a road for the convenience of the border residents and for military patrol in the region adjacent to the LAC. But the allegation of Beijing is that India made unilateral changes in the border conrol methods and interrupted normal movements including the border patrolling by Chinese troops. The trigger for the face-off in Doklam in 2017, as allleged by India, was the Chinese building a road in the joint India-China-Bhutan border. Since the the door of the 1962 India-china war was opened by the immediate provocation in the form of troop deployments by both sides in the Galwan valley, neither side is inclined to treat the current situation as insignificant. But India has so far refrained from making a public disagreement over the matter.
It is in the midst of such moves by China that neighbouring Nepal has raised a new threat before India. The communist government of Nepal, led by KP Sharma Kohli has approved a new political map drawing the regions of Kalapani, Limbiyadhura and Lipulekh, lying east of Kali river in the India-Nepal border as part of Nepal. Koli has also declared that the map would be released soon and with the parliament giving it approval, it will be celebrated in a big way. Nepal's step comes close on the heels of India's launching a road construction plan within Indian border, for the travel convenience of pilgrims to Kailash Mansarovar. Following big protests, India had slowed down the construction works. At the same time, Nepal contends that the Indian occupation in this region has been a major item in the bilateral issues for decades; most recently in the Indo-Nepal joint communique of 1997, it was agreed to resolve the matter by objectively evaluating these issues in the western border of Nepal. And India had informed that as and when the Covid threat gets over, foreign secretaries could have discussions to resolve Kathmandu's complaint. But it is the Indian move to construct a road in the meantime that the Koli government cites as the cause of the new move. The Nepalese prime minister said that he would place before the parliament a proposal to amend the third schedule of the constitution, which deals with maps, and also made it clear that negotiations could still be held with India on any issues other than this. The first reponse of Indian Army Chief General MM Naravane was that Nepal was dancing to the tunes of external powers, without naming China.
Given the near perpetual enmity with Pakistan, the warm relations with other countries in the neighbourhood had been lending strength to India. India has maintained diplomacy in bilateral relations, at the same time giving stiff responses to Pakistan, which is bound to go to any extent in the Kashmir border dispute. And joint forums like SAARC came to being with Indian initiative and were kept active with caution because of India recognising the core of neighbouring relations. Regardless of the party that ruled the Centre, i.e. Congress, Janata Party or BJP, this foreign policy has been pursued without much deviation. And it is a known axiom in foreign policy that it is dialogues tht save bilateral relations from cracking in any state of conflict whatsoever.
However, the recent loss of rhythm in neighbourly relations would strengthen the reproach that since the Modi government came to power, this caution in foreign policy has weakened. When China is devising strategy to tame India in the big power balance in the region, the disenchantment of immediate neighbours leading to a percepion with a shock that India too is a 'big brother', may turn out to be a major mistake. More than the geographical size of a country, what is to be considered is the stratetic importance of the region it belongs to. Instead of leaving border disputes and neighbourly issues to the frenzy of the military, countries should attempt to resolve them through political dialogue. The best defensive mechanism of India against moves to beat it through provocations, would be nothing but diplomacy.