In modern day geopolitics, boundaries are the most important thing when it comes to territorial integrity.
Unlike the medieval times when kingdoms existed, and invasions were common, and the boundaries got blurred out.
Borders are complex as well as fascinating.
India has complex borders and has history attached to it.
Then recent disputes with China and Nepal along the LAC and Kalapani region respectively has again brought the topic of border to the limelight.
India – Nepal
India and Nepal are two countries who have been allies for really a long time.
These two Asian nations have been linked to each other not only by boundaries but also by common heritage and understanding of the world.
There are open borders and there has been free movement and people of both the countries work across the borders.
In fact, in 1950, a friendship treaty was signed under which there was a provision where Nepal government would allow its people to serve in Indian armed forces and in turn India allowed Nepali citizens to work anywhere in India in private and public sector.
There were no signs of discord until recently.
There were few key events that lead to the spat between the two friendly neighbours. But first we need to understand the history of the arguments on both sides.
Nepal’s definitive boundaries were decided upon after the Anglo-Nepalese war in the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816.
It is in fact, the only treaty in which either of the negotiating parties have agreed on the determination of the borders.
No such treaties have been signed after that.
In that treaty, the boundaries of Nepal were guided by the rivers on both the sides of the nation. The eastern borders were decided to be along the Mechi river and western borders along the Mahakali river.
Between 1857 and 1881, however, British India deliberately changed the map to suit its motives and chose the eastern tributary for demarcating the territory.
From then onwards, the extra piece of land has been used by India.
In 1962 Sino-Indian war as well the piece of land was used by India for military deployment, provided with the approval of the monarch of the Kingdom of Nepal. Ind official maps as well, the Nepalese government never included the region on the west of the eastern tributary until recently. On the part of using the land as well; there was mutual agreement between the two countries.
Disagreements over that piece of land started after 1998 as it was a popular tool to sway the domestic politics of Nepal for the political parties of Nepal.
The recent development started taking place after India’s defense minister inaugurated an 80 km long road in the region on 8th of May 2020. Subsequently Nepal released a new map which included that region.
Looking at the rationale of both the countries they have their own reasons.
On Nepal’s side they want to claim the land based on historical evidences.
But on India’s side as well, it has a very strong reason. That region has been a part of the nation from the beginning. Some intellectuals argue that even the revenue records dating back to 1830 show that it has been so.
Nepal however has been quick with its legislation; as a bill also was passed in its house of representatives which included some parts of Indian territory.
Tensions escalated when Nepali police fired along the borders in which one person died and two others got injured.
Relying on diplomatic settlements could be beneficial to both the states.
India – Pakistan
The partition of India and Pakistan was one of the most dreadful days of Indian history with casualties ranging from 200,000 to 2 million and leaving 14 million people displaced.
It cannot be controverted that it was a badly planned and the British did not provide justice to the people of the subcontinent.
Ideally the time span for the smooth transition of power should have been around 5-7 years but it was reduced to only 4 months.
Meanwhile all the things were done very hastily. Borders are no exception when it comes to mismanagement.
Sir Cyril Radcliff who had not known anything about India and never even visited India prior to that was given the charge to divide British India into two nations.
He was called just before a month of our independence.
Drawing the borders of two future nations of huge landmass with diverse cultures in just one month was not practically possible, relative to justice.
Having no idea about the social fabric of this region, he started chalking out districts with majority religion and drawing the borders along the boundaries of the districts.
However, it was not supposed to be that easy or just in black and white. It was a mammoth task and given the fact that Sir Cyril Radcliff did not know much about the society, it was bound to get messy and caused trouble.
On 14th and 15th of August, Pakistan and India respectively got independence.
The British left but they left behind social tension, violence, hostility, and suspicion. The images of partition and the suffering still brings chills when thought about.
India – Bangladesh
India and Bangladesh’s severing of ties dates back to 1905, when the then director General, Lord Curzon divided West Bengal into two states declaring it as too large enough to fit 2 England’s.
The underlying motive behind it was to create a seed of discord between Hindus and Muslims.
However, this got reversed as the tension and loss of identity united the Hindus and Muslims to make Lord Harding to unite the two divided factions in 1911.
However, in 1947, consistent efforts of the British at dividing the two communities saw the light of the day, although they had by then lost their autonomy over India.
It was first called East Pakistan, and then due to the Bangladeshi freedom struggle and the Operation searchlight; East Pakistan and West Pakistan split, this time did not constitute the country of Pakistan.
India and Bangladesh share the fifth largest border in the world including Assam, Tripura, Mizoram, Meghalaya.
India also played a crucial role in liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. The countries exchanged enclaves five years ago.
The enclaves, according to popular myth, enclaves were used as stakes in card game by the Maharaja of Rangpur and Raja of Koch Bihar while some say the enclaves were product of a confused treaty between the Kingdom of Koch Vihar and the Mughal Empire.
The enclave dwellers were asked to choose between India and Bangladesh.
India returned 111 enclaves and received 51 enclaves from the latter.
India lost 40 sq. km of land to Bangladesh as the residents opted to not leave Bangladesh as by the time the treaty fell into place, in 2015, under article 119 of Prime Minister Modi’s cabinet, the residents had already lived there for years and were second or third generation of the dwellers. The land boundary treaty was initially signed in 1974.
The first step towards de-enclaving most of the enclaves was crystallized in a 1958 agreement between Jawaharlal Nehru and Feroz Khan Noon, the respective Prime Ministers, for an exchange between India and Pakistan without regarding the loss or gain of territory.
But in a Supreme Court case in India, the matter worked and the Supreme Court ruled that a constitutional amendment was required to transfer the land.
The Prime Ministers of India and Bangladesh, later in 1974, signed the Land Boundary Agreement to exchange enclaves and simplify their international border.
India retained the Berubari Union No. 12 enclave while Bangladesh retained the Dahagram — Angorpota exclaves with India providing control over Tin Bigha corridor.
Bangladesh had ratified it then but India hadn’t. To pan out the details of the enclaves, two Joint Boundary Working Groups were formed.
However, irrespective of issues India has still met up with a good divorce settlement with Bangladesh as compared to Pakistan and China.
It had settled its maritime disputes with Bangladesh by resolving discord over South Talpatti or Bangabandhu Island.
Border security force of India and its Bangladesh counterpart have been held for crimes still by the human rights watch.
The indeterminable border is the root cause of this turmoil.
India – China
India saw its soldiers engaging in scuffles with China in the past few months, not anything peculiar considering its history with China over the line of actual control that does not have any actual demarcation on land.
The situation aggravated in the last month when 20 Indian soldiers were martyred in areas of Ladakh where the crisis broke out.
Both superpowers have previously tried pacifying the situation when similar outbreak lead to soldiers of the both the superpowers engaged in tussles.
Based on the agreement of 1996, neither of the countries can open fire.
Border disputes often have links to colonial times both in the case of Pakistan and India.
In 1914, representatives of British India, Tibet and People’s Republic of China negotiated whether Tibet was a part of Republic of China or British India.
China was hesitant to agree on the proposed terms that would have allowed Tibet to be autonomous and remain under Chinese control.
Therefore, they refused to sign the deal.
But Britain and Tibet signed a treaty establishing what would be called the McMahon Line, named after a British colonial official, Henry McMahon, who proposed the border.
India maintains that the McMahon Line, a 550-mile frontier that extends through the Himalayas.
In 1962, China resisted the authenticity of the treaty of the McMahon line saying since Tibet wasn’t independent it couldn’t have sought a treaty but India and its Western counterparts saw it as a way china’s Mao wanted to further his ambitions to spread communism.
The war deemed to have resulted in China’s full occupation of the Aksai Chin.
In 1967, India drew a barbed wire around in the areas of Aksai Chin and Cho La that’s also owned by Sikkim.
There were casualties on both sides however India finally won the battle and was able to force the Chinese back from Nathula.
Since 1987, it had, until recently, had bloodless fights.
The arrival of large number of troops was considered as a wake-up call for Chinese troops and they began warming up to defend their front while diplomats diluted the tensions by clearing air about a possible Indian military attack.
The sides had agreed to dismantle both encampments, but disputes about the location of the Line of Actual Control persisted till 2013.
In 2017, in Doklam; the Chinese were constructing a road which was considered as a buffer zone where soldiers engaged in stone pelting at each other.
But situation settled after countries jointly agreed to stop.
The most recent update of this issue is the banning of 59 Chinese apps which took precedence under the Section 69A of the IT Act citing data privacy issues.
Simultaneously, the de-escalation has been going on.
But the thing to be wary of is the timing when China claimed on the eastern boundary of Bhutan.
China is infamous for it’s two steps forward – one step backward strategy, which is also known as salami slicing.
Sayantan Mitra writes about society with touches of polity and politics. His main focus is on providing informative content with a unique perspective, but never at the cost of providing just mere entertainment.
Graduate from B.Sc Mass communication. Interested in everything under the sun.
This Write-up Has Been Written in Collaboration With Other Writers.