Political leaders in Nepal have objected to the mural of the Indian subcontinental landmass in the new Parliament building, The Hindu reported on Thursday.

The mural, interpreted as a depiction of “Akhand Bharat”, or unified India, by Union Minister Prahlad Joshi, shows Lumbini as part of it. “The resolve is clear...Akhand Bharat,” he said on Twitter .

“Akhand Bharat” is a concept espoused by Hindutva nationalists envisaging that neigbouring countries Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka would become part of India.

Nepal considers Lumbini – the birthplace of founder of Buddhism Gautama Buddha – as one of the major cultural centres on its map.

Several Nepali political leaders, including former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, said that the move was unfair to his country.

“If a country like India that sees itself as an ancient and strong country and as a model of democracy puts Nepali territories in its map and hangs the map in Parliament, it cannot be called fair,” he said on May 31, according to The Kathmandu Times.

He also urged Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who arrived in India on Wednesday, to raise the issue during his meeting with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.

“He [Dahal] should ask them to remove the mural,” Oli said. “You have to talk to the Indian government to correct that mistake. There is no point in visiting India if you can’t do that.”

Former Nepal Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai said in a statement that the mural “may stoke unnecessary and harmful diplomatic row” between the countries. “It has the potential of further aggravating the trust deficit already vitiating the bilateral relations between most of the immediate neighbours of India,” Bhattarai added.

But at a press conference on Friday, Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said: “The mural in question depicts the spread of the Ashokan empire and the idea of responsible and people-oriented governance that he adopted and propagated. That is what the mural and the plaque in front of the mural says.”

He refused to comment about the objections raised by political leaders in Nepal.

India-Nepal ties

In 2020, the relationship between India and Nepal had turned sour after Kathmandu claimed Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh areas in Uttarakhand to be its sovereign territory in a new political map. Nepal first revived its claim over the areas in November 2019 after India published a new political map. This was intensified on May 8 when India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated the Dharchula-Lipulekh link road.

In June 2019, India had asked Nepal to refrain from using an updated map to assert its territorial claims. It had criticised the move as an “artificial enlargement” and not based on historical facts and evidence.

Nepal maintains that India has claimed these places by building the Darchula-Lipulekh link road despite repeated objections. India, on the other hand, has said that the road is within its territory.