Nepal’s defence minister on Monday accused the Indian Army chief of insulting his country and condemned Manoj Naravane’s indirect reference to China’s alleged role in a link road dispute, reported The Rising Nepal. Ishwor Pokhrel, who is also Nepal’s deputy prime minister, said Naravane’s comments had hurt the sentiments of Nepali Gorkhas who have a long tradition of sacrifice for India.

Last week, Naravane said that Nepal’s objections to a new road being built in Uttarakhand is “at the behest of someone else”. Although the Army chief did not name China, the allusion was clear. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had inaugurated a new route for the Kailash Mansarovar yatra via the Lipulekh pass earlier this month.

Nepal has repeatedly claimed that India’s decision to build the road was a breach of an agreement between the two countries. However, India rejects Nepal’s claimed sovereignty over the area as well as its claim on the adjoining Kalapani area.

“Such a statement is an insulting statement made by ignoring Nepal’s history, our social characteristics and freedom,” Pokhrel told The Rising Nepal. “With this, the Indian CoAS [Army chief] has also hurt the sentiments of the Nepali Gurkha army personnel who lay down their lives to protect India. It must now become difficult for them to stand tall in front of the Gorkha forces.” There are at least 40 battalions of Gorkhas in the Indian Army, and almost 30,000 soldiers come from Nepal, according to reports.

Pokhrel also raised questions about Naravane’s professionalism. “How professional is it for the head of the Army to make a political statement?” he asked. “We don’t have anything like that here. Nepali Army does not go vocal on such matter. The army is not there to speak.”

Pokhrel, however, described India as “our friendly state”, reported the Hindustan Times. He added that the “lost Nepali territory must be returned through peaceful political dialogue and through diplomatic channel, and I am confident that it is possible”.

Pokhrel’s comments came on a day when Nepal operationalised a freight agreement with China, reported The Hindu. The agreement will allow Nepal to receive goods through the Tibetan city of Xigaze. It was signed in October 2019 during the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Kathmandu.

Rising tension

The Nepal government has been protesting against the opening of the new road to Lipulekh. The country even published a new political map showing Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadura as part of Nepalese territory. The country claims the Lipulekh Pass on the basis of a treaty signed with British colonisers in 1816.

In his parliamentary address, Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli had also said the disputed Kalapani-Limpiyadhura-Lipulekh area belonged to Nepal’s territory and the country would “reclaim” it. Last week, Oli blamed people entering illegally from India for spreading the coronavirus in his country. Oli added that coronavirus infection from India had become “more lethal than Chinese and Italian”. “The Indian virus looks more lethal than Chinese and Italian now,” he was quoted as saying. “More people are getting infected now.”

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