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Effectiveness of EPG, Will its suggestions carry any weight ? : Birendra P Mishra

Birendra P Mishra, Kathmandu, 6 September 2019 . These days, those who were enthusiastic about the implementation of the suggestions of the Eminent’ Group constitured by both Nepal and India in 2016, are getting disheartened by the delay in submitting the report to the Indian Prime Minister and also by the recent visit of the Indian foreign minister to Nepal. The appointment of Bhagat Singh Koshyari, the coordinator of the Indian Group as the governor of Maharashtra state on 1, September, 2019 has further dampened their spirit.The two-day visit to Nepal by Indian Foreign Minister Dr. S Jayashankar was significant. He was here  to attend the fifth meeting of the Nepal –India joint commission held on 22 August 2019 led by him and his counterpart Nepalese foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali. The meeting was important in two respects. First, it decided to chart out a future course of action for a ‘comprehensive economic partnership’ and second, to assign reviewing the long awaited 1950 Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty to the foreign ministries of the respective countries.

Foreign Minister Pradip Gyawali informed the House of Representatives on 22 August, 2019 that the joint commission meeting had agreed to instruct the respective foreign secretaries to come up with a concrete plan to review of the 1950 Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty. Interestingly, the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) was formed to take up the issue. The minister also informed the House that the EPG secretariat was instructed to make necessary preparations to submit its report to the prime ministers of both countries.

These two decisions point out two situations. First, the report is acceptable as it is,   and its execution should begin forthwith. Second, the report prepared by the EPG is  not specific and it is not a complete document. It requires finishing touches. This contention is supported by the second decision that instructs the EPG secretariat to make necessary preparations for submission. Indian media has been reported from time to time that there are some reservations from Indian sides, which have to be addressed before submission. Therefore, it can be presumed that the document is to be completed before submission. However, it is difficult to complete it, as one of the members from the Indian side is no more and another was seriously ill previously. Moreover, the term of the body is over long back.

Interestingly, the initiative of forming the GEP was taken during the Prime ministership of Dr. Manmohan Singh, when the then Nepalese PM Dr. Baburam Bhattatai.s visited India. During their meet, it was agreed upon to have a committee, but no such formation could take place.  It was PM Modi who took up the thread during his visit to materialize the agreement. It is intriguing as to how it remained unexecuted till the late PM Sushil Koirala’s tenure ended. It was not known whether he didn’t take the initiative in this regard or he failed in his endeavour to select the four eminent persons where PM Oli succeeded. Did other parties including the Madhesi outfits not accept Koirala’s nominees? PM Oli formed the group during his earlier stint before visiting India. Significantly, Manmohan Adhikari raised for the first time the issue of the treaty during his visit to India as a PM in 1995, which was responded by his counterpart seeking his proposal and the issue lingered henceforth.

The government formed EPG on 27 January 2016 that consisted of Dr. Bhesh Bahadur Thapa (former ambassador to India and foreign minister), Neelamber Acharya (former minister, ambassador to Sri Lanka and the ambassador designate to India), Surya Nath Upadhaya (Former bureaucrat) and Rajan Bhattarai (leader of the ruling CPN-UML, now CPN) for reviewing all existing bilateral agreements with India including the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty with the mandate to “review, up-to-date and adjust” as per the present context and strengthen further the existing relations between the two countries.
The Treaty, which was signed by the then PM Mohun Shamsher JBR and the then Indian ambassador CPN Singh, was meant not only for two nations but also for two peoples. However, this fact was overlooked. It was evident from the formation of the Group. Some were skeptic as to how the multifaceted relations between Nepal and India could be reviewed, and updated by four persons alone from each side. The persons nominated by Nepal represented only one community and the Kathmandu elite. Therfore, some called it HPG in place of EPG. They replaced the word ‘Eminent’ with the word ‘Hill’ to make it  Hill Persons Group. They also doubted that its recommendations might not be acceptable to the Madhesis, the original inhabitants on the Nepalese side of the international borders. To ignore their representation in the Group meant to deny their right to have their say on the reviewing the treaty. They asked: Was there no capable Madhesi to represent Nepal? Seemingly, India was not serious about the formation of the Group , it did not give due representations to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. There was one person from Bihar and two persons from Uttrakhanda and none from U.P.

Curiously, some members from Nepalese side were known for their public stands on the open border dispensation. Interestingly, PM Oli was learnt to have directed the GEP on Feb.2, 2016 not to repeat mistakes that had been committed by Nepal in the past and move ahead without compromising on national interests, as if the members were not mature enough to follow their duty. The group started its meetings promptly. The first meeting was held in Kathmandu on 4 July 2016,with a provision for a two-year non-extendable term. It is learnt that the Group had already completed its task of preparing its report to be submitted to the Indian PM Modi first and then to the Nepalese PM Oli.

With regard to its recommendations, it is commonly apprehended that it may be used as a means to be played in the hands of a few politicians as its recommendations, if unrealistic, will be difficult to be implemented, on the one hand and it may land the country in another conflict apart from the existing one, on the other. Some hold that the vastness of the TOR of the EPG may lead to nowhere and it may prove to be a futile exercise, as the complex issues of cultural relations existing from the time immemorial can hardly be reviewed and adjusted in the 21st century, when borders are being made irrelevant to harness natural resources for serving the humanity.

Dr.Birendra P Mishra, former election commissioner of Nepal

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