In the reality of our ruling Communist government with an almost two-third majority, I was eager to read Ayn Rand’s ‘We the Living’ which has a background of the Russian revolution and the setting up of the USSR in early twentieth century. It was a time of great internal changes as exemplified by the fact that the name of the capital was changed three times from St. Petersburg to Petrograd to Leningrad over a course of a decade. Living conditions were deplorable, essential foods very scarce, difficult to procure and expensive. The ‘haves’ of the past became the ‘have nots’ and life was very strenuous for the residents. Jail terms were common and expulsions were many to distant far off places in snow bound Siberia, with the almost certainty of dying there!
It was in the Russian setting that Leo Tolstoy wrote his story ‘How much land does a man require?’ This story is of a Russian farmer named Pakhom who boasted that any land that he had, even the Devil would not be able to take away from him. The Devil who was nearby heard this and was determined to teach him a lesson. Sometime later Pakhom came to an understanding with the Devil incarnate that all the land that he Pakhom could circumvent or walk around during the course of one whole day would be his. Pakhom started early and in his eagerness and greed circled a large area. He just managed to reach the spot at sunset but then died suddenly from exertion. He had lost his bet and the land that he got in return was just three Russian ells or about six feet length in which a man could be buried! And so it was.
The acquiring of foreign lands by Western countries have long been in vogue. The Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Germans and British ruled over many lands and communities across the world. King Leopold II of Belgium lorded cruelly over the Congo as his personal fiefdom! The Americans have never been a Johnny come lately in their quest for more lands. They bought Louisiana from the French as early as 1803. Later bought territories were Alaska from the Russians and Texas plus California from the Mexicans, all at dirt price. They first tried to buy Greenland in 1867and subsequently again in 1970 when Nelson Rockefeller was Vice-President of USA. That persistence is still there as President Donald Trump in 2019 again made an offer for Greenland! The moral: It is inherent for nations too, to try to increase their lands!
All this quibbling is not restricted to only one part of the world. Europe too at one time, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries consisted of many city states, dukedoms and principalities. The history of the conquests of Suleiman the Magnificent, Charlemagne and Bismarck are proof of this eternal practice. The quest for all was just land, land and more land.
The establishment of the USSR, was with the amalgamation of many Muslim ‘stans’ and later Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. After a matter of seventy years, during the time that Gorvachov ran the show came the thought of ‘Glasnost’ and ‘Perestroika’ and the break-up / disbanding of many lands and republics. Even after losing of much of its powers, undergoing various changes the central entity Russia is still vast. Though global warming is bound to herald many arable lands of what was the Siberian gulag, its action in Crimea and Ukraine shows that it wants more land still! The spirit of Pakhom still exists.
As far as China is concerned it too, under the various Emperors of the Shang, Yuan, Qing, Ming and other dynasties waged wars both North and South for more land. Armies would set out from Beijing to subjugate lands and having done so would return to the capital after months and years of effort. As the invaders receded the conquered would rise again and resume their old lives. Such was the state of Tibet and even Nepal after having undergone some skirmishes with Imperial China accepted its suzerainty. Concurrently at that time following a number of wars Tibet in turn paid a certain sum of money to Nepal every year. At this same time, it was customary for Nepal to send a goodwill delegation with presents to the Emperor in China every four year until 1950.
The British exploited China too with the opium that they grew in India and Malaysia and subsequently sold to the Chinese through various enclaves that they had at Hong Kong, Shanghai, Guangdong and Tianjin.
At the beginning of the Twentieth Century the British drew the arbitrary MacMohan line which was not then accepted and was a bone of contention which exists to the present day. After the British left the lands of the Indian sub-continent it was but natural that a settlement had to be made between the countries North and South of the Himalayas. The concept of Panchasheel and the bonhomie of Bhai-Bhai came to the forefront but did not solve the problem of land between the two countries. The periodic flare-ups that have occurred over the years at Aksai Chin and Doklam are proof of this. The Galwan Valley where a brutal skirmish has taken place recently, is a land which is said to have been saved for India by a Nepali Naik Subedar Jung Bahadur Gurung of the Indian Goorkhas, in the Indo-China conflict of 1962. A re-run of that conflict for land is in the news and is a grim reminder that all is not well.
The land which presently comprises of the Indian Subcontinent has in the past been ruled by many invaders from not only the North but also from lands across the seas. From the Mahabharat one reads and learns of those days of Akhanda Bharat. India as a whole, saw many invaders such as Alexander, Mohammad of Gazni, Mohamad Ghori, Timur di Lang, Babar and finally the British to come and go over the course of two thousand years. The history and pursuits of rulers such as Ashok, Harsha and Chhatrapati Shivaji was also about conquests and subjugation of lands. Regime changes occurred and the masses of the land were subjected to the wishes and whims of the rulers which varied between emperors, maharajahs, princes, dewans and talukdars. It has always been a question of land and who rules over it.
The current spat between India and Nepal over that small projection of land is similar. Many with the authority to change matters have rightly said that this should be done by mutual consent as the relationship between our two countries is of ‘roti aur beti’. All very well but it is action not words that matter at the end. There are the previous treaties of 1816, 1923 and 1950 to be taken into account and the expectation was that the Eminent Persons Group with five members from each country, established in 2015 would look into it and bring about a solution. Meetings of this group were held alternatively in India and Nepal with the final report being submitted in July 2018. Though announcement was made that concerned ministries of both countries would look at it, this has not happened. Is there anything unpalatable?
What then is the answer to the present imbroglio? Nepal claims the 335 square kilometres of land comprising of the Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani as its own whilst India disputes it. Both countries have their own stands, convinced that it is correct. This matter is serious if relations between us and India are not to deteriorate further. In terms of the defence budget of both countries, the savings would be immense as they will not then have to man the borders of a Nepal, friendly to both countries.
The author writes fiction under the name of Mani Dixit. Website: www.hdixit.org.np. Twitter: @manidixithd