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Explained | What’s this brouhaha about the 100 rupee Nepali note?

Is the decision of Nepal government to depict the new map in new 100 rupee banknotes a deliberate attempt to rile up India? Not really.

Kathmandu: The government of Nepal last week took the decision to issue the new 100 rupees banknotes with the new map of Nepal, popularly known as chuche naksa (pointed map), depicted in them.  While many Nepalis have welcomed the decision some stand opposed to it citing that this could dampen Nepal’s friendly ties with India, which had gone sour after Nepal issued the new map including Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura in it in 2020.

New Delhi has indicated that it is not happy about the decision. Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar has said that Nepal “unilaterally took some measures on their side.” “But by doing something on their side, they are not going to change the situation between us or the reality on the ground,” Jaishankar said.

In what appears to be a blame game between those supporting the government’s decision and those opposing it, including the reaction from the Indian side, an important context is missing. So, what’s the truth about the decision to issue new 100 rupee banknotes with the pointed map in it? 

The  government of Nepal in May 2020 unveiled a new political map of Nepal by including it in the territories of Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura. This was after India unveiled its new political map including those territories into the Indian map in November, 2019. 

In six months, Nepali side, we were told, made attempts to settle the issue with India through diplomatic means but apparently there was no response from the Indian side. Meanwhile, the pressure was mounting on the Nepal government, then led by UML chair K P Sharma Oli, to do something about it. There were protests in the streets against the ‘cartographic aggression’ of India.

Political parties, both in the government and  opposition, stood on the same page on this issue. 

Then in June 2020 , Nepal’s parliament unanimously amended the constitution to update the new map in the national emblem of Nepal. All of the 258 lawmakers present in the House of Representatives session voted in favor of the constitution amendment. Nepali leaders from all spectrum vowed unconditional support to the government on this issue. Soon, the National Assembly–the upper house of federal parliament–also endorsed the constitutional amendment with unanimous voting. Earlier to that, all political parties had agreed that Nepal needs to go ahead with the new map.

The new political map included Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura into the territories of Nepal. 

It should be noted, again, that Nepal had taken this move in response to the unilateral Indian move of introducing a new political map that incorporated these territories as India’s. The Nepal side claims that all historical evidence shows Kalapani, Lipulekh, and Limpiyadhura fall within the territory of Nepal. 

Following unanimous endorsement of the new map by Nepal parliament–and by all parties represented in it–the pointed map became the official map of Nepal. Ever since, it has been used in Nepal’s government offices, parliament, and office of the prime minister, office of the president, diplomatic missions, among others. Above all, the constitution of Nepal today recognizes the chuche naksa as the official map of Nepal. All the lawmakers, officials, ministers and prime minister, president, political parties, therefore, are ipso facto the followers of the new map.

What has this got to do with the banknotes?    

Of all the denominations of notes, only 100 rupee banknotes depict Nepal’s map on it (see the picture below). So far the old map is in use in the 100 rupee banknotes.

After Nepal Rastra Bank ran out of stock of the 100 rupee notes, the central bank asked for its opinion from the council of ministers regarding whether to use the old or new map in the banknotes to be printed anew. 

According to Rekha Sharma, the minister of communication and information technology who is also the spokesperson of the government, the government recommended using the new map to the central bank, as retaining the old map would appear like the government itself not acknowledging the new map. “Our stock of the old 100 rupee banknotes is running out.  If we use the same old map in the new notes, it would appear like we [government] ourselves are not lending legitimacy to the new map,” she told the BBC Nepali service.  “We took the decision from the cabinet because it is essential for changing the design of the new banknotes.”

Could the government have opted for issuing the new notes by depicting the same old map without Kalapani region into it? Here is a catch. Either it has to remove the map from the note altogether, which is again likely to trigger a backlash within Nepal or it has to retain the map. If it has to retain the map, again, it cannot retain the old map while the new map is used as an official map in every government office.

Besides, this is not the first time the central bank has issued money with the new map on it. In 2021, when Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba was the prime minister, the central bank issued two-rupee coins with the new map of Nepal conspicuously engraved on the brass coin (see the picture below). 

Notably, nobody raised any hullabaloo about it back then. Nobody talked about new coins with the new map dampening Nepal-India relations. 

 “The decision is not meant to provoke our friendly neighbor as some are trying to make it look like. Either we have to use the new map or remove the map altogether. And we cannot remove the map from the 100 rupee, the hallmark of the note.  This actually is the situation and it should be understood as such,” said a central bank official on the condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, a group of civil society leaders on Wednesday issued a statement objecting to the remarks by economic advisor of President Ram Chandra Poudel. President’s advisor Chiranjeevi Nepal has termed the government’s decision “irresponsible diversion,” “unwise,” and “against international values.” The civil society leaders also demanded removal of Chiranjeevi Nepal from the post of president’s advisor for his “irresponsible public comments” about Nepal’s sovereignty.

Whether the central bank will print new 100 rupee banknotes with the same old map in it or new map is anyone’s guess.

Be that as it may, the decision of printing new 100 rupees banknotes by depicting the new map is not just about the new map. The whole issue boils down to whether the government, political parties, leaders and public office holders respect the constitution and conduct themselves accordingly.