China describes Tibet as the palm of a hand, and its five fingers being, Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. The last of these, China calls South Tibet and claims it as its territory.

After seizing Tibet in the 1950’s, China has been eyeing the five fingers. Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim being part of India can only be taken through an open conflict. While it has been putting pressure on Bhutan to acquire some of its territories, but because of India-Bhutan treaties, it cannot do much and in this context its efforts were brought to a halt by India at Doklam.

Therefore, Nepal is where China focused its attention and has been able to gain considerable influence.

Nepal’s geo-strategic importance for India has never been fully appreciated by India’s policy makers. On the other hand China understands its value for exerting pressure on India and this has been the main incentive for it to get Nepal under its added influence. Perhaps to an extent India is responsible for the deterioration in this relationship with Nepal, and its consequent leanings towards China.

India’s unwanted involvement in that country’s political affairs along with a couple of crippling blockades, where China stepped in to provide fuel and other essentials, have been some of the issues needling Nepal. And have helped China gain influence in the Himalayan country.

The perceived support to Nepal Congress in replacing the Rana regime resulted in that family making overtures to China. Interfering in Nepal’s internal political struggles, policies concerning the population in theTerai region ( Madheshis ) and a range of other issues, India appeared to be adopting a Big Brother attitude towards Nepal that increased the dissonance between relations.

Despite his apparent bonhomie with the Indian Prime Minister during his India visit, the Chinese President followed it with a two day visit to Kathmandu where he gave the assurance that Beijing would always safeguard Nepal’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, a much needed palliative for the government there. More so because of the increasing strains between Kathmandu and New Delhi. And the inordinate delays on the part of India in delivering various projects along with inconsistent policy formulations.

China succeeded to a much larger extent in winning over the Nepalese government’ confidence and perhaps,the support of its people. China also now proposes to establish a National Defence University in Nepal.

The two countries have signed 20 distinct agreements and in addition China has been pouring money into Nepal to the tune of USD 495 million. It is developing the trans Himalaya rail link with Kathmandu and later plans to extend it to the border with India. The Belt and Road Initiative ( BRI ) of China is being extended to Nepal. China has undertaken construction of a number of roads, such as, from Kathmandu to Rasuwagadhi as an alternative to the Totapani road and another from Kathmandu to Kerung.

Such links with Tibet will enhance Nepal’s access to the Chinese economy and this will eventually lead to Chinese products flooding India, across an open border. All this, will not only impact India's security but will lead to smuggling of Chinese products on the one part and on the other cut into India’s Atma Nirbhar Bharat programme with the added loss of the Nepalese market for Indian goods.

More than one crore Nepalis reside and work in India. There is one full regiment of Gorkhas in the Indian army (approximately 20,000 troops).and around 80,000 soldiers who retired from the Indian army and now reside in Nepal and draw pension from India. There was much commonality of religion, age-long bonding and bonhomie between the peoples of the two countries and yet it has been slipping out of India’s sphere of influence. Much of the fault lies with India’s inappropriate dealing with that country. .

Presently China is trying to induct Gorkhas into the Chinese army and at the same time discourage them from joining the Indian army. It will possibly make efforts to involve some of the Gorkha soldiers in the Indian army in intelligence work for China.

China will go all out to gain added hold in Nepal and wean away that country from whatever little influence India has over it. China was instrumental in promoting the Communist parties in Nepal and has been reportedly using its territory to supply arms and ammunition to Maoists operating in the Red Corridor within India. It is also said to be making determined efforts to create an anti-India feeling in Nepal and its embassy in Nepal has allegedly distributed Rs 2.5 crore worth of Nepali currency amongst the residents living along the border with India to stage anti-India demonstrations. Efforts are on to include the Chinese language and script in Nepalese schools. China has succeeded in prompting Nepal to claim Indian territory in the Kalapani-Lipulekh area of Uttarakhand. Even Pakistan’s ISI has been operating from Nepal.

China will aim to control Nepal and this will perhaps be the most dangerous development for India. It will bring China close to the very center of India and pose a serious security threat. Large number of rivers, i.e. Kosi, Gandok /Narayani, Karnali /Ghagra ,Rapti etc flow from Nepal and controlling their flow can prove disastrous for India.

India needs to wake up to this dangerous development and take immediate measures to re-establish the fading bond with Nepal.

For one stop interfering in the internal affairs of Nepal. And use diplomacy to spotlight the dangers of a close relationship with China. For instance Beijing’s role in Tibet, Zinjiang and Hongkong must be given the widest publicity in Nepal using every possible means: from Gorkha soldiers going on leave to those drawing pension from India and of course, the media. Highlight how China has tried to change the demography of these countries and driven a large number of other countries into debt traps, demolished Gompas in Nepal, interned over a million people of Xinjiang as well as the inhuman steps being taken to limit the population of Muslims there.

India must supply better weaponry to Nepal and that too at a highly concessional rate. Extend full support in its efforts to develop its economy and provide all possible facilities and indulge in purposeful engagement.

India needs to invest in the tourist infrastructure and tourism industry in Nepal. Equally extend Indian Government Employee ’s LTA to Nepal and encourage the Indians tourists to visit Nepal. Strengthen the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu and employ maximum number of Indian Gorkhas on its staff. Invest extensively in infrastructure, more so on hydroelectric projects and arrange to buy much of the electricity thus generated. Extend financial aid and resolve existing territorial disputes.

One of our eminent foreign policy experts, almost two decades after retirement, has finally woken up to the imperatives of regional cooperation, more so that which relates to our immediate neighbourhood.

Finally India must come alive to the geostrategic importance of Nepal.

Lt General Harwant Singh is a veteran of the Indian Army.