No mere formalityIt is now confirmed that Prime Minister KP Oli will travel to New Delhi for a three-day visit starting this week, April 6. This is his first foreign visit after becoming head of government following the elections last year.
Published at : April 2, 2018
Updated at : April 2, 2018 08:13
It is now confirmed that Prime Minister KP Oli will travel to New Delhi for a three-day visit starting this week, April 6. This is his first foreign visit after becoming head of government following the elections last year. Though Oli would ideally have liked to visit the Indian capital with a resounding mandate after the UML-Maoist Centre unification, it is a fact that his government was supported by a whopping three-fourth of MPs in the confidence vote in the House last month.
So when Oli arrives in Delhi on Friday, the visit offers a good opportunity to improve ties between the two countries. While Indo-Nepal relations have steadily improved since the blockade of 2015, there are still residual tensions between the two sides. New Delhi remains uncomfortable with Oli and the UML-led government, primarily because it is worried that the government will undermine Indian interests by cozying up to China.
As for the Nepali side, there are indications that the new government is keen to repair relations with India as well. The UML seems to have become better disposed towards India after the Indian leadership made repeated overtures to Nepal, not least through a visit by Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj earlier this year. The fact that Oli decided to visit New Delhi in his first foreign visit, and not Beijing, also seems to indicate that he is keen to restore Nepal-India ties to normalcy.
The Nepal government has said that the visit’s primary purpose is to deepen economic engagement with India so as to promote growth in Nepal, the new government’s major focus. Officials have said that they are in talks with Indian officials regarding a new project or a major economic package. It is natural that the two sides should be talking about such an issue.
For India, it is a way of demonstrating magnanimity and goodwill towards Nepal. For Oli, it will be a way of demonstrating to the Nepali public that he is capable of bringing in a major project for the benefit of the country, and has the capacity to manage political relations with Delhi.
But this should not be the only focus of the visit. The problem in Nepal-India ties has never been the announcement of large projects. There have been numerous such announcements in the recent years alone. The main problem, rather, has been with the implementation of these supposedly high-profile projects. After a big hoopla, they mostly seem to languish. As a result, India has developed a reputation for slow and poor implementation. Many such projects, announced long ago, haven’t made much headway even after years of promises—the Postal Highway in Nepal is a case in point.
On the other hand, Nepal too has been generally unable to reap the benefits of Indian goodwill. For example, not much has been done to utilise the line of credit extended by the Indian government during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit in 2014. The main task for the two sides then needs to be finding ways to implement projects in a concrete and time-bound manner. This may be the less exciting side of international relations, but it is here that the main challenge, and the main benefit, lies.
The Nepali side has repeatedly stated that the visit will be ‘businesslike,’ a message clearly aimed at the home constituencies’ expectations. Still, there is no denying that political symbolism of the current visit, one by a Prime Minister with an overwhelming support at home, will be very strong.