Delhi is still far awayThe only major outcome of Minister Gyawali's sojourn to India is the resumption of bilateral engagement.
Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali's New Delhi visit was a dud. Gyawali, who was in New Delhi to participate in the sixth meeting of the Nepal-India Joint Commission, was expected to help break the ice with India after months of political stalemate owing to the territorial dispute on Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura. After all, assurances had been made—that the discussion to help resolve the dispute would get some traction and there would be a solid pact on securing Covid-19 vaccines for Nepal.
That Gyawali could not secure a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi indicates that India did not consider the visit significant enough, to begin with. A meeting with Modi would have given a clear signal that the relationship between the two neighbours was getting back on track after almost a year of derailment. The visits to Nepal by Indian Army Chief MM Naravane, Research and Analysis Wing Chief Samant Goel and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla in the preceding months, when they met Prime Minister Oli and other leaders, were thought to have set the stage for the visit. But in reality, they had not.
After all, he was representing a government with questionable legitimacy after President Bidya Devi Bhandari dissolved the House on the recommendation of the Cabinet. India perhaps wanted to avoid meeting the representative of the government that is in the eye of the storm at the moment. India made it clear in its delayed announcement about the visit that it was not looking forward to a meaningful conversation on the territorial dispute, which is the singularly most important outstanding issue between the neighbours today.
It was only on the day of his visit that the southern neighbour made it clear that it was not too keen on holding forth on the border row. Although Gyawali met with Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Foreign Minister S Jaishankar, the meetings were more a formality rather than a genuine attempt at a fruitful discussion. Gyawali has failed spectacularly on that front, but that also reflects a failure on India's part. There is no way the dispute can be resolved without discussion, and both parties to the dispute are equally responsible to ensure a fair discussion.
If there is anything Gyawali could claim to have been successful at, it is the assurance from India that it would start sending Covid-19 vaccines to Nepal starting this month. Nepal had approved Covishield, the vaccine developed by Oxford in collaboration with AstraZeneca Plc and produced in India by Serum Institute of India, for emergency use, right before Gyawali's visit. So the minister was expected to secure a solid pact on a large-scale import of the vaccine. Although no such thing happened, there is still some space to rest assured that his visit made some headway on that front.
If anything, the only major outcome of Minister Gyawali's sojourn to India is the resumption of bilateral engagement between the two neighbours. Something is better than nothing, but Gyawali was expected to achieve a little more from the visit. The little gain the foreign minister made during his visit does not match the great pomposity he and Prime Minister Oli exhibited in the days before the visit.