Delhi-boundInstead of making grand new pronouncements, Prime Minister Oli should take a long and hard look in understanding the nuances of policies and focus on implementing past agreements
Prime Minister KP Oli leaves for India tomorrow. This at a time when the Nepal-India relations are widely acknowledged to be at their worst for a long time. As such, both Kathmandu and New Delhi have a major responsibility to repair relations.
For Oli, the first task of course will be to convince the Indian leadership that the constitution promulgated last year will take into account the desires and demands of as great a section of the Nepali population as possible.
In concrete terms, this means providing assurances that the government is serious about taking the Madhesis into confidence and bringing stability and peace to the Tarai, a region that has been restive for quite a few months now. The major parties have already amended the constitution to allow for constituency delineation with a greater emphasis on population and proportional representation. These were positive steps. It will now be necessary for the government to form a mechanism to decide on the re-delineation of federal boundaries within three months. Taking Delhi into confidence without compromising on national interests is a skill Nepali leaders will have to learn.
There are many other steps that need to be taken to restore normalcy in relations. Since Indian Prime Minister Modi’s first visit to Nepal, scepticism has grown in the Indian diplomatic establishment regarding Nepal’s will and ability to take the relationship forward.
The Nepali state has been exceedingly slow in utilising the support pledged by the Indian government. For example, Modi had announced that India would grant $1 billion line of credit to Nepal. The Nepali government has made no effort at all to utilise these funds. Nor has it made any effort to receive, let alone utilise, the large sum that India had pledged for post-earthquake reconstruction.
Besides normalising relations on the political front, Oli’s priority should be to forward economic diplomacy. He should have a plan of action to implement the agreements that Nepal has signed with India in the recent past. For this, it will be necessary to consult extensively with the bureaucracy and think long and hard about Nepal’s needs and capacities in the immediate future.
Such work may not be as publicly attractive as signing new agreements that promise the moon. But preparing for implementation is more difficult and will be of much more benefit than trying to reorient Nepal-India relations. There have been too many wasted opportunities in Nepal-India relations over the past decades.
The timing of the visit is noteworthy: It comes on the heels of the lifting of the Nepal-India border blockade that was in place for 135 days. It has done enormous harm to India’s soft power standing in Nepal; it has yet again reinforced the Nepali fear that New Delhi will not hesitate to flex mucles to enforce its foreign policy objectives in Nepal. This newspaper has consistently voiced the need to address the grievances of the minorities through amendments in the constitution. But we have been taking strong exception to the tactic Delhi adopted to do that.
Delhi has a lot to do to repair the recent damage in Nepal-India ties. But Nepali politicians will do well to take a long and hard look at the way they have approached the extremely complex and important ties. To a great extent, the stagnation in bilateral relations has been the fault of Nepali leaders who are adept at making grand pronouncements and grandstanding, but very weak in understanding the nuances of policy and implementation. If Oli is able to change this sad state of affairs, even to a small degree, his visit to India will be a success.