Cautious optimism as Modi visits againAs Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi begins his third visit to Nepal on Friday in four years, there is cautious optimism in general public and at the political level given a dip in bilateral relations after India imposed a five-month border blockade expressing dissatisfaction over the constitution promulgation process in 2015.
As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi begins his third visit to Nepal on Friday in four years, there is cautious optimism in general public and at the political level given a dip in bilateral relations after India imposed a five-month border blockade expressing dissatisfaction over the constitution promulgation process in 2015. India was displeased with Nepal’s new constitution and only “noted” its adoption in September that year.
Though Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli expressed his happiness at the outcome of his state visit to the southern neighbour in April, all eyes are on how the two sides will reset ties in the changed context.
“The sole purpose of his visit is to improve the ties and build trust between the two nations, as laid out during the India visit of PM Oli,” Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali told the Post.
Modi had earned accolades when his first visited Kathmandu in 2014. His speech at Nepal’s Constituent Assembly had resonated well among the Nepalis who had hoped that Nepal-India relations would scale new heights during Modi’s tenure. He had also announced $1 billion soft loan to aid Nepal’s development endeavours. He had won the hearts and minds of common Nepalis with his charm offensive.
Barely five months later, when Modi visited Kathmandu for the 18th Saarc Summit, his tone was changed though. Modi not only advised Nepal’s leaders to make the constitution drafting process inclusive by taking all sections on board, he also sought, unsuccessfully, to delay promulgation of the new constitution.
When the three major parties in Nepal went ahead with their plans, New Delhi tacitly supported the Madhesi protests that disrupted supplies to Kathmandu. This had happened as Nepalis were trying to recover from the devastating earthquake.
When the left alliance of the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre) won a landslide in the federal and provincial elections held in November-December last year and Oli was in course to be elected prime minister for a second time, Modi’s administration sought to engage the communist leader. Oli had shifted his focus to China in the face of the blockade to counter India’s growing dominance in Nepal’s foreign trade and engagements.
Minister Gyawali on Thursday presented mending ties and building trust; expediting past agreements and pacts including those reached during Oli’s Delhi visit; and exploring new areas of cooperation with India as the three objectives of the reciprocal visit.
It is yet unclear if any new deals will be signed during Modi’s visit, except for remote foundation laying for the Arun 3 hydropower project, which is on the itinerary. Officials maintain that emphasis will be on expediting pending India-funded projects in Nepal.
Several past agreements and projects like postal roads, Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project, Nepal Police Academy, integrated border check posts, cross-border rail and transmission lines, line of credit, and post-earthquake reconstruction projects, which have seen delays, are going to be key agendas during the one-to-one and delegation level talks between Oli and Modi on Friday.
This visit—the first by India’s prime minister after Nepal adopted a new federal democratic republican polity enshrined in the new constitution—signals India’s changed stance on the political demands of the Madhesi people concerning the constitution. In the joint press conference when Oli visited India, Modi did not directly call for amendment to the constitution.
Modi wrote on Facebook on Thursday: “As Nepal enters a new era of consolidating gains of democracy and achieving rapid economic growth and development, India will continue to remain a steadfast partner of Government of Nepal to implement its vision of ‘Samriddha Nepal, Sukhi Nepali’”.
I am looking forward to meeting the political leaders and friends in Nepal. I am confident that my visit will further cement our people-centric partnership with Nepal on the basis of mutual benefit, goodwill and understanding.”
A similar kind of optimism was expressed by the government side in Kathmandu. Top officials said all the preparations for the visit have been over. In view of the perceived threat, necessary security arrangements have been made in Janakpur, Kathmandu and Muktinath, the three places that Modi will reach. On his third visit to Nepal as prime minister, Modi said: “It reflects the high priority India, and personally I attach to our age-old, close and friendly ties with Nepal.” Mentioning Oli’s fresh visit to the Indian capital, the visiting PM remarked, “These high-level and regular interactions reflect my government’s commitment to the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, in consonance with the motto of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’.”
After the high-level guest’s civic reception in Janakpur, where the two prime ministers will flag off direct bus service between Janakpur and Ayodhya and announce Janakpur as part of the Ramayana Circuit, Modi and Oli will hold bilateral talks in Kathmandu. Some agreements related to inland waterways between Nepal and India, Kathmandu-Raxaul railway, and cooperation in agriculture sector are expected to be signed.
“The visit is welcome,” said Nepali Congress leader and former finance minister Ram Sharan Mahat. “We except some concrete outcome during the visit, particularly over the widening trade gap between Nepal and India, additional air routes for Nepal, issue of inundation [in the Tarai], border management and delayed project.”
Modi wrote further: “Prime Minister Oli and I will have the opportunity to take forward our recent wide-ranging discussions in New Delhi on issues of mutual interest, and to advance our cooperative partnership across diverse sectors.” On his pilgrimage to Janakpur and Muktinath, Modi said both these places attract a large number of pilgrims every year. “They are living testimony to the ancient and strong cultural and religious ties between the peoples of India and Nepal.”
When Modi visits
- Flagging off Janakpur-Ayodhya direct bus service
- Inclusion of Janakpur in Ramayana Circuit
- Remote foundation laying of Arun III project
- Specific agreements on waterways, railways and agriculture sectors
- Separate gifts for Kathmandu and Muktinath