Deuba sending delegation to India as he walks diplomatic tightropeCongress leaders, led by Prakash Sharan Mahat, are visiting Delhi on Thursday and are expected to meet BJP leaders and Jaishankar, the minister for external affairs.
Sher Bahadur Deuba’s fifth stint as prime minister has not been smooth sailing. He is fighting multiple battles.
His Cabinet is yet to get the full shape, even almost after three months.
Days after he assumed office, a youth’s disappearance in the Mahakali river in Darchula came up as his first diplomatic test, as a Home Ministry report suggested involvement of Indian security force members who were said to have untied the cable crossing he was using to get to the Indian side. With China, he has to deal with the pressure from some of his party members regarding border issues. When it comes to the United States, Nepal’s yet another key partner country, there is the Millennium Challenge Corporation compact that Deuba needs to get through Parliament.
Deuba actually has his plate full. But he cannot afford an inertia.
As he has expedited the Cabinet expansion process, he has decided to send a delegation to India in what is seen as an attempt to “improve” ties with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its government led by Narendra Modi.
This is purely at the level of the party, rather than the government, according to insiders in Deuba’s party, the Nepali Congress.
The delegation led by party joint general secretary Prakash Sharan Mahat, who is also a former foreign minister, is flying to New Delhi on Thursday. Mahat will be accompanied by Udaya Shumsher Rana and Ajaya Chaurasia. Both have served as ministers of state in the past.
Mahat said that the visit is taking place at the invitation of Vijay Chauthaiwale, who is in charge of the BJP’s Foreign Affairs Department.
“This is a reciprocal visit aimed at strengthening party-to-party relations,” said Mahat.
Chauthaiwale had visited Kathmandu in the third week of August, a little over a month after Deuba was appointed prime minister.
He had met a host of leaders, including Prime Minister Deuba.
An image of Chauthaiwale getting “raksha bandhan” tied on his hand, a ritual popular in Nepal’s Tarai and India signifying love and respect between brothers and sisters, by Arzu Rana Deuba had made rounds on social media. Arzu is Deuba’s wife.
The delegation, according to Congress sources, is scheduled to meet BJP’s President JP Nadda, National General Secretary Arun Singh and Chauthaiwale as well as S Jaishankar, India’s external affairs minister, among others.
Deuba was appointed prime minister on July 13 as per a Supreme Court order, which also restored the House of Representatives dissolved by then prime minister KP Sharma Oli on May 21, for a second time. Earlier on December 20 last year also Oli had dissolved the House, only to be restored by the Supreme Court on February 23.
During Oli's tenure, Nepal-India relations had hit rock bottom. The Oli government’s move of introducing a new map of Nepal incorporating Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh within the Nepali territory had caught Delhi by surprise. The move was prompted by India’s decision to open a road link via Lipulekh in May, months after Delhi published a new map placing the Kalapani area within its territory.
Oli did try to mend fences with Delhi later in October last year when he hosted Samant Goel, the chief of Research and Analysis Wing, India’s foreign spy wing. The visit set the stage for high-level exchanges from both countries. But Oli’s misadventures, especially the second House dissolution in May, cost him his job.
Deuba took over with the support of a variety of partners—the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), the Janata Samajbadi Party and the CPN (Unified Socialist), a splinter group of Oli’s CPN-UML.
Less than two weeks after Deuba assumed office, Jaya Singh Dhami, 33, disappeared in the Mahakali river. A government probe team took a month to investigate and submit the report. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote to Delhi, via the Embassy of India in Kathmandu, on September 6, asking for an investigation, punishment to the persons [from India’s Sashastra Seema Bal] involved in the incident and compensation to the family.
New Delhi has yet to respond.
Observers as well as sources within the ruling coalition say even though Deuba got an overwhelming number of votes when he went for a floor test—the prime minister received 165 votes out of 271—he is walking a tightrope.
Leaders within the Deuba camp say he has to deal with multiple fronts—within the country and outside.
A leader said that while Deuba is struggling at home, he has to maintain a fine balance with neighbours as well.
Some, however, say it’s just a return visit.
Ever since Deuba assumed office, besides Chauthaiwale, Ram Madhav, the national general secretary of the BJP, who has also served as a member of the National Executive of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, of which Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a long-time member, too has visited Kathmandu.
Madhav’s visit, however, was a low-key affair. But he did meet with Prime Minister Deuba and other leaders, including Oli, Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and CPN (Unified Socialist) chair Madhav Nepal.
Though Congress leaders say the visit is aimed at improving “party-to-party” relations, the delegation’s meeting with Jaishankar could be of interest to those keeping a close eye on geopolitics.
Earlier last month, Nepal’s Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka held talks with Jaishankar in New York on the sidelines of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Khadka extended an invitation to Jaishankar to visit Nepal at the latter’s convenient date for the seventh Nepal-India Joint Commission Meeting. The meeting is to take place in Kathmandu but the date is yet to be finalised.
Jaishankar last visited Kathmandu in August 2019 to participate in the fifth Nepal-India Joint Commission Meeting. Before that, he had visited Kathmandu in September 2015, just when Nepal was about to adopt its new constitution.
When Deuba took over, Nepal’s ties with both of its neighbours were in a state of confusion. Now by sending a delegation to Delhi, Deuba appears to be making an attempt to reset ties.
“It’s always good to build relations with our neighbours, both at the party level and the government level,” said Deep Kumar Upadhyay, a Nepali Congress leader and former ambassador to India. “Our relationship with India is multifaceted. It’s a good exercise that the Congress is sending a delegation to Delhi. It helps improve relations.”