Deuba to visit India on April 1-3 in first official foreign trip since taking officeThe prime minister set to leave for Delhi immediately after the Chinese foreign minister concludes his Nepal visit.
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is all set to embark on a three-day official visit to India starting April 1.
Political and diplomatic sources told the Post that Deuba has already received and accepted the invitation extended by his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to visit the southern neighbour.
The visit will take place immediately after Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councilor Wang Yi concludes his three-day Nepal visit.
Wang is scheduled to visit Kathmandu on March 25 and return to China on March 27.
On March 30, Prime Minister Deuba will virtually participate in the sixth summit of BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation).
The reason behind the prime minister not travelling to Sri Lanka to participate in the summit is he is planning to visit India, a senior government official told the Post.
Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka instead will travel to Colombo to participate in the summit, according to the official.
According to multiple sources, as per the existing plan, Deuba will travel to Delhi on April 1, hold talks with Modi and other Indian politicians on April 2 and return home on April 3.
Whether Modi will be travelling to Colombo for the BIMSTEC summit is not clear yet with the Indian media suggesting he might attend it virtually or in person. Modi too appears to have a tight schedule ahead, as Isreali Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is visiting India on April 3-5.
This will be Deuba’s first official outing since his appointment as prime minister in July last year.
Earlier in January, he was scheduled to travel to India to participate in a business summit in Gujarat. But the trip was cancelled after the summit was postponed in the wake of rising Covid-19 cases.
Deuba and Modi, however, had met in Glasgow, Scotland in November last year on the sidelines of the UN climate conference.
Sewa Lamsal, spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, said that high-level visits from both sides (Nepal and India) are on the cards.
“I have nothing to announce as yet, as plans have yet to mature,” Lamsal told the Post. “Once we fix the schedule, we will announce the date of the visit.”
Officials said some agreements between Nepal and India, including on cross-border railway, which have been on the table for a while, are likely.
The Kurtha-Jayanagar railway is on a dry run since the second week of February for the lack of a law to guide the operations. The government, however, on Tuesday reissued the railway ordinance for the operation of the cross-border shuttle.
Officials who are preparing the agenda for Deuba’s visit said the prime ministers of Nepal and India are likely to inaugurate the Kurtha-Jayanagar railway.
As soon as Prime Minister Deuba confirmed his India tour on Wednesday, officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs swung into action to make preparations for the visit.
A memorandum of understanding on rebuilding around 137 health posts with Indian financial assistance that Delhi had announced in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes is also likely, according to officials.
“This is a short, business-like visit focusing on strengthening ties between the political leaderships of the two sides as there has been a lack of communication and engagements at the top level for quite a while,” said a Nepali official familiar with the visit preparations. “Since local elections are approaching, which will mean a code of conduct will come into force, the prime minister is visiting the southern neighbour in the earliest possible window.”
Deuba’s visit to the southern neighbour comes amid growing geopolitical shifts in the recent past.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang is visiting Nepal on the heels of parliamentary ratification of the Millennium Challenge Corporation compact, which Beijing noted after at least two statements expressing its reservations about the $500 million US grant.
Beijing for long has seen the US grant as an American move to counter its Belt and Road Initiative.
Nepal signed up to the BRI and the MCC compact in 2017 in a span of four months. After the passage of the MCC by Nepal Parliament on February 27, Beijing appears to be under pressure to move some projects under the BRI. During Wang’s visit, officials say there could be agreements on some projects under the BRI.
Officials told the Post earlier this week that some progress with regard to the Rs56 billion grant announced by Chinese President Xi during his meeting with President Bidya Bhandari in 2019 is also expected during Wang’s visit. Further negotiations on the grant assistance, which will be extended over two years, were disrupted after the Covid pandemic hit China.
Wang’s will be the first high-level official visit from the north since Deuba assumed office. Wang, however, will be travelling to Kathmandu from India, something similar to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit in October 2019 when he flew to Nepal from Chennai. Wang is visiting India on March 24-25.
Deuba’s visit to India this time will be the first by a Nepali prime minister in almost four years. The then prime minister Oli had visited New Delhi in April 2018, two months after assuming office.
Nepal-India relations had hit a new low during Oli’s tenure after some of his statements, including on the virus and the Kalapani issue. Rapprochement efforts were made starting with Indian foreign intelligence chief Samant Goel’s visit to Kathmandu, which was followed by the visit of Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali to Delhi. External Affairs Minister of India, S Jaishankar, also visited Kathmandu in August 2019 in order to take part in the fifth Nepal-India Joint Commission meeting. Later in November, 2020, Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla also arrived in Kathmandu as an introductory visit after assuming the office in January, 2020.
But a political crisis was triggered by an infighting in the then ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) led by Oli, who unsuccessfully dissolved the parliament twice and was ultimately ousted from the government in July 2021. Deuba returned to power with the backing of all anti-Oli forces.
As far as Nepal-India ties are concerned, some irritants continue to remain which Deuba and Modi are likely to discuss during their one-on-one meeting, officials said.
The erstwhile KP Sharma Oli government’s decision to issue a new map of Nepal depicting Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura within the Nepali territory has not gone down well with New Delhi.
India has also built a road via Lipulekh to Mansorvar in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, to which Nepal has taken exception as it is a tri-junction between the three countries.
Deuba’s visit also comes at a time when the main opposition has alleged that the current coalition government has hampered relations with the two neighbours.
Presenting his political paper at the Central Committee meeting, CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli said on Wednesday the Deuba government has failed to raise boundary issues with India but has created unnecessary boundary disputes with China.
“Instead of taking serious diplomatic initiatives to establish Nepal's administrative presence and ownership in the territories including Lipulekh, Limpiyadhura and Kalapani, the new map of Nepal has gone missing in a number of government documents,” said Oli. “The government’s silence on the issue of Jaya Singh Dhami who went missing in the Mahakali river, the failure to respond to [India’s actions to] change the course of the Mahakali river in Darchula and negligence on a number of other sensitive issues are not just a coincidence or a technical error.”
A diplomatic source confirmed Deuba’s scheduled visit to Delhi but refused to provide further details saying a formal announcement will be made (from both sides) soon.