Deuba-BJP powwow: Something to read but not much, observers sayNepali Congress president’s meeting with the leader of India’s ruling party comes as a surprise, but what makes the difference is how Nepal-India ties move forward.
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who is also the president of the Nepali Congress, visited the headquarters of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in New Delhi and held talks with BJP President Jagat Prakash Nadda, in a first such official party-to-party engagement from the top level from Nepal.
Deuba was accompanied by his wife Arzu Deuba, Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka, Energy Minister Pampha Bhusal, Health Minister Birodh Khatiwada and Minister for Agriculture Mahendra Yadav.
Deuba’s visit to the BJP headquarters, however, was not listed in the itinerary released by India’s Ministry of External Affairs, in a clear indication that the engagement was at the party level.
Deuba reached New Delhi on Friday afternoon on a three-day visit to India at the invitation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP leader who has been governing India since 2014.
Given the tight schedule, Deuba is not meeting any leader from India’s Congress party, the main opposition, people familiar with the visit plan said.
Deuba’s visit to the BJP office, however, had piqued curiosity in Nepal.
Diplomatic sources told the Post that even Indian officials were not aware of Deuba’s visit to the BJP headquarters until Thursday.
According to them, when the Nepali side talked about it, it was known that Deuba was visiting the BJP headquarters at Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Marg.
Some Indian media outlets said this is the first time that any foreign head of the government visited the BJP headquarters.
“BJP President Nadda had written a letter to Nepali prime minister and requested a visit to the party headquarters during his tour to India,” BJP’s overseas cell head Vijaya Chauthaiwale told the Economic Times.
The PM (Deuba) accepted the invitation and will come to the office on the first day of his visit. The impetus for the visit had come from Nadda, according to another Indian newspaper, The Hindu.
Deuba’s visit to the BJP headquarters, just after reaching Delhi, however, has a context, some say, starting with Chauthaiwale’s trip to Kathmandu in August last year, a little over a month after the Congress president was appointed prime minister.
Chauthaiwale, the head of the BJP’s foreign affairs department, had travelled to Kathmandu on a “political and diplomatic mission”.
During the visit, Chauthaiwale called on Prime Minister Deuba, CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli and some other leaders and proposed strengthening the party-to-party relations between the Nepali Congress and the BJP.
“Today I was honoured to call on the Prime Minister of Nepal, his excellency @SherBDeuba ji in Kathmandu,” Chauthaiwale had tweeted after meeting Deuba last year. “I congratulated him for his election as PM and also greeted him on the auspicious occasion of Janeu Purinama and Raksha Bandhan. We both agreed to strengthen party to party dialogue.”
He then shared an image of receiving rakhi from Arzu, Deuba’s spouse, in an indication of “sister-brother” relationship. Rakhi is a Hindu tradition where sisters tie a protective thread around their brothers’ wrists.
Observers say the rakhi episode could have marked the beginning of the Congress-BJP ties, which went a step further after Deuba’s visit to the headquarters of the Hindu party that has been ruling India since 2014.
A Nepali diplomat said on the condition of anonymity that Deuba may have tried to build stronger ties with the BJP also because this is the party that looks set to be India’s establishment force, at least until the end of this decade.
The BJP roared loud during the recently held assembly elections, including in Uttar Pradesh, India’s bellwether state which also borders Nepal.
One reason Deuba is keen on building stronger ties with the BJP could be he knows it is going to remain the establishment amid his hopes to return to power from the upcoming elections due later this year, according to the diplomat.
The Nepali Congress that Deuba leads—he was reelected party president in December from the 14th general convention—has traditionally been known as close to India’s socialist parties initially, then the Indian National Congress also known as Congress I.
But India’s Congress party since it lost elections in 2014 to the BJP has lost its place in Indian politics.
Nepali parties including the Congress in the recent past, however, had refrained from building party-level relations, with prime ministers, irrespective of the party they represented, making official visits to India regardless of which party was in the government.
The issues of party-to-party ties started when the then Nepal Communist Party, formed after the merger between the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre), started building sister ties with the Communist Party of China.
In September 2019, the then NCP even organised a training programme on Xi Jinping Thought in Kathmandu.
Observers say such party-to-party relations between Nepali and the Indian establishments were not heard of in the past.
“This kind of tradition used to be practised by the Chinese communist leaders,” Deep Kumar Upadhyay, a Congress leader and former ambassador to India, told the Post. “Now it seems we [the Congress] are doing what the communists usually do.”
This time, according to him, Deuba has broken the tradition that those interested to meet the visiting prime minister in New Delhi used to call on the prime minister individually or jointly, said Upadhyay.
Upadhyay, however, said that what matters is how the Nepal prime minister takes the relevant issues up with New Delhi rather than which party headquarters he visits.
“Bilateral ties between Nepal and India are at a low. We need new directions. What matters is the outcome of the visit, rather than where all the prime minister goes,” said Upadhyay
After his visit to the BJP headquarters, Deuba was called on by India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.
Deuba will hold delegation-level talks with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Saturday at Hyderabad House followed by signing of some agreements.
On Sunday, Deuba will fly to Varanasi where Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath will call on him, according to the itinerary provided by the two sides.
Yogi Adityanath is tipped as Modi’s successor.
Ramesh Nath Pandey, a former foreign minister, said what matters is bilateral ties between the two countries rather than the relationship between two particular parties.
“We have been pursuing an ‘equi-distance’ policy with our neighbouring countries that has actually created a distance with both India and China,” said Pandey. “As the sole purpose of Nepal's foreign policy is to advance national interests, we must have an ‘equi-intimate’ relations with both the neighbours.”
According to Pandey, Deuba’s visit should focus on generating warmth in ties.
“Where the prime minister who is also the Congress president goes doesn’t—and shouldn’t—make any difference,” said Pandey. “If Deuba can win the confidence of Modi, the prime minister, half of our differences will be resolved automatically.”