Kwatra returns, leaving everyone guessing about his political messagePolitics was not discussed, according to some leaders, while others say Kwatra was more in a mood to listen.
Whenever there are high-level visits from New Delhi, the media, political circles and talking heads in Kathmandu are eager to know what message the visiting dignitaries passed on to the Nepali political leadership. Accordingly, Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra’s two-day visit (Feb 13-14) to Kathmandu got a lot of attention.
Kwatra, who served as Indian envoy to Kathmandu until February last year, is someone familiar with the Nepali political leadership and government officials.
He held talks with President Bidya Devi Bhandari, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba, CPN-UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli, CPN (Unified Socialist) Chairman Madhav Kumar Nepal, two deputy prime ministers Narayan Kaji Shrestha and Rajendra Lingden, Loktantrik Samajbadi Party Chairman Mahantha Thakur, among others, and discussed and reviewed the status of the Nepal-India ties.
Kawtra also met Congress leaders like Shekhar Koirala, Purna Bahadur Khadka, and Bal Krishna Khand.
Kwatra, according to Congress leaders, expressed his surprise at the unpredictability of recent Nepali politics: the sudden dissolution of the Parliament, the elections throwing up unexpected results.
During their meetings with Kwatra, Congress leaders reportedly claimed that the ruling coalition would collapse after the presidential elections, but they were unsure who would lead a new alliance.
“The new partnership could be between the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Center or the Nepali Congress and the UML, but the current ruling alliance will go,” a leader talking to the Post quoted himself as telling Kwatra during their meeting.
As soon as he landed in Kathmandu on Monday, Kwatra held talks with his counterpart Bharat Raj Poudyal.
The two foreign secretaries reviewed progress in the implementation of commitments made during the prime ministerial visits held last year, including in the areas of cross-border connectivity, hydropower cooperation, culture, trade and commerce, the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu said in a statement.
On railway connectivity, the two sides agreed to the early completion and operationalization of the remaining sections of the Jayanagar-Kurtha-Bijalpura-Bardibas and the Jogbani-Biratnagar rail links, as well as taking further steps on the proposed Raxaul-Kathmandu rail link, and committed to expediting the procedural requirements to enable their early implementation, according to the embassy.
At the meeting, the two foreign secretaries appreciated progress in the energy sector while the Nepali side also requested the Indian side to facilitate power export from Nepal on a long-term basis.
The foreign secretaries avoided contentious issues like boundary matters, review of the Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty, and the forgotten report of Eminent Persons Group on Nepal-India relations.
But what political message Kwatra conveyed to the top political leadership of the major political parties? It depends on who you ask.
“They had productive talks,” said Prakash Sharan Mahat when asked about the meeting between Kwatra and Deuba. “But there was no special message.”
Likewise, Nepal Progressive Party chief Hridayesh Tripathi, who also met Kwatra, said India was ready to work with Kathmandu, no matter who leads the government here.
“He [Kwatra] told me that he came here for bilateral talks and had nothing to do with politics, that it is up to Nepali politicians to take a call on political matters. He expressed India’s readiness to work with any government in Nepal,” Tripathi said.
Kwatra’s visit comes at a time when the Dahal-led government appears shaky despite it getting an unprecedented vote of trust.
Nepali Congress leaders have been publicly expressing their determination to break the ruling alliance.
Talks are ongoing at various levels to break the current UML-Maoist Centre alliance after the presidential elections slated for March 9.
Prime Minister Dahal, who was supposed to visit India this month, is now mulling postponing the visit until after the presidential elections.
Sharing the content of meetings between UML leaders and Kwatra, the party’s head of international department Rajan Bhattarai said political matters were not discussed as there were many others including representatives of the foreign ministry at the meetings.
“Kwatra mainly briefed Oli about his meeting with foreign secretary Paudyal and said lots of pending issues were discussed and there had been good progress on some of them,” Bhattarai told the Post.
During the meeting UML chief Oli reminded Kwatra of historical ties between Nepal and India and hoped that they would flourish during his term as foreign secretary, according to Bhattarai
“Though we are close and intimate, there still are some differences, which should be addressed on time,” Bhattarai quoted Oli as telling the Indian foreign secretary.
Some political leaders said Kwatra was more in a mood to listen than to offer suggestions and prescriptions.
“We did not touch upon any political matters,” Deputy Prime Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha said, adding, “We instead discussed some of our concerns over the Kathmandu-Raxaul and Janakpur-Jayanagar railways besides other aspects of Nepal-India cooperation.”
“History has saddled us with some issues like peace and friendship treaty and boundary dispute. There is also the issue of receiving the report of EPG which was prepared after instructions from the two prime ministers. What has stopped us from receiving the report? We want to improve our ties with India while respecting mutual sovereignty and and without harming each other’s core interests. The Indian foreign secretary said India is open to discussing all Nepali concerns,” said Shrestha.
Some experts and observers, meanwhile, said the timing of Kwatra’s visit was meaningful.
“The visit took place amid a disturbed political climate in Kathmandu, when the ruling alliance has become shaky, and presidential elections are round the corner,” former foreign minister Ramesh Nath Pandey noted. “The Indian foreign secretary’s visit must be seen in this context.”
Nepal’s neighbours earlier believed that the country would see political stability after last November’s elections, but that was not to be, Pandey added.
“The ruling alliance has become unstable despite the unprecedented vote of support it got. In this context, India’s concerns are natural as political instability in Nepal would also hamper its interests,” said Pandey.
He spoke of how the absence of even a single voice in the country trusted by outsiders is creating a lot of confusion. “For our friends and neighbours to trust us, we as a country should have one firm and unified voice,” observed Pandey.