Dahal heads for India today with a long wish listThe prime minister says he won’t sign any controversial agreements.
With an agenda packed with meetings and interactions, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is heading for India on Wednesday afternoon on a four-day official visit at the invitation of his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.
Besides his set template of meetings and engagements, Dahal now has a new issue to deal with—a mural depicting ancient India in the newly inaugurated Indian parliament building.
Leader of the main opposition and CPN-UML chair KP Sharma on Tuesday asked Prime Minister Dahal to raise with Indian officials the issue of the mural that shows some of the Nepali territories including Kapilvastu and Lumbini inside India.
“That is not fair,” said Oli, speaking at his party’s headquarters on Tuesday, adding, “if a country like India that sees itself as an ancient and strong country and as a model of democracy puts Nepali territories in its map and hangs the map in Parliament, it cannot be called fair.”
“The prime minister is going to India tomorrow. He should ask them to remove the mural. You [prime minister] have to talk to the Indian government to correct that mistake. There is no point in visiting India if you can’t do that,” said Oli.
Prime Minister Dahal also assured his party lawmakers that he would inquire about the mural with Indian officials. The prime minister gave the assurance after some Maoist Centre lawmakers took exception to the Indian mural during their parliamentary party meeting held to discuss the India visit.
“The prime minister told us that he would take up the matter with Indian officials,” said a Maoist Centre lawmaker.
Ahead of the prime minister’s India visit, a team led by foreign ministry joint secretary Ram Prasad Subedi has reached New Delhi to discuss and finalise some outstanding and contentious bilateral issues.
Subedi’s team will discuss contentious issues such as new air routes for Nepal through Indian skies, construction of an integrated check post in Chandani-Dodhara and issues related to trade, transit and some projects to be funded by India, said a foreign ministry official.
Ahead of his India visit, Prime Minister Dahal also promised to his party’s lawmakers that he would not sign any controversial agreement and try his best to make the visit fruitful.
On energy, the prime minister said he would try to secure a stable market for Nepali electricity in India.
“As there was no big market for electricity, we could not produce more power, and this has deterred big investors from coming to Nepal. So during the visit, we will try to ensure a stable market for Nepali electricity in India,” said Dahal.
“History will remember us if we can open an electricity trade route with Bangladesh. For 26 years, there has been no progress on the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project. It would be good if it moved forward. The other items of the visit agenda are finalisation of the trade and transit agreements and finding a solution to the border dispute. My goal is to strive to do good,” said Dahal.
Foreign Minister NP Saud also held a press conference on Tuesday and said that Dahal’s visit agenda was packed with issues and events related to trade, commerce, air entry route, transit, and infrastructure, among others.
“We have long-standing relations with India and both countries have been practising pluralism, democracy and the multiparty system. We also have good relations between our peoples and governments,” said Saud.
The prime minister will leave for New Delhi on Wednesday afternoon and later in the evening attend a function organised by the Nepali Embassy in honour of his delegation.
“We will explore the possibility of further Indian investment in Nepal’s hydropower sector in order to tap the Indian energy market. For this, we have to build more transmission lines,” said the foreign minister, adding, “we will also seek India’s permission for energy trade with Bangladesh.”
“We are basically seeking assurance for our energy market, so we want a long-term power deal with India. The investors are ready to pour in billions of rupees, but they need a reliable market,” said Saud.
According to the itinerary of the visit, Dahal will meet Modi at 11:00 am in Hyderabad House and the meeting will be followed by delegation-level talks, a luncheon and joint press briefings. Several Indian ministers and officials including External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, National Security Ajit Doval, and Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kawatra will call on the prime minister ahead of the delegation-level talks.
Other issues that are on the prime minister’s agenda are signing an amended and consolidated transit treaty. Nepal and India in the past have exchanged several notes through letters of exchange on the transit treaty, but they are yet to be consolidated.
“We have an open border with India and we are doing trade with third countries and China via Indian ports and territory so we need to incorporate some new provisions in the transit treaty. We have a huge trade deficit with India and there are some non-reciprocal arrangements in bilateral trade needing updates and revisions. We need to remove the provision of anti-dumping so that Nepali agricultural products including jute products can reach Indian markets. These issues will be sorted out during the visit,” said Saud.
Five ministers, secretaries, government officials, media persons and members of the business community will accompany the prime minister to India. The delegation size has crossed 100 members, said officials.
Besides looking to address the hugely lopsided Nepal-India trade, Nepal wants to update the bilateral trade treaty, which is nearing its expiry.
“As a third of our business is dependent on India, the private sector will explore all business opportunities. We are also… considering using Indian air routes via Biratnagar, Nepalgunj, Dhangadi and Mahendra Nagar. We have suggested these four air entry points to India,” said Saud.
Prime Minister Dahal will address the Indian business community and meet the Indian President and Vice President during his stay in New Delhi, but whether he will meet leaders from the Indian National Congress, the main opposition has yet to be confirmed. The prime minister will then visit Ujjain and Indore, Madhya Pradesh after completing his engagements in New Delhi.
The two prime ministers will remotely inaugurate the railway yard in Biratnagar, the Jaynagar-Janakpur railway that has been expanded up to the Bijalpura, and the integrated check posts in Biratnagar and Nepalgunj.
Some transmission lines will also be built with Indian soft loan, said Minister Saud.
“Besides these, we will discuss high-level exchange visits, boundary dispute, the report of Eminent Persons’ Group, use of Indian digital payment system in Nepal, broadcast of Nepal Television in India, import of chemical fertilisers, issue of embankments, inundation, and access for the Nepali broadband to the Indian submarine cables for cheaper internet use are other items on the agenda.
“We have long-pending issues like boundary issues. We have several bilateral mechanisms and working groups too. They need to be activated so that we can plan which issue can be resolved immediately and which in the long-term. So we will discuss ways to revive and activate these mechanisms,” said Saud.
After completing his engagements in Delhi and Madhya Pradesh, the prime minister will return home on June 3. This will be Dahal's fourth India visit as Nepal’s prime minister.