Dahal claims his India visit has built trustWhile Nepal’s foreign ministry states the two prime ministers discussed boundary matters, the Indian ministry makes no mention of it.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has claimed that his India visit has restored trust with Indian leadership at the political level. He said his India visit was largely successful, citing the signing of several agreements and understandings reached between the two sides.
Prime Minister Dahal and Nepali delegation returned home on Saturday after completing the four-day official visit to the southern neighbour.
“There have been some problems in our relations with India since 2019. Now it is improving,” Dahal told reporters upon his arrival at Tribhuvan International Airport. “You must have noticed the statement made by Modi-ji in the joint press conference where he said that we want to take this relationship to new heights.”
Stating that there was a kind of trust deficit between the two sides, Dahal claimed that with the visit, they have restored the trust and confidence. “You must have sensed it in the statements of Modi-ji too. He talked about the statement he made in 2014 in our Parliament where he had mentioned the idea of HIT,” Dahal said. “Now he has reaffirmed that we should make it a super-HIT.”
During the visit, Prime Minister Dahal and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated six different projects and witnessed exchange of seven memoranda of understanding related to transit treaty, petroleum infrastructure, development of integrated check post, project development agreements on development of two hydroelectric projects, and cross border digital payments.
“The visit has given clear guidance,” said Dahal. “The Indian prime minister himself announced that India will import 10,000 megawatts of energy from Nepal in the next ten years.”
Dahal said that he and Modi discussed boundary disputes and both sides agreed to settle them through established bilateral mechanisms. In the joint press conference, Modi also said that India will resolve the differences over boundary matters with Nepal but the statement issued by India’s Ministry of External Affairs has not mentioned any such discussions in delegation level talks or during the one-on-one between Dahal and Modi.
But the statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the two prime ministers also discussed boundary matters. “The Prime Minister of Nepal urged the Prime Minister of India to resolve the boundary matters through the established bilateral diplomatic mechanisms,” read the statement.
But Prime Minister Dahal, while addressing the press conference at the airport, said that he and Modi seriously discussed boundary matters and agreed to seek solutions; otherwise, bilateral ties would not be normal. “The Indian prime minister made a public commitment,” Dahal said. “This shows we are seeking an amicable solution.”
Dahal said that he and Modi discussed various options on settling boundary matters, including land swaps like what India and Bangladesh did in 2015. But the main opposition party, the CPN-UML, on Saturday strongly opposed the prime minister’s statement about the land swap idea to resolve the boundary dispute with India in the Kalapani region.
A parliamentary party meeting of the UML on Saturday concluded that Dahal’s statement on land swap is against national interest.
“We will seek an answer to his statement on land swapping,” UML’s Chief Whip Padam Giri said. “The prime minister could not raise any issue that is in Nepal’s national interest during his India visit and failed to take up the issues that he had earlier announced in the Parliament.”
Dahal said he discussed various options on how to resolve boundary matters with his counterpart and one of them was the Bangladesh model. “This can be an option but we have just touched on the matter,” he said. “It is not the final deal. We claim the Kalapani region belongs to us. If India considers the Kalapani region sensitive, we can think of other alternatives too.”
Earlier, some leaders and experts used to raise the issue of land swapping between Nepal and India but this is the first time a sitting prime minister is publicly talking about the option. Popularly known as “chicken neck”, the Siliguri Corridor is very sensitive for India due to its geopolitical importance because it is also a window for India into Bhutan, Bangladesh, China, Myanmar and the entire North-East of India.
The prime minister took credit for the long-term energy cooperation agreement with India. Indian Prime Minister Modi, during the joint press conference, assured that India will import up to 10,000 megawatts of energy from Nepal. The two sides have agreed on a trilateral energy cooperation between Nepal, India and Bangladesh where Nepal will export 40 megawatts of energy to Bangladesh using Indian transmission lines.
On air entry route, Dahal said that though India has granted low-altitude route for now, Nepal’s request for high-altitude route is still on the table and India is positive about allowing one either from Nepalgunj or Mahendranagar.
“We also discussed setting up a fertiliser plant in Nepal on a joint venture,” Dahal said. “Amendment on the transit treaty is an important decision we made… Modi-ji and I discussed options to reduce the widening trade gap between Nepal and India, easy access of Nepali agricultural products in India and simplifying customs procedures.”
Dahal also clarified about his visit to Shree Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain of India’s Madhya Pradesh state.
“I have visited churches, mosques and monasteries such as the ones in Lumbini. I am secular and I respect all religions. But the state should not have a religion. I am not only a communist but also the prime minister of this country, so I should respect all religions.”
About his wearing of the saffron dress while worshipping at the temple, Dahal said “that was the protocol of the temple and breaching it would give a very wrong message to millions of Hindus in India about the Nepal government”.
He said if he had not worn the saffron dress, it would have hurt the sentiments of one billion Indian people. “This is part of cultural diplomacy,” he said. “Some have also asked me about the Rudraksha I offered in the temple but it wasn't me who arranged the Rudraksha, they were rather arranged by the foreign minister.”
Besides Indian Prime Minister Modi, two former Nepali prime ministers Sher Bahadur Deuba and KP Oli have also promoted “temple and religious diplomacy” in each other’s country. Now Dahal appears to be following suit. Dahal said that he did not visit the Mahakaleshwar Temple to seek blessing for his ailing wife, Sita, who is suffering from a disease called progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), a rare brain disorder that causes problems with movement, walking and balance, and eye movement.
About the report of the Eminent Persons’ Group on Nepal-India relations, Dahal claimed that he had taken up the matter with his Indian counterpart.
“We are serious about receiving the report prepared by the EPG and we have taken up the matter with Indian side but we did not want to spoil the visit over one issue, especially after some good agreements and understandings in areas of economic development, cross border infrastructure, connectivity, energy cooperation and others,” Dahal said.
The eight-member Nepal-India EPG panel submitted a joint report suggesting a new blueprint for bilateral relations amid the changed bilateral, regional and global contexts including the replacement of the 1950s peace and friendship treaty with a new one.
“Once we narrow down the differences, we will also resolve the matter of the EPG,” Dahal said.