A bus Nepal can’t missModi’s visit has helped break the emotional barrier of fear and suspicion that clouds Nepal-India relations
The Government of India’s engagement with the Maoists dates back to 2003 when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government headed by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee held office in New Delhi. In every sense, the wheel has now turned full circle as the peace process in Nepal will conclude with the promulgation of a constitution and a BJP government is back at the helm of affairs in New Delhi. Salman Khurshid, former Indian Minister of External Affairs, explained there won’t be a departure in terms of policy change with regards to Nepal. Khurshid further adds that the style of engagement could be different and more hands on, and that matches Prime Minister Modi’s personal engagement with Nepal during his visit to Kathmandu—Modi shook hands and signed autographs for onlookers by getting off his motorcade, much to the surprise of his security detail.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also expressed his appreciation of the Modi government’s initiative to engage Nepal at an early stage and extended his personal support for a move that would help bolster closer Nepal-India bilateral ties. In simple words, the BJP and the Indian Congress attach importance and are in unison with regards to India’s Nepal policy. The issue of promulgating a constitution is an important facet of Nepal-India relations as the failure to promulgate a constitution could destabilise Nepal and subsequently, the Himalayan frontier. However, an equally important factor in improving Nepal-India ties is the integration of our two countries’ economies.
A critical driving force is the exploration and development of Nepal’s energy reserves, which will not just light up Nepali homes and industries but will also help meet India’s growing energy demands. The arithmetic to this kind of hydropower development is simple. The investment in and the development of Nepal’s hydropower must be separated from the trading aspect of the developed power. But the window for Nepal’s hydropower development is being challenged by alternate energy sources in India’s north east and the relative depreciation of prices in using clean energy as alternate source of power.
Much to the surprise of critics who have questioned India’s motive in being involved in Nepal’s hydropower industry, Modi’s assertion that India’s interest in the energy sector would be based on a commercial footprint has been appreciated in Nepal. After all, Kathmandu understands foreign direct investment in hydropower can only come if Nepal succeeds in showcasing to the world that there are potential buyers for the electricity Nepal produces. Nepal must move out of a bureaucratic mindset, which is absorbed in a cryptic style of functioning that slows the pace of decision making. However, India must be sensitive to the Nepali psyche where fear and suspicion have always come in the way of Nepal-India relations. Nepalis, by nature, are slow paced. And although there are many similarities between Nepalis and Indians, Nepalis like it better when Indians appreciate Nepal’s distinctiveness. And that is what Modi did during his visit to Kathmandu.
Seize the moment
The promulgation of an inclusive federal democratic republican constitution is the corner stone of India’s Nepal policy. The recent visit by Modi has helped break an emotional barrier of fear and suspicion that has, in the past, clouded Nepal-India relations. But for New Delhi to engage with Kathmandu constructively, it must be patient and prepared to walk at Nepal’s pace until it is ready to walk at India’s pace of economic engagement.
Modi’s style of governance and his neighbourly engagement offers Nepal a unique opportunity unparalleled in Nepal-India bilateral history. Nepal must be prepared to rise out of her slumber and seize the opportunity for economic integration between Nepal and India as it prepares for a different future unburdened by the hubris of self-neglect. The time has come for Nepal and Nepalis to be proud of the unique political culture demonstrated by our constitution. The time has also come for Nepalis to be proud of our position as drivers of the engine of growth in South Asia because our energy reserve is going to propel South Asia’s economic advancement. The moment is ours, we can’t miss this bus.
Thapa is a Central Working Committee member and coordinator of the international department at the National Democratic Youth Union