PM’s India Visit Trip To Bolster Relations
Further improving relations with India will be on the card when Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba embarks on his five-day official visit to India on August 23 (today). According to sources close to the PM’s office, no new agreement of high magnitude will be signed with the southern neighbour during PM Deuba’s first official foreign visit after assuming his office. The Nepali side, during the official visit, will, however, urge the Indian counterpart to implement many of the past accords and agreements. The Nepali side will seek to implement past pacts and agreements that include the Pancheswor Project, Arun III, and Upper Karnali power projects; expansion of the power transmission line and railway line; laying of the petroleum pipeline; and license permission to Nepali gas bullets, among others.
India’s past promise to provide assistance for post-earthquake rebuilding, the problem of floods and inundation in Nepal, caused by the construction of roads, dams and embankments on the India side of the border, and matters related to the Koshi Barrage and Laxmanpur Dam will also be discussed. Several former prime ministers and experts, who were recently invited by Deuba to seek suggestions on the eve of his India visit, have urged the Prime Minister to raise the issues of unequal treaties and hold discussion with the Indian side to make the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) - which is reviewing all of Nepal-India treaties, including the Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950 - more active, so that the problems arising from these treaties could be addressed at the earliest. Despite the suggestions to raise the issues and problems of vital importance for the country’s well-being, the PM is less likely to take up these issues with India strongly as his official visit is largely aimed at consolidating the relationship with India.
It will not be an exaggeration to state that the Deuba-led coalition government currently enjoys good support from the southern neighbour. The formation of the coalition government had brought the Nepal-India relation back on track after it went through a rough patch soon after the promulgation of the new constitution in 2015. The Indian blockade and the ensuing hostility between the two nations had thrown Nepal-India relations out of gear.
Owing to the undeclared Indian blockade and the southern neighbour openly siding with the agitating Madhesi parties, the KP Oli-led government, exhibiting a strong sense of nationalism vis-à-vis India’s pressure to amend the newly promulgated constitution, had declined the Indian demands. The Oli government had then drifted towards China to tackle the challenges arising from the Indian blockade. Nepal-India relationship had plummeted to an all-time low during Oli’s premiership.
India appears happy with the formation of the present coalition government. During her visit to Kathmandu to attend the BIMSTEC meeting a week ago, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj had all praise of the current coalition government, saying it was the best thing that has happened. She hoped to see Nepal-India relation gaining new heights under the present coalition government.
In the meantime, just before PM Deuba’s India visit, the government had worked to secure the parliament’s vote on the highly contentious Constitution Amendment Bill, which failed to gather the required two-thirds majority in the Legislature Parliament. The bill had to be put to the vote as it was a precondition of the Madhesi parties for extending support to the present coalition government.
While putting the bill to a vote, Deuba and his coalition partners knew very well that the bill would not gather the required two-thirds vote in the Legislature-Parliament as the main opposition, Oli’s UML, and a few other parties, would not help to endorse the amendment. The Deuba-led coalition government had wanted to send a positive message to the Madhesis and India that the present government was honest in keeping its promise to put the amendment bill to a vote in the parliament. The bill failed to get the required vote but it has left many stakeholders happy.
One should not forget that India casts a long shadow on Nepal, and it wants Nepal to remain within its sphere of influence. Because of this, India wants its relationship with one of the closest neighbours, Nepal, to be sound and vibrant. India now appears to be ready to resolve the problems between the two nations amicably.
In the recent days, India also appears worried by the growing Chinese presence in Nepal. The Indian establishment is unhappy over Nepal’s recent signing of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) agreement with China. The One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative is expected to benefit countries like Nepal as it will help boost the economy and connectivity of the poor nation. But India, which has snubbed the BRI, perceives it as a security and military challenge to it.
A few days ago, Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang visited Nepal, during which he spoke on the importance of regional unity. During the Vice-Premier’s visit, three agreements - economic and technical cooperation, promoting Chinese investment in Nepal and gas and petroleum exploration - were signed between Nepal and China. Wang also extended an invitation, on behalf of the Chinese President, to the Prime Minister to visit China. The Chinese side has indeed upped its presence in Nepal in recent times as it has started investing in Nepal’s infrastructure and other development projects.
The Indian side is likely to take up the issue of growing Chinese presence in Nepal with Deuba during close door discussions. The host side is also likely to talk with Deuba in private about the issue of India’s border standoff with China at Doklam near Bhutan. The India media may even ask pointed queries to our premier about Nepal’s position on Doklam. Here it would be appropriate to suggest that our Prime Minister take a neutral stand on the highly sensitive issue between the immediate and powerful neighbours, though India may want Nepal to side with it.
Socio-economic relations apart, Nepal-India relations are also shaped by the geopolitics of the region. At present, we are ostensibly more dependent on India for many things. However, geopolitics does not and should not prohibit Nepal from raising matters related to our well-being and concerns and issues that have a direct bearing on the welfare of our state. But that does not mean we should undermine the sensitivities of the southern neighbour.
Prime Minister Deuba’s visit to India is important for Nepal, given the country’s present needs, problems and concerns. The prime objective of the PM’s visit should be to convince the Indian side to implement several of past accords and agreements that will be of larger interest to Nepal. In the meantime, Prime Minister Deuba will seek to convince the southern neighbour that he and his ally, the Maoist Centre, are willing to rub soothing balm on the bruised relationship between the two nations during the recent past.