Improving Nepal-India Relations
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid an official visit to Nepal this past week, leaving behind mixed feelings in Nepal. Some section of the Nepalese society hailed the visit being successful in clearing existing misunderstandings between the two nations while some say that the visit was an attempt by PM Modi to enhance his own and his government’s image in the eyes of Nepalese, his Indian fellows and few other neighbouring nations. For few others, Modi’s visit has exposed the Nepali government’s appeasement to its Indian counterparts.
The visit has provided an opportunity to both Nepal and India to come closer as it has been successful in clearing misunderstanding between the two governments. Our government’s relationship with India was hit badly three years ago when the blockade was imposed on Nepal as an arm-twisting tactic by India following the promulgation of its new constitution in 2015/2016. After coming under heavy criticism at home and abroad, the Modi government took the initiation to bring its relations with the immediate neighbour on track after the communist alliance swept the elections and came to the government.
Soon after the left alliance won almost a two-thirds majority in the federal parliament and provincial assemblies, Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj visited Nepal that signified India’s growing willingness to set the relations on “right course”. PM Modi’s visit has highlighted India’s “deep wish” to bolster its relations with Nepal. Upon completion of his visit, he tweeted that his visit to Nepal was historical and his tweet highlighted the importance of his meetings with Nepali President, Vice-President, Ministers and leaders of various political parties.
During civic receptions held in Janakpur and Kathmandu, Modi waxed eloquent about the importance of Nepal and India-Nepal relations. At all receptions and meetings, he praised Nepal and its age-old cultural, religious and economic ties with India. In Janakpur, from where he began his visit of Nepal this time, he talked about linking the city with India through the Ramayan Circuit and also wished to connect Lumbini with the Budhha Circuit.
He engaged in widely televised worships at Nepal’s popular Hindu shrines of Janaki Temple, Lord Pashupatinath and Muktinath, apparently to appeal to the Hindu constituencies in his country. He declared to provide financial assistance for the promotion of Janaki and Pashupatinath Temples. Prime Minister Modi appeared to have done his homework on Nepal quite properly before embarking on the two-day Nepal visit. In his civic reception addresses, he praised Nepal’s political transformation through historical three-tier elections in a period of one year. He even tried to touch hearts and minds of the people by praising the country, its people and communities residing in the Madhesh, hills and mountains. Most importantly, he declared that India would act as a Sherpa in all of Nepal’s development endeavours. India would work to link Nepal to outer world with inland water link, air connectivity and land, he declared.
The visit was indeed an exercise to improve India’s relations with Nepal, which of late had exhibited its traction towards China. As a stark realisation of not to offend Nepali sensitivity, he stayed clear of uttering a word on the issues which are sensitive matters for all Nepalese such as the Nepali constitution and Madhesi issues. However, he also did not utter a word on blockade, though a section of Nepali society and media had expected that he would apologise for the “mistake”.
Prime Minister Oli, who had paid an official visit of India last month, termed the Modi visit successful in bringing back Nepal-India relationship in right place. While counting on the achievements of the Modi visit at the House of Representative, he said that the Nepal-India relationship would now be based on equality and mutual respect. He declared that the bad feelings that existed three years ago have gone now. However, the government drew flak for allowing civic receptions in Janakpur and Kathmandu to be held for Indian PM, who did not “apologise” to the Nepali people for imposing crippling blockade. The arrival of heavily armed Indian commandos in Nepali soil for the security of the visiting high dignitary too had invited criticisms for the government.
The Oli government was rapped in social media networks for his “appeasement” to India, which is taken as a sign of his U-turn from being a pro-nationalist to an India appeaser. Many criticised India for failing to fulfil its promises and for failing to implement various projects in Nepal. Indians are often criticised in the Nepali media for sitting on various projects despite getting permissions of the authority.
Now, after Indian PM’s image enhancing trip to Nepal, the Indians are expected to build the Raxaul-Kathmandu railway line, besides improving the capacity of the existing Jankpur-Jayanagar line. The Koshi inland water transport and road networks would also be constructed under Indian assistance, while construction of the 900-megawatt Arun-III Hydel Project would be the key in strengthening the relations between the two nations.
The Nepal-India relationship, which had worsened some three years ago, is expected to see a new vigour following the two high level visits from the premiers of two nations in a span of five weeks. Modi’s political pilgrimage has been seen as his attempt to rub the balm on the Nepalese wounds inflicted by the blockade some three years ago.
Though two past prime ministers, Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Sher Bahadur Deuba, had tried to mitigate the tension between the two nations, the Oli led majority government has actually got the power and capacity to reset the Nepal’s relations with India by clearing existing misunderstandings and suspicions between the both nations about each other. On the other, the successful Modi visit is expected to open a new page in the Nepal Indian relations. The visit has given a huge opportunity for Indian prime minister to improve his image in the eyes of not only Nepalese people but also in the eyes of some section of his own people and the people in South Asia, who had earlier criticised him and his government for having high-handedness on the Nepal’s internal affairs.