If the scenario remains unchanged, prime minister K.P. Sharma Oli, who has been harping on anti-India slogan since he assumed power four months ago, will most likely embark on his India likely to be middle of February.
As the official level informal meeting is going on to prepare the visit, one of the leaders of Prime Minister Oli’s party has said that he may not visit Delhi unless the blockade is lifted.
“Prime Minister Oli may head to China ahead of India if the trade 'blockade' is not lifted. Normalization of the situation at the Indo-Nepal border is a pre-condition for the premier’s maiden trip to Delhi,” said Surya Thapa, deputy chief of the publicity committee of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) in his interview to Press Trust of India (PTI).
The recent opinions of Chinese scholar show otherwise as China seems to have tested the nerves of prime minister Oli who is just paying a lip service to make business deals with China.
”China ought to be careful not to step into the minefields between Nepal and India. Maintaining a neutral stance is of significance for Beijing. Kathmandu's swaying between Beijing and New Delhi is worth exploring. The Nepalese government was not serious when suggesting earlier that Oli may visit China ahead of India. Kathmandu was just sounding out New Delhi's attitude,” writes Xu Liang, Executive Director at Indian Studies Center from Beijing International Studies University, in Global Times.
Whatever Prime Minister Oli and his party say about the visit, Nepal has very limited options before her. “Prime Minister has high regards for Indo-Nepal ties, if India does not show any gesture, Oli’s trip to China as the first foreign destination was inevitable,” said Thapa.
As American Scholar late Leo Rose writes in his book, Nepal: A Profile of a Himalayan Kingdom, the strategies available to countries in Nepal’s geostrategic situation are limited in number: isolation from the surrounding world to the greatest extent possible, acceptance of subordinate position to the dominant power in the region or delicate exercise in the balancing off of surrounding powers in order to limit their capacity to interfere.
“Small countries situated in highly strategic areas between two larger and more powerful neighbors must, by necessity, formulate strategies and policies that reduce their vulnerabilities and exploit opportunities,” said Rose.
Recently, Nepal’s leadership has failed to formulate the policies to reduce the vulnerabilities. As Nepal’s relations with its southern neighbor India are at the lowest level with eroding trust, its relations with northern neighbor are also not the warmest yet.
Although Prime Minister Oli has toned down recently on matters related to India, one cannot rule out the possibility of using harsh statement from Prime Minister Oli, who is known for his personal unpredictability. By appointing people with anti-Indian orientation in the committee of eminent personalities, Prime Minister Oli has shown where his vote bank is.
Nepal is facing acute shortage of petroleum products, medicines and other essential goods due to the five-month-long blockade of key border trade points with India due to protests by Madhesis.
Although more rhetoric is coming in the media about China, the reality is different. Nothing tangible is moving between Nepal and China in bilateral relations. Despite its commitments, the government has not shown interest to widen the road to Rasuwagadhi. Nepal is yet to utilize the additional 12 billion rupees given as a grant, has not implemented the agreement on Pokhara Regional International Airport and is still to import Chinese Aircrafts.
Prime Minister Oli’s foreign relations expert Gopal Khanal confirmed with The Himalayan Times that PM Oli is most likely to visit India India in middle of February or First week of March.
Finance Minister Bishnu Paudel, meanwhile, is going to New Delhi on February 7 to set the stage for prime minister’s visit and finalize its agenda. He will also discuss ways to utilize India’s $1 billion Line of Credit for the post-earthquake reconstruction and recovery and another $1 billion pledged for infrastructure projects.
PM’s Chief Adviser Bishnu Rimal said that Paudel would be visiting India on the request of External Affairs Minister of India Sushma Swaraj. Paudel is also scheduled to hold bilateral talks with his Indian counterpart Arun Jaitley on February 8.
Spokesperson for Indian Embassy in Kathmandu Ruby Jaspreet Sharma said the date of the PM’s visit was yet to be officially finalized.
Given the present circumstances, Prime Minister Oli is likely to visit India on first week or middle week of March. How can Prime Minister Oli, who rides anti-India bandwagon, can restore the trust with India remains to be seen.