India And Nepal Search For A Durable Understanding

The questions that have come up after the present visit of PM Oli to India are obvious in the context of the immediate background of the bitter relations between the two countries.

April 15, 2018, 12:54 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL.11, No.17, March 23, 2018 (Chaitra 09, 2074) Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75

Is Nepali Premier’s recent visit to India going to be to be a game changer? Has it come out with a sincere approach to bring relations of the two countries back on track?  These are some broad questions, which have been boggling minds of the people of the two countries, more so in Nepal ever since PM Oli decided to make his first foreign trip to New Delhi. There were suspicions as well as hopes. The suspicions as the relations between the two countries had reached two its lowest web during Oli’s previous term as the Prime Minister of Nepal. There hopes as before visiting India PM Oli said in the Nepali Parliament on 3rd April that India- Nepal relations were based on historical and deep-rooted socio-cultural linkages and no one is allowed to erode them. Nepal’s successful completion of its electoral process and emergence of K.P.Oli as a strong and popular leader has raised new hopes for political stability and governmental continuity has increased confidence of the people and the leadership of Nepal. These are important, as the country had been facing serious challenges of constitution-making and inclusive democracy. With the logical conclusion of the processes and Nepal’s entry into a new phase of the political process with the realization of the federal system of governance, there are new hopes and expectations. It is obvious that the emerging domestic political scenario has also generated fresh hopes in the arena of international relations as well, especially relations with the two big neighbors.

The questions that have come up after the present visit of PM Oli to India are obvious in the context of the immediate background of the bitter relations between the two countries. Infect the misunderstandings relating to the constitution making process in Nepal, the Madhes issue, the blockade in Terai and Nepal’s excessive response to China had resulted in an erosion of trust between the two countries. There was a need to restore mutual understanding and trust.

The most important aspect of PM Oli’s visit to India is that the leaders of the two countries did not raise any contentious issue. Rather kept them aside for the time being and followed a forward-looking approach. It is indeed a significant breakthrough how long and to what extent it will be carried forward only time will tell that. But there are valid reasons for its continuity and strengthening of relations between the two countries. The only thing is to retain mutual and trust and not allow its erosion. There is no doubt that the scenario is changing and with taking the sprit further it may prove to be a game changer.

Connectivity

One very significant outcome of PM Oli’s visit to India seems the agreement on building a railway link from Nepal-India border at Raxaul to the capital city of Kathmandu. It has indeed been a much-awaited project that the government of India wanted to work upon. It is a fact that if it completed in time will prove to be a milestone in the area of strengthening connectivity between the two countries. India has made it clear that the survey work on the proposed rail link will be completed in one year’s time and the project will be completed by 2022.  It may be added here that the Raxaul- Kathmandu railway link will pass through difficult hilly terrains and not an easy task. Therefore it would require immediate action. It may be reminded here that when India took up the construction of Tribhuwan Rajmarg during the fifties, it was signed to Indian military as the civil departments did not have the appropriate technology to construct a road in steep hills, though much has changed then.    Some other rail projects that India has agreed to take up are Jalpaiguri-Kakarbhikta, Nautanua- Bhairahawa, Jainager- Biratnagar and Nepal road- Nepalgung railway line project. This apart the development of roads and waterways for navigational purposes has also been agreed. This will facilitate Nepal’s larger connectivity to India and elsewhere in South Asia. Infect, connectivity is not only important for the movement of people and access to market but it will also facilitate Nepal’s regional trade. India’s willingness in the development of organic farming and research will go a long way in the growth of agriculture in that country.          The Premiers of the two countries inaugurated the Integrated Check post at Birgunj and also witnessed groundbreaking ceremony of Motihari-Amlekhgunj cross-border petroleum pipeline.

Taking Relations to Newer Heights

For the first time, there is a willingness on the part of the leaders of the two countries to accord a new platform to the India- Nepal relations. At least the Joint Statement signed between two countries reflects upon the desire of the two leaders. In New Delhi, PM Oli remarked in a statement thus “ I have come to India with an aim to enhance our relations to newer heights commensurate with the realities of the 21st century”. PM Modi reciprocated by saying that India will always stand by the side of Nepal. It was also made clear that India will work together for Nepal’s development, peace and prosperity.  Infect, a developed neighbour is an asset for India itself. Therefore, India’s all out cooperation for building a developed and prosperous Nepal is much called for. Infect. PM Modis’s slogan of Sab ka Sath Sab ka Vikas was seen as complementary to PM Oli’s slogan of  ”samadhi Nepal vikasit Nepal.” Both the leaders have advocated people oriented vision, shared goal of development and march forward to peace and prosperity.

Concern Over Timely Completion of Projects

PM Oli rightly expressed his concern over timely completion of the agreed projects during his visit to New Delhi. It has indeed been a serious issue. There have been complaints about delays in the completion of Indian aid projects in Nepal. PM Modi had also expressed his concern over this issue earlier. There appears to be some change in last few years. it is also possible that India alone is not responsible for delays but India has to be much serious on this issue. The working of the Indian projects is generally compared with Chinese aided projects, which are known for their timely completion. It carries bad name to India. India is considered not only slow but also reactive instead of being proactive. Infect much of India’s space in Nepal has been overtaken by other powers due to India’ slow and reactive attitude.

It is, in fact, much important in the present context where there are serious attempts to build bridges and a new vision is in the offing. Let it not remain slogans or mere rhetoric. The two countries need to work hard to implement all that what has agreed upon. India has a greater responsibility in this regard.

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Prof. Bhuwan Upreti

Prof. Upreti is a former director of South Asia studies centre University of Rajasthan Jaipur and senior fellow of Vivekanand international foundation and Indian council of social science research

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