Nepal Visit of Jaishankar: Pashupatinath At The Forefront

After finishing all of his formal meetings and negotiations, he worshiped at Pashupatinath Temple, emphasizing the significance of India's cultural links with Nepal

Jan. 7, 2024, 11:06 a.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL. 17, No. 11, January.12,2023 (Poush,27. 2080) Publisher and Editor: Keshab Prasad Poudel Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75

India's External Affairs Minister, Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, wrapped off a 26-hour visit to Nepal, during which he had multiple high-level talks and signed four major agreements, including one to purchase 10,000 MW of electricity. His visit was significant this time.

After finishing all of his formal meetings and negotiations, he worshiped at Pashupatinath Temple, emphasizing the significance of India's cultural links with Nepal.

Dr. Jaishankar expressed gratitude for his visit to the Pashupatinath Temple and prayed for both peoples' and the India-Nepal relationship's well-being. Dr. Jaishankar inscribed on the X wall, "Blessed to attend the Pashupatinath Temple."

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Not to be outdone, after ending his formal talks and business, he worshiped at the Pashupatinath Temple, emphasizing the importance of India's cultural links with Nepal. India's relationship with Nepal appears to be shifting from a state-to-state to a people-to-people basis. This crucial component of Nepal-India relations, which has been eroded for decades, is suddenly becoming a significant aspect in the two nations' relations.

Hinting the shift, External Affairs Minister Dr. Jaishankar stated on Friday (5 January) at the inauguration of Tribhuvan University's new library building in Kirtipur that the government of India is committed to redefining its relationship with neighbors, particularly Nepal, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's leadership.

Dr. Jaishankar also remarked that India-Nepal relations have changed significantly in recent years. The collaboration has grown in a variety of ways. This expanding collaboration increasingly relies on physical, digital, and energy-related interconnection.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited key religious sites in Nepal, including Janakpurdham, Pasupatinath, Muktinath, and Lumbinin since he firsted Nepal in 2014. Modi is the first Indian prime minister to place such a high value on India's spiritual ties with Nepal.Dr. Jaishankar was in Kathmandu to co-chair the seventh meeting of the Nepal-India Joint Commission, where four agreements were signed and three cross-border transmission lines were inaugurated by Nepal and India's foreign ministers.

Some academics and communist leaders have opposed the latest Nepal-India agreement to support community development initiatives through the Indian Embassy.

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Dr. Jaishankar, on the other hand, writes in his X that the 7th India-Nepal Joint Commission, which he co-chaired with his counterpart FM @NPSaudnc, was thorough and constructive.

The discussions centered on strengthening our bilateral ties, trade and economic relations, land, rail, and air connectivity projects, defense and security cooperation, agriculture, energy, power, water resources, disaster management, tourism, civil aviation, people-to-people and cultural exchanges, and development partnerships.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Narayan Prasad Saud spoke at the ceremony about many facets of Nepal-India ties. Economic linkages, connectivity, trade and transit, power and water resources, education, culture, and political issues were all covered.

The signing of an agreement between Nepal and India for the purchase of 10,000 MW of power by India was one of the event's most notable outcomes. In addition, Nepal and India signed four other accords,” said Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda.

Even though former foreign secretary Bharat Raj Paudyal prepared all of the groundwork for the visit under the leadership of foreign minister NP Saud, the Nepalese delegation included foreign secretary Sewa Lamsal, Nepalese ambassador to India Dr. Shanker Prasad Sharma, Spokesperson Amrit Kumar Rai, and India division head Bhrigu Dhungana.

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The gathering covered every facet of bilateral relations and collaboration. The two countries inked bilateral agreements on network expansion, trade, water resources, and electricity trade.

Amrit Bahadur Rai, the Foreign Ministry's spokeswoman, revealed that Nepal and India have inked an agreement for Indian financial support to achieve high-impact community development through government agencies or enterprises.

Furthermore, the two countries have signed agreements for long-term energy trade, collaboration between the Nepal Electricity Authority and the National Thermal Power Corporation for the development of renewable energy, and cooperation between the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) and New Space India (NSI) on the launch of a Nepali satellite.

Transmission Line

According to the power trade agreement, Nepal would export 10,000 MW of electricity to India over a 10-year period. Meanwhile, three 132 KV inter-state transmission lines were opened on Thursday: Raxaul-Parwanipur, Mainahiya-New Nautanawa, and Kushaha-Kataiya.

Foreign Minister Saud and his Indian counterpart Dr. Jaishankar jointly inaugurated the transmission lines. Following the meeting, the two Ministers witnessed the signing of a long-term electricity trading deal between the governments of Nepal and India. Shakti Bahadur Basnet, Minister of Energy, Water Resources, and Irrigation, was also in attendance.

The second circuit of the Raxaul-Parwanipur line, the second circuit of the Kataiya-Kusaha line, and the new Nautanwa-Mainhiya lines were remotely inaugurated by the Foreign Minister of Nepal and the External Affairs Minister of India.

Other agreements signed today include the Agreement between the Governments of Nepal and India on Indian Grant Assistance for the Implementation of High Impact Community Development Projects (HICDPs), the Launch Service Agreement for the Munal Satellite, and the Memorandum of Understanding for Cooperation in the Development of Renewable Energy.

The fifth batch of post-Jajarkot earthquake relief supplies from the Government of India to the Government of Nepal was delivered remotely. Prefabricated dwellings, tents, and other relief materials make up the tranche.

The Indian government has granted a Rs 10 billion assistance to Nepal for reconstruction following the earthquake.

The two sides addressed all elements of bilateral ties and areas of cooperation during the Joint Commission meeting, including connectivity, infrastructure development, economic partnership, commerce, transit, investment, energy, water resources, culture, tourism, sports, health, and education.

The two ministers expressed satisfaction with mutual support on matters of mutual importance in regional, sub-regional, and multilateral fora.

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Nepal also discussed the issue of new aviation access routes, as well as floods and inundation, according to a press statement released by Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Amrit Kumar Rai. "Views were also exchanged on the review of the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship, security and boundary issues," according to a news release.

High level Meeting

Dr. Jaishankar, India's External Affairs Minister, paid a courtesy call on President Ramchandra Paudeland and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda'. Various matters of mutual interest were discussed during the calls.

Jaishankar also met with former prime ministers, including Sher Bahadur Deuba, KP Sharma Oli, Madhav Kumar Nepal, and leaders of various political parties. He also met three leaders from Madhesh including Upendra Yadav, Mahanta Thakur and CK missing two leaders of major political parties RPP leader Rajendra Lingden and Swatantra Party leaer Rabi Lamichhane.

Unlike in the past, he did not spend much time on Nepal's domestic politics, but stated that the ruling alliance would complete its full term, according to one leader.

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During his stay in Kathmandu, the Indian foreign minister also met office bearers of the Cricket Association of Nepal (CAN) and assured them that India would provide all possible help for Nepali cricket.

“Congratulated them on qualifying for the T20 World Cup,” Jaishankar wrote in X, formerly Twitter, “assured them of India’s support in their preparations. Underlined our commitment to the growth of cricket in Nepal,” he added.

Controversy over HICDPs

The renewal of the agreement on the implementation of High Impact Community Development Projects (HICDPs), formerly known as 'small development projects', has sparked debate. Some political leaders and civil society members are concerned about allowing India to invest up to Rs 200 million per project through a 'lax vetting process'.

The main opposition CPN-UML opposed the decision, saying the government did not consult them. Foreign Minister NP Saud defended the extension of the terms of the HICDPs. He stated that the extension was carried out following the same guidelines and modalities used during the Communist Party of Nepal's rule in 2019.

The budget per project has been increased from Rs 50 million to Rs 200 million, which will benefit the country. Saud stated that the guidelines, modalities, and terms of reference are unchanged from those prepared by the Oli government in 2019.

In 2019, the Oli government amended some provisions of the 'small grant project' due to Nepal's constitution prohibiting local and provincial units from directly seeking funds and projects from donors.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, while addressing a parliamentary committee on Friday, defended the government's decision to increase the budget for small projects from 50 million rupees to 200 million rupees.

"The government of Nepal should create counter funds for the small grant projects," the prime minister said. "The projects will be implemented through joint investment and decision making."

He also pointed out that India alone cannot decide to invest in HICDP projects. But UML deputy general secretary and former foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali argued that the HICDP agreement went against the spirit of the constitution, which states that local or provincial governments cannot seek direct foreign aid.

"This kind of agreement would foster a rent-seeking mentality among our local units, leading them to queue up at the embassy for assistance," he said.

Similarly, UML general secretary Shankar Pokhrel, who organized a press conference at the party headquarters, criticized the government for not consulting the main opposition on issues of national importance before the joint commission meeting.

Communist leaders Jhalnath Khanal and Chitra Bahadur KC also criticized the decision to renew the Small Grants Project agreement. They said the agreement was against the national interest.

Former secretary Krishna Gyawali in his X writes that the agreement is against the existing law of Nepal.

In her commentary in X, Navita Srikant, a development expert and Nepal watcher from India, writes: "this is how #disinformation campaign is launched! When a section of the media lacks factual accuracy, deliberately undermines the country's systems and peddles provocative statements to serve an 'agenda', it shows desperation and not substance."

However, former foreign secretary Madhu Raman Acharya said Dr. Jaishankar’s visit was a ‘good and positive follow-up’ to the visit of the prime minister to India last year and it is now up to the two sides to effectively mobilise bilateral mechanisms to implement the agreements reached during the meeting.

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"Together, we successfully concluded the important meeting of the Nepal-India joint commission and delivered positive outcomes for the mutual benefit of our countries," Minister Saud remarked after seeing off Jaishankar at Tribhuvan International Airport. We shall continue to collaborate to keep the momentum in Nepal-India friendship."

Nepal and India are close neighbors with many points of cooperation and some issues of contention. To oppose the visit, Nepal's communist-led opposition is emphasizing the bad aspect for political gain. It is critical to have frequent visits at all levels in order to strengthen civilizational links.

PM Modi began to restore Nepal-India civilization relations during his maiden visit in 2014 by performing a special prayer in Pashupatinath. Dr. Jaishankar, India's External Affairs Minister, continued to deepen ties by exploring new avenues.

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