Nepal-India Ties: Breaking The Rhetoric
Every political and diplomatic interaction between Nepal and India has been vociferously touted as a beginning of the ‘new normal’ in bilateral relations. In fact, it may not be wrong to say mostly new normal was not normal per se. Were the very recent reciprocal visits of the two prime ministers of Nepal and India truly able to reset the Nepal-India relations? Both the governments claimed that the acrimonies between two countries were replaced by amiabilities. It will be better to conclude so with the unfolding developments in the foreseeable future.
Like in the past, domestic political and intellectual discourses have once again been entangled in allegations and counter allegations. Being at the helm of power with his stance on nationalism, particularly during the 2015 India economic embargo, PM Oli already started facing blunt criticisms from commentators and opposition parties. Mentions of various degrees of capitulationism are being made in the public forums.
In short, reflecting the context and content of both two visits, irrespective of national dialogue whether PM should make his first foreign trip to north or south, PM Oli showed the good gesture by visiting the southern neighbour first which was followed by the congratulatory phone calls of PM Modi and visit of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to Nepal, even before the formation of the government. PM Oli emphasised mutual respect of national sovereignty and equality in different platforms during his visit, which are the very fundamental elements of equality based relations.
Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi visited Nepal for third time since becoming the PM. Modi, who had made the historic visit to Nepal in 2014 being the first Indian PM to visit Nepal after seventeen years and received rousing applause for his speech in Nepal’s parliament.
The positive image Modi built during his visit sharply declined with 2015 economic blockade. This time Modi refrained from the internal affairs of Nepal such as constitution amendment. This is positive sign for taking bilateral relations to new heights. The very changes in international power structure have also contributed to this development.
Agreements on railways and inland waterways between Nepal and India have ignited discourse. While announcing the Indian assistance for developing inland waterways with the necessary revision of transit treaty, Modi said ‘Sagarmatha will be directly connected to Sagar’. From the geopolitical angle, some scholars from both sides described India’s proposal of railways connection from Raxaul to Kathmandu as a counter to the proposed Kerung-Kathmandu railway.
If both the railways from north and south meet at Kathmandu, this will be the real opening of Nepal and make it the land-linked country, promoting trade, tourism, investment and people-to-people contact between Nepal, India, and China. Besides, while we are talking about the cross-border connectivity, it is also essential to conduct a wide-ranging dialogue in the areas, such as setting priorities of connectivity projects for the country, clarifying financial plan and funding in relation to domestic capacity, increasing national production to manage import-export ration and addressing genuine interests of neighbours. Moreover, the joint statement signed during Modi’s visit has called for promoting bilateral power cooperation in line with the bilateral Power Trade Agreement, 2014 and exploring new air routes for Nepal.
To cement bilateral relations the two neighbours should build mutual trust and respect each other’s sovereignty. As speculated, Modi needs to prove it wrong that it was not just short-lived tactical move targeting the 2019 election in India in light of heavy criticisms he is facing from opposition with regard to his foreign policies. Undoubtedly, Nepal and India have very deep-rooted relations but due to the hegemonic attitude of India, the anti-India sentiment is high in Nepal. India should show the genuine respect for the sovereignty and national independence of Nepal. Likewise, Oli too should prove that he hasn’t been diverted from people’s mandate for seeking regime security and will promote the mutually beneficial relations with India.
Second, India needs to expedite the sluggish projects like cross-border railways connectivity, postal highways and hydro projects. It seems there is the broader consensus in Nepal and mostly in India too that rather than increasing the bundle of agreements, prioritising and completing the projects will be the rational initiative. The respective bilateral ministerial and joint commissions should work rigorously and continuously to implement old and new bilateral projects. It is essential for Nepal to build greater consensus before signing the agreement on any big projects.
Third, it is urgent for both the governments to take initiatives for managing border, reducing trade deficit and loss of lives and property caused by floods in the Terai plains.
Fourth, as Eminent Persons Group (EPG) is about to submit its final report with the policy recommendations on many bilateral treaties and issues including the 1950 Peace Treaty, both sides must engage seriously to take the issues to the logical conclusion because this will be the most fundamental, though formidable, task for both the governments.
Fifth, there is a serious need for practicing diplomatic etiquette, protocol and dignity, for instance, the very loophole observed during the PM Modi visit was displaying wrong national flag and the objectionable remarks of Chief Minister of Province 2 Lal Babu Raut. Sixth, expanding soft power commonalities, the two prime ministers of Nepal and India recently inaugurated the ‘Ramayan Circuit’. This can be viewed as the very positive initiative that can enhance people-to-people contact between the two countries.
Finally, Prime Minister Modi repeatedly stated that his mantra of economic development ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’ and vision of ‘Samriddha Nepal, Sukhi Nepali’ of PM Oli are complementary to each other. It is imperative to implement bilateral agreements reached between the two nations to take Nepal-India relations to new heights. It is to be keenly observed whether the pertinent issues will be resolved or not.
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