Dr D K Giri
Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, aka ‘Prachanda’ was on a four-day visit to India from 31 May to 3 June. It was his first foreign sojourn after taking over as the Prime Minister since the last elections in December 2022. Unless we reckon with the diplomatic hyperboles, the visit was a flying success as evidenced from the statements of Prachanda and Prime Minister Modi.
Prachanda profiled his visit on a press briefing at the Tribhuvan International Airport as an astounding success. Modi had told Prachanda in Hyderabad House in New Delhi, where they had their deliberations, that the bilateral ties should reach the Himalayan heights. Prachanda said the following, “Modiji emphasised on Nepal-India relations stating that it should be higher than Himalayas. PM Modi referred to his visit to Nepal in 2014 calling it a hit. Now we should work towards making our relations super-hit.”
At any rate, Prachanda’s visit was significant and was different from his previous ones in 2004, 2002 and 1996. First, it was a bit surprising to see him in Nepalesenational outfit-daurasuruwal, given his Communist upbringing; second, he preferred New Delhi as his first port of call to Beijing unlike his predecessor, KP Oli, who had decidedly a pro-China tilt; third,Prachanda had in the past threatened a ‘tunnel-war’ against India and was critical of New Delhi’s perceived micro-management of Kathmandu. Fourth, as any politician anywhere, he was reflecting the political pragmatism in the lines of the axiomatic expression of Otto von Bismarck, “politics is the art of the possible….”
Remember, he is leading a coalition of his own party Maoist Centre, which won only 32 seats in Parliament, and Nepali Congress with maximum of 88 seats and Madhesi Party in a fractured verdict, for the 275-memberHouse. He had initially aligned with Oli’s Unified Marxist-Leninist Party which secured 79 seats but broke away from it as Oli insisted on having his candidate as the President. Prachanda then embraced Nepali Congress by supporting their Presidential candidate.
Before we discuss his ‘successful visit’ it is necessary to recognise the fragile domestic power-play in Nepal that produces a new surprise every month. Interestingly, since Nepal became a Republic in 2008, it has had a new government every year. Prachanda could consolidate the ‘accomplishments’ resulting out of his visit if he could keep his alliance going for the full term. One of the successes he pulled out of his bag in the said press conference is the landmark agreement for India to import 10,000 mega watt power from Nepal in coming 10 years. Hydropower is Nepal’s the biggest economic asset. Generating and supplying it to India could be a game changer. This will replace fossil-fuel based power generation.
It may be recalled that Nepal was importing power from India, now with India’s support it is the other way around.Even more important, India agreed to allow Nepal to sell power to Bangladesh using the Indian transmission network. The three countries India, Nepal and Bangladesh will work out an agreement in the near future.
In all, seven agreements were signed up, three completed infrastructure projects were inaugurated, and three more launched virtually. The agreements and deliberations covered trade and transit, motorable bridges, hydropower trade, cross-border railways, petroleum pipelines, irrigation, inundation and flood control, agriculture and civil aviation, etc.
The seven agreements included Integrated Check-Posts (ICPs) to facilitate trade transport between the two countries. Second is the renewal of India-Nepal Transit Treaty 1992 with new facilities for the first time of inland waterway along with rail routes. Third was an MoU on cooperation in the field of petroleum infrastructure. Fourth, MoU between the Institute of Foreign Affairs Nepal and Sushma Swaraj Institute of Foreign Services Delhi. Fifth, MoU for the development of Phukot-Karnali 480 MW hydro project. Sixth, project development agreement of Lower Arul 669 (MW) hydro power. Already a 900 MW Arul 3 and 490 MW Arul 4 projects are ongoing. And, the seventh, MoU between Nepali Cleaning House Limited and National Payment Company India Limited for quicker cross-border payment for business, students and tourists, both of Nepal and India. In addition, it was decided to set up a fertilizer plant in Nepal with the participation of public and private sector entities that will benefit Nepali agriculture.
Prachanda knows India too well. He had spent time as a Maoist insurgent in India fighting against Nepal monarchy. India is the biggest trading partner of Nepal, so Prachanda chose to appreciate Modi’s achievements at home and abroad, in particular the G-20 leadership New Delhi is providing. He agreed to take the diplomatic route to solve the contentious territorial issues. In 2019, Nepal-India relations had nosedived for various reasons including a territory comprising Kalapani, Lipulekh trijunction and Susta region of West Champaran (Bihar), which were shown in maps of both the countries.
However, let us not overlook the elephant in the room, China while discussing India and Nepal. Geopolitically, Nepal is sandwiched between China and India while Beijing wants to grab influence on Kathmandu as New Delhi tries to maintain its traditional friendship and proximity. Now the United States appears to have jumped into the fray. Prachanda came against a backdrop of a Bill which was signed by the Nepali President into a law, which allows Indian women married to Nepali men to acquire citizenship without the earlier provision of seven-years cooling off period. It was earlier opposed by the Chinese who feared Tibetans staying in India getting Nepali citizenship.
On the part of India, New Delhi has to be conscious of the perceived ‘big-brother’ attitude to its neighbours mainly Nepal with which it has strong and special cultural ties. Madhesis (people of Indian origin) in Nepal treat India for what they call roti-beti relation, meaning for marriage and a shared culture. India had in the past fallen into the emotional trap of supporting the Madhesis vis-à-vis the Republic of Nepal. Supporting the ‘blockade’ erected by Madhesis should ring a bell. Some of us had suggested then that it should be a country-to-country relation not just with Madhesis even though their demands were genuine. A new chapter seems to have ushered in with Prachanda’s visit as a supposedly anti-India Maoist leader is warming up to New Delhi. (INFA)
Dr D K Giri