Narendra Modi to visit Nepal for course correction in bilateral ties

New Delhi:Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to visit Nepal next week, a little more than a month after Nepal’s prime minister K.P.Sharma Oli visited New Delhi, in a bid to consolidate ties strained by a disagreement over Nepal’s 2015 constitution.

The visit is seen as key as New Delhi sets about doing a course correction in ties with the aim of keeping Nepal within its political and diplomatic fold in South Asia where giant neighbour China has been making deep inroads through its infrastructure projects and cheap loans.

One of the highlights of Modi’s visit to Nepal will be the inauguration of the 900 MW Arun 111 hydro power project, being constructed with Indian assistance, two people familiar with the development said. This is seen as a move to integrate Nepal’s economy with that of India, something analysts say will go a long way to counter China’s growing influence in the Himalayan nation.

There will also be an emphasis on the cultural connect between the two countries.

A report in Nepal’s Kathmandu Post news paper on Tuesday said Modi would reach Janakpur—some 120 kilometres from capital Kathmandu—on 11 May via helicopter. He will be received in Janakpur—widely believed to be the birthplace of the Hindu goddess Sita—by Oli. Modi will then proceed to capital Kathmandu on the same day.

Modi’s visit—coming as it does within four weeks of Oli’s visit to India—is seen as an attempt to consolidate ties frayed by tensions between the neighbours over Nepal’s 2015 constitution. India was of the view that the constitution discriminated against 51% of the population – the Tharus, Madhesis and the Janjatis and bestowed extra political rights and privileges on the hill tribes constituting 49% of the population. The bitterness between the then Nepalese government and India grew when New Delhi was seen as supportive of the deprived Tharus, Madhsesis and Janjatis blocking key supply routes between the two countries, preventing trucks carrying fuel and medicines among other essentials from reaching Nepal. India was also seen as instrumental in triggering the collapse of a fragile coalition government in Nepal, leading to Oli’s resignation as prime minister in August 2016.

During Oli’s visit to India last month—after an Leftist Alliance that he headed won a strong three-fourths majority in the November-December polls—New Delhi however sought to set aside past differences and move forward.

During talks in New Delhi, the two countries agreed to construct a new electrified rail line, with India’s financial support, connecting the border city of Raxaul to Kathmandu in Nepal. This was seen as an attempt by New Delhi to counter China’s reported moves to build a rail link between Tibet and Kathmandu.

Another key decision taken after talks between the visiting Oli and Modi was on the development of inland waterways enabling “the movement of cargo, within the framework of trade and transit arrangements, providing additional access to sea for Nepal,” an Indian foreign ministry statement said. “

The two prime ministers also attended the ground breaking ceremony of South Asia’s first transnational petroleum pipeline which will deliver 2 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) of petroleum products to the fuel-starved country and will be built at a cost of around Rs200 crore.

These decisions were significant given that in the past Nepal has been seen as keen to develop alternate routes to end its dependence on India for energy, connectivity, trade and transit due to its landlocked status.

New Delhi is keen to see that Nepal does not seek to balance ties with India and its strategic rival China. Oli is seen as pro-China and has spoken of the need to develop ties with both countries.livemint