Nepal PM Visits India to repair Relations
C D Sahay, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli made his first visit to India (February 19 to 24, 2016) after taking office. Oli’s visit was the first foreign trip undertaken by him after assuming charge and came after a long gap of five years when the then Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai had visited India in 2011. It was also the first by the Nepalese PM after the promulgation of the new constitution in September 2015.

On arrival, he was accorded the traditional ceremonial welcome at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, where he inspected a guard of honour. Following this, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj called on the visiting dignitary. During his six-day visit, PM Oli held a series of meetings including with Indian President, Vice-President, and National Security Advisor. Most importantly, he had intensive bilateral talks with PM Modi.

PM Oli was accompanied by a large delegation of ministers, bureaucrats and businessmen. He did not come with a ‘shopping list’. His agenda was to clear the misunderstandings and repair the relations between the two countries. It came in the wake of a long and acrimonious period of tension and political/diplomatic posturing following the promulgation of the new constitution of Nepal in September 2015. What followed thereafter is well known and extensively commented on. The virtual stand off in bilateral relations needed to be broken and it must be said to the credit of PM Modi that he decided to take the initiative by talking to PM Oli to exchange New Year greetings and extending an invitation to his counterpart to visit India. The ice was broken even though, before the visit finally eventuated, there was considerable speculation in the Nepalese media that Oli, breaking the tradition, could visit China before coming to New Delhi as was done in a way by the UCPN (M) leader Mr. Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda.

In his various public utterances Oli emphasized that he had come to ‘clear misunderstandings between the two countries and restore harmonious relations’. On his return home on February 24, PM Oli told the media, at a press conference held at the Tribhuvan International Airport, that though the Nepal-India relations witnessed frosty situation for some time, his visit was successful in wiping it out, and help restore cordial relations. He also admitted that such situation should not have happened and that these ‘would not repeat again’. Earlier, addressing Nepali and Indian media and members of Nepali community at the Nepal Embassy in New Delhi on February 21, PM Oli claimed that he had accomplished the mission of his India visit and was satisfied with the progress. He reiterated that his only objective was to clear the misunderstanding between the two countries. Participating in a discussion programme in New Delhi, on February 22, PM Oli thanked PM Modi for recognizing the new constitution as an important achievement of the Nepali people. He was referring to the Indian Prime Minister’s statement of February 20, in which he had described the constitution as a ‘significant achievement’ in Nepal’s democratic struggle.

While PM Modi did not refer to the ‘stand off’ in bilateral relations or the ‘blockade’ during the joint press conference, the Nepalese Prime Minister did. PM Oli said that intermittent issues between the two countries should not lead us to actions that were unwarranted and impacted people’s daily lives adversely. He was obviously referring to the acute shortage of essential commodities on account of the Madhesi sponsored ‘blockade’ for which he had publicly held India responsible. He reiterated Nepal’s firm commitment to check any hostile activity directed against India from its soil. Oli added that Nepal wanted to take advantage from the two fastest growing economies in the neighbourhood but clarified that Nepal had no intention of playing the India or China card. “We at times hear from certain quarters that Nepal uses that card or this card vis-à-vis its relations with neighbours. Such perceptions have no basis. There is no question of aligning with one or the other, we can’t do it and for us it is not a viable option either”, PM Oli clarified.

During his visit, PM Oli visited Uttarakhand to inspect Tehri Hydro Power Unit, on February 21. He also went to Bhuj in Gujarat, on February 23, to observe the post-earthquake reconstruction works carried out there. Impressed by the reconstruction work there, Oli said that it had ‘increased confidence in him’ for reconstruction works in Nepal caused by devastating April 25 earthquake. Talking to journalists there he said that reconstruction of Bhuj was an ‘example of unity and sheer determination’ shown by the people of Bhuj. Prime Minister proceeded to Mumbai along with his wife, Radhika Shakya, cabinet ministers, Ambassador of Nepal in India and business leaders from the Nepal. At the head office of Hindustan Unilevers Ltd. In Mumbai, the delegation took note of its product range and global marketing network. While talking to Hindustan Unilever officials, PM assured that the policies of his government would foster growth of existing and new industries in Nepal. He added that Unilever Nepal Ltd was an excellent example of how businesses had prospered and grown in Nepal and at the same time catalyzed local development through direct and indirect employment. Established in 1992, Unilever Nepal is one of the most successful companies operating in Nepal, MD of Hindustan Unilever said.

During the visit, Nepal and India signed nine different agreements. Oli and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi witnessed the signing ceremony that included two Letters of Exchange on a wide range of bilateral issues such as energy trade, transit facilities, cultural exchanges, road construction, rail transport, post-earthquake reconstruction support and establishment of eminent persons group. Most of the agreements that have been signed are not new. They are related to continuation and execution of previous pledges between the two sides. An important event was the joint inauguration of the Muzaffarpur-Dhalkebar power transmission line by the two Prime Ministers designed to provide power to the Nepal villages in that area. .

Prime Minister Oli returned home, on the February 24, after completing his six-day visit. In a departure from the past, no joint communiqué was issued at the end of the visit. According to media reports, India’s continued reservations on some of the constitutional provisions could have been the sticking point that prevented the finalization of the joint communiqué. Possibly, it is said, India’s reservations to categorically “welcome” Nepal’s new constitution became the sticking point. It is argued that although PM Modi had, on February 20, described Nepal’s constitution “an important achievement”, he had dropped a word of caution for Nepali leadership, saying “… but its (constitution’s) success depends on consensus and dialogue.” Modi had added, “I am confident that you (Nepali leadership) will take Nepal on the path of peace and stability by resolving all constitutional issues through political dialogue and by taking along all sections of Nepal.” According to Nepal’s Ambassador to India, the Indian side had explained that, of late, India had stopped issuing joint communiqué during the visits of heads of state or government and they were now following this new practice.

`In the net assessment, it can be safely concluded that visit of the Nepalese Prime Minister was useful in removing to an extent, misunderstandings and misgivings that had adversely impacted bilateral ties. The immediate fallout was resumption of trans-border trade and movement of essential supplies. However, the scars left by nearly six months of acrimony that frequently turned into personal attacks, targeted demonstrations, burning of effigies, unwarranted statements from high ups in the Nepal government, are not going to heal up quickly nor easily.

Similarly, the deep divide in the country’s social fabric compounded by the tragedy of death of over 60 agitators, are also unlikely to heal easily. The Madhesi groups do not seem to be satisfied with the proposed amendments since in their view, these would not adequately address their concerns on any of the critical issues. They are reportedly contemplating a fresh round of agitation if the government negotiators continue to be insensitive to their genuine concerns of discrimination. In this context, the Madhesi groups see a possible ray of hope in the recent change of leadership in the Nepali Congress with the election of former PM Sher Bahadue Deuba as its new President. However, they would be well advised to seek political solution to their problems and concerns rather than taking resort to unconstitutional methods. Equally, in fact more importantly, the government of Nepal must remain genuinely and earnestly engaged with them and help resolve the problems. Needless to mention, that the people of Nepal have suffered immensely for long. Its time the government shifts the focus to addressing issues of good governance, development and reconstruction/rehabilitation in right earnest.

Published Date: 18th March 2016,Image Source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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