Indo-Nepal ties and Oli’s Delhi visit

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– Benjamin Franklin


 Prime Minister of Nepal KP Sharma Oli on Sunday returned home after completing his three-day visit to India, his first after assuming office in February following the historic local, provincial and general elections last year. Oli’s this visit carried huge significance in India as well as at home. Oli this time visited New Delhi as the most powerful Nepali prime minister in recent years, as the Left alliance of his party CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre has won the mandate to govern for a full five-year term. Before his departure Oli on Sunday termed his visit as “significant and fruitful”, saying his trip helped in clearing misunderstanding and mistrust, and strengthening mutual trust. As expected Nepal’s prime minister pushed for India to complete previously promised infrastructure projects, many of which have limped along for decades and are key to Oli’s ambitious plans to kickstart moribund growth at home. During the talks the two countries agreed to conduct feasibility studies regarding construction of Raxaul- Kathmandu railway line and operating Nepalese steamers to transport goods and people from Nepal to other countries. Other important agreements have been reached in cooperation in agriculture and hydropower sectors. Many observers see Oli as favouring a closer relationship between Nepal and China. However, the issue of China-Nepal ties was not discussed during the delegation-level talks.

Another remarkable aspect about Oli’s visit is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had expressed his readiness to revise and update the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship between two neighbouring countries. The revision is one of the major items on Oli’s agenda and he talked about it in his election speeches. China has already given Nepal access to its ports and has been talking about a joint rail link construction. The possibility of Kathmandu moving closer to Beijing will have several negative consequences for India.

Relations between New Delhi and Kathmandu soured during Oli’s last term in office in 2015 after deadly protests in southern Nepal over a controversial new constitution that led to a blockade of the border with India. The months-long shutdown caused a severe shortage of goods, including fuel and medicine, at a time when Nepal was still reeling from a devastating earthquake early that year. Oli blamed the blockade on interference by Delhi and tilted Nepal’s diplomatic relations towards China, stoking nationalistic sentiment. After coming back to power in February this year Oli has since signalled he will take a less antagonistic approach towards India, which is Nepal’s largest trading partner. There is no doubt that Oli’s visit this time has been successful in resetting Nepal-India ties which hit an all-time low in the wake of the border blockade that followed constitution promulgation in September 2015. The two prime ministers have resolved to take Nepal-India relations to newer heights on the basis of “mutual trust, respect and benefit”.  Time will say whether Oli could successfully convince the Indian investors to participate in Nepal’s economic development, which also forms an important basis to further cement the bilateral relations between the two nations.

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