Indo-Nepal ties need a fresh look

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“The object of the superior man is truth.”
– Confucius

Politics in Nepal, in the past, often revolved around pro-India or pro-China cards. The primary driving of this was the monarchy and the feudal forces. Their ideology was showing oneself as pro-India sometimes, pro-China at other times. With the return of democracy the situation has changed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fruitful visit to Nepal on May 11-12 and his Nepali counterpart K P Sharma Oli’s trip to India a month earlier signal that both countries are seriously attempting to put their ties on an even keel after grave differences had emerged in September, 2015. It was a new beginning. Modi visit to Kathmandu for the Bimstecsummit at the end of August was billed as an extremely warm. When the ruling Nepal Communist Party chair, Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ visited New Delhi recently, it was hoped this visit would give a new impetus to Indo-Nepal relations. However, two disturbing developments have stunned the powers that be in New Delhi. Firstly, Nepal signed an additional protocol on transit with China, which would give the country an access to four Chinese ports — Tianjin (3276 kms from Nepal), Liyanyugang (3379 kms), Shengzen (3064 kms) and Shenjiang (2755 kms) and secondly Kathmandu after having signed on to a joint military exercise of Bimstec, which kicked off in Pune on Monday pulled out because of an internal political criticism.
It is normal for any country, especially for a landlocked one, to seek to diversify its options. But the Transit and Transport agreement with China happened within an overall context of Beijing’s increased political and economic presence in Nepal. New Delhi could not accept this as the signing of the transit agreement ended China’s ‘sole dependence’ on India. Nepal had in 2015 accused India of imposing an unofficial blockade of fuel and other essential supplies in order to pressure it to accommodate Madheshi concerns in the constitution. Though New Delhi denied it, people of Nepal knew the blockade had the full support of those in power in New Delhi. There is no denying that the big-brotherly attitude of the Indian government drove Nepal closer to China. Time has come for New Delhi to realise its folly. As far as withdrawal from military exercise of Bimstec is concerned, an upset New Delhi told Kathmandu that this was not appropriate and has put the grouping in an embarrassing position. Nepal’s decision to withdraw from BIMSTEC exercise in Pune couldn’t have come at a worse time for India with the Nepal army set to participate in a 12-day long military exercise with China later this month.
In the present context, New Delhi has to make fresh attempts to put delicate relations with Kathmandu back on track. The crucial issue now is if Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli at the present juncture will display sufficient confidence to influence the Kathmandu elite to shed its inhibitions in promoting closer economic linkages with India. New Delhi can pretend that there is no problem. The tensions, beneath the surface, will continue to deepen if both the nations do not come forward to resolve their bilateral issues.

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