With one or two exceptions, Nepal’s 24 prime ministers in the last 26 years have visited India and claimed upon their return that the visit had strengthened bilateral relations.
Not to be left out, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, now all set to begin his four-day ‘state visit’ to Delhi from Thursday, has taken upon himself the responsibility to bring the relationship ‘back on track’.
However, there are deep suspicions and division at home about what he is going to do — and of what he should or should not be doing. “I will not go there at all if my hands are tied — I will not sign any agreements against the interest of the country,” Dahal has said.
Foreign Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat, who returned from Delhi Tuesday after consulting the Indian government including Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, said due emphasis will be given to the completion of the Pancheshwar and other important hydro projects as well as reconstruction work in areas hit by the earthquake in April -May last year.
It is an opportunity for Delhi to send across a strong message to Nepal that the derailment of relations last year was an aberration, especially after the perception in Kathmandu that India distanced itself from Nepal’s Constitution after extending full support to its creation and the subsequent protests against the Constitution with the Madhesi blockade last December.
Long-term commitments or signing agreements with larger implications may well be counterproductive. After all, according to the understanding reached between Dahal and Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba after dislodging K P Oli as Prime Minister in July, he will have to make way for Deuba in May 2017.
Reversing or not honouring agreements made by previous governments is a trend in Nepal, only matched by India’s poor record in implementing projects it has undertaken, something Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to rectify when he visited Nepal in July 2014.
At the moment, Nepal is in political mess with its one year old Constitution offering no solution to many contentious issues, including federalism and secularism. Nor is it able to define the limits of local bodies or that they conduct elections within the stipulated time frame.
Many fear ‘ a state of constitutional breakdown’ is not far away if Dahal or the current ruling dispensation does not bring all sides together on a common position on the Constitution. In fact, his problems may just begin once he returns from India where he is sure to get a ‘red carpet ‘ welcome as a state guest.