As a ceremonial President, Pranab Mukherjee will have conveyed his government’s position on Indo-Nepal ties during his visit to the country. Mukherjee had a hectic schedule on this the first visit by a President of India in 18 years: highlights of the visit included a state banquet by President Bidhya Devei Bhandari, a dinner by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, a series of meetings with political figures both from the Treasury, Opposition as well as with disgruntled Madhesi groups — the latter demanding that India intervene to have their grievances addressed — and the undeclared curfew on Kathmandu roads for his safety.
The two Presidents talked of history, civilisation, culture, geography, and the proximity between the people of the two countries – all of which bring them uniquely closer. None talked about what caused the downslide in relations.
Social media in general, and most mainstream media in Nepal through opinion and editorials were critical of President Mukherjee’s central message: a reiteration of the Indian government’s support for an early amendment to the Constitution to address Madhesi demands and take ‘all sides together’. The media felt that this was close to interference in another country’s internal affairs.
Mukherjee offered India’s help to build state institutions and reconstruct post earthquake structures but neither the host nor the visiting President touched upon on how to discourage unfriendly acts by each other. Nepali leaders were criticised in the media for not raising issues like the economic blockade.
Given the high-profile responsibilities he handled before moving to the Raisina Hill four years ago, Mukherjee’s role in government had some bearing on the visit. As Minister of External Affairs, he was instrumental in securing the support of Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist for the ambitious Mahakali Hydro Project more than two decades ago. He was also largely instrumental in bringing Nepal’s Maoists into the peace and democratic process in 2005-06 but politics in Nepal since then have been turbulent.
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Interestingly, he visited two Hindu shrines–Pashupatinath in Kathmandu and Ram Sita temple in Janakpur (Modi could not go there in 2014 November) — and addressed a symposium on Nepal India relations on Thursday organised in collaboration with the India Foundation –a think tank with an RSS tag. The bilateral official outfit B P Koirala’s Indo-Nepal Foundation was not in the picture.
Modi became a hero soon after his visit to Nepal in 2014 but he lost that aura after the ‘blockade’. Mukherjee’s visit seems have had no tangible outcome.