Signalling his government’s resolve to work with India’s neighbours towards a common future for the benefit of each, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday announced a slew of measures to help Nepal realise its potential and “scale heights greater than the Himalayas”.
He also said it rankled him that it had taken an Indian prime minister 17 years to come calling and promised it would never happen again.
Addressing Nepal’s lawmakers after being accorded a ceremonial reception at the Tribhuvan airport on his arrival from New Delhi, Modi announced extension of a US $1 billion Line of Credit to Nepal in addition to what had been granted earlier and hoped Kathmandu would use it well.
He said he wanted to “HIT Nepal” with “H for highways, I for informationways, T for transmissionways”, and that India was prepared to share scientific applications in agriculture, even its soil health card initiative, to help the farmers of Nepal.
The one line he repeated — “You decide what needs to be done, India will stand by you” — was meant to not only allay fears and suspicion in India’s neighbourhood but also amplified the approach of his government. India will never interfere in Nepal’s affairs, Modi said. Bhutan was his first stop after assuming charge and he sent External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to Bangladesh before heading out to Nepal.
Later, at a banquet hosted by Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, Modi said: “I am happy I came here so early in my tenure. I will make every effort to continue my journey with Nepal during my remaining days in office.”
Praising Koirala for attending his swearing-in ceremony at short notice, Modi told the House that SAARC nations must come together to fight poverty. “India will do all it takes. We will not be doing any charity, it is our duty.” Saying all SAARC nations stood to gain from Indian advancement in space technology, he said India would soon launch a SAARC satellite.
He urged Nepal’s lawmakers to draft a “carefully thought” and “visionary” constitution at the earliest, reminding them that “a constitution joins, never divides… gives direction to a country”.
He spoke in Nepali in his opening remarks at the Nepalese Parliament, much to the delight of all in the House. He said he was “overjoyed to be in Nepal” where he had first come as a “pilgrim” many years ago, and that he felt “very privileged and honoured” to be the first guest to be invited to address the House. He said this was not just an honour for him but for “125 crore people of India” whose ties with Nepal were “as old as the Himalayas and the Ganga”.
Referring to the last vist by an Indian prime minister — Inder Kumar Gujral came to Nepal in 1997 — Modi said: “We live so close to each other but it has taken 17 years to come here. It rankles me. I promise it will not happen again. I will be back very soon for the SAARC Summit here.”
Blending his speech with examples from mythology and history, Modi referred to Buddha and Emperor Ashoka and praised Nepal’s Maoists — without naming them — for “leaving the path of the bullet to take the path of the ballot… shastra ka raasta chhor kar, shastra ka raasta liya”. Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, who now heads the Unified CPN-Maoist, listened intently.
“There are some in the world who believe in the culture of the gun to reach their objectives. With its democratic process, Nepal will send a message to the world and inspire people to abandon the culture of the gun. The world is watching you. If you are successful, others will be inspired.”
On harnessing Nepal’s hydel power potential for mutual benefit and the controversy over participation of Indian entities and government in these projects, Modi had the House in splits when he said “there’s an old saying that paani aur jawaani pahaar ke kaam nahin aate (water and youth are of no use to mountains). The water flows away and as youth fades, you have to go elsewhere to survive… We need to change this, and we can do it through development”.
“Nepal is so rich in terms of water that it can remove darkness in India. We don’t want free power, we want to buy it… A development course has to be charted. You decide (on tapping hydel power), we will be with you. You can make a place on the world stage by simply selling electricity… We will double the electricity we are giving you today. In 10 years, you will be helping us.”
Modi said authorities had been directed to expedite completion of the detailed project report on the Pancheshwar multipurpose project. He said work on the 5600-MW project should start in a year. “It will give you five times more power than what you have at present. India wants to help… And if a bridge on the Mahakali river is made, it will reduce the distance between us.”
“For us, a border can’t be a barrier. The border should be a bridge. It should be vibrant, it should help you develop.”
He said India and Nepal needed better connectivity. “If you have to call America, it is cheap. But calling Nepal is so expensive. People just say namaste and put down the phone. We have to change that. We need to talk to our service providers, make this simpler, less expensive.”
Early in his address, while referring to traditional ties between the two neighbours, Modi said: “An Indian Field Marshal used to say that if a soldier says he does not fear death, he is either lying or he is a Gurkha. This is the land of the braves. We cannot for a moment forget the sacrifies made by Gurkha soldiers in the defence of India.”
He urged Nepal to tap its herbal medicine potential — he referred to the Ramayan lore of Hanuman hunting for herbs in the mountains when Lakshman fell unconscious during battle — and said the country could become a global exporter of herbal medicine.
He also cited the Sikkim experiment with organic farming — “it has become an organic state” — and said India would be ready to help Nepal on this front. He said Nepal should aggressively promote tourism and adventure sports. “There are 125 crore neighbours who want to come and seek the blessings of Pashupatinath and Buddha. Everyone stands to gain from tourism, be it the man who sells chana, chai… and when a chaiwallah profits, I feel especially happy. I have come this time to seek the blessings of Pashupatinath. Next time, I will visit Janakpur (where Sita is said to have been born) and Lumbini (Buddha’s birthplace).”