A visit by a Nepali Prime Minister to India, or the absence of such a visit carry perceptional meanings in Nepal. No visit means a lack of recognition or reduced cooperation in bilateral dealings. A visit means intense public scrutiny in Nepal of whether there has been any sell-out or compromise on national interest.
KP Oli, after series of barbed comments against India both as Prime Minister in waiting and after taking over in October 2015, will embark on six-day visit to India, beginning on Friday with a clear directive from Parliament that he will not sign any agreement compromising the `national interest’ but with the discretion to decide what constitutes the `national interest’.
Oli is not someone Delhi likes. He led the initiative to apply the brakes on Delhi’s influence in Nepal politics, including a say in the Constitution making process over the past 10 years through a four-party agreement signed by top leaders of four parties—Nepali Congress, the Oli-led Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, the Maoists and the Madhesi Forum Loktantrik.
They agreed to have six provinces in federal Nepal, leaving it to a federal commission to decide the boundaries, jurisdiction, etc.
This was meant to pave the way for early promulgation of the Constitution. Oli simultaneously succeeded Sushil Koirala as the Prime Minister. However, the Madhesi Front protested against the Constitution and India stood by it, leading to a blockade on the passage of good between the two countries. Oli believed this was India’s way of delaying his becoming PM. His vocal stance in his criticism of India implying the big neighbour was undermining Nepal’s sovereignty and its sovereign right to prepare its own Constitution.
He also toyed with the idea of visiting China first, if Delhi was unwelcoming.
Senior government authorities here say India’s ability to apply balm to Oli’s hurt feelings, if not ego, will be crucial in deciding how future relations unfold. India is likely to make some significant gestures like hosting him as a guest in Rashtrapati Bhavan.
On Oli’s wishlist is power from India to overcome its 11-hour a day load-shedding. It will look forward to generous support for reconstruction work post last April’s earthquake that was severely affected by the blockade. At the same time, Oli is unlikely to make any promises, given the constraints and shadow of distrust. “I will make every effort to take the relations forward instead of groping in the past’, Oli said.
However, Oli has made a positive gesture towards India by saying he will constitute an expert committee to make recommendation on provincial boundaries , thereby acknowledging that Indian concern in Tarai are not completely out of place.
At a time when anti-India sentiment is widespread in Nepal, Oli would like an assurance from India that hurting ‘sovereign ‘ feelings of its neighbour was not deliberate.