Almost three years after the Madhesi agitation, which led to a blockade and a slide in the relationship between India and Nepal, New Delhi has come back reassured — after two days of interaction with Nepal Prime Minister K P Oli — that they have been able to “restore a certain level of political trust”, sources said.
The sources told The Indian Express that China was not discussed directly or obliquely during the official or informal discussions during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to Kathmandu, where the BIMSTEC summit took place.
“The C-word was not uttered during our discussions, whether officially or informally,” a source told The Indian Express. “Neither did we raise activities about China, nor did they. The sense we got after the meetings was that we have been able to restore a certain level of political trust between the two sides.”
Ties between India and Nepal nosedived after the Madhesi agitation, which had led to the blockade between September and December 2015. Nepal accused India of imposing an undeclared economic blockade. India has always denied the allegations, stating that supply shortages have been imposed by Madheshi protesters within Nepal.
Oli gave an appearance of confidence, sources said, where he was “ready to do business with India”. The Indian side was careful in not meeting other political leaders separately during this visit for a multilateral meeting — as is the practice during bilateral visits, although the Indian Prime Minister met them at the state banquet.
The meeting between Modi and Oli was “qualitatively better” than in May this year, when the Indian PM met the Nepalese PM for the second time since he took charge. They first met in April this year, during Oli’s visit to India — his first overseas trip as newly elected PM.
“Oli was much more relaxed, and did not come with any laundry list of issues to be discussed – which was the case in the past two meetings. This time, he was much more secure and confident, and said on multiple occasions that he was happy with the progress on various initiatives that had been agreed in his first visit in April,” the source, who was part of all three meetings between the two leaders, said.
This, as per New Delhi’s assessment, is a big comeback from the nadir in the relationship between Oli and the Indian leadership. The Nepalese PM, who had witnessed the blockade in his previous stint as PM, has publicly blamed India for him losing power last time.
Delhi feels that Oli, who is now politically more secure and stronger, also may have had a sobering realisation on how much China can deliver. This assessment in South Block comes in the wake of China’s Three Gorges International’s decision to pull out from the $1.2 West Seti Hydro project in Nepal, six years after it signed the MoU. A high-level team of the CTGI, a subsidiary of the China Three Gorges, conveyed to the Nepal government on Wednesday that the project is not cost-effective.
The 750-MW project, the first reservoir project in Nepal, was to be completed by next year as per the CTGI’s earliest commitment, but its pullout may have an adverse impact on China’s credibility.
In contrast, sources in Delhi, said that connectivity projects – through routes in land, water and air – are being opened up from the Indian side, and the two sides have been able to “move forward” on a variety of projects.
During Modi’s visit this week, the two sides decided to go ahead with the preliminary engineering-cum-traffic survey of the broad gauge railway line between Raxaul (India) and Kathmandu (Nepal). This is in line with what was decided during Oli’s visit in April.
India will also link Nepal through inland waterways, and sources said that Delhi had assured Nepal they would not only be “land-linked” but also “water-linked”. This is, again, in line with the decision to develop inland waterways for cargo, within the framework of trade and transit arrangements, providing additional access to sea for Nepal.
This time, Nepal also sought additional air links, since they say that they have only one link – through Kathmandu. The Indian side has conveyed their readiness to explore more links in the civil aviation sector.