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During PM Deuba’s visit, Delhi must convey the message: Ties with Nepal are more than transactional

By: Editorial |
Updated: August 24, 2017 12:00:32 am
Sher Bahadur Deuba, Sher Bahadur Deuba India visit, National Planning Commission, Sher Bahadur Deuba delhi visit, indian express news" /> <meta name="keywords" content="sher bahadur deuba, sher bahadur deuba india visit, national planning commission, sher bahadur deuba delhi visit, indian express news During PM Deuba’s visit, Delhi must convey the message: Ties with Nepal are more than transactional (Archive)

The five-day visit by Nepal’s Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, is an opportunity for India to take a clear-eyed look at relations between the two countries. In Parliament on August 3, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj taunted the Congress for pointing out that ties with Nepal had deteriorated.

“Not one visit to Nepal by an Indian Prime Minister in 17 years, 11 of which you were in power, and relations were great? And two visits by Prime Minister [Modi] in one year, and relations are bad?” she asked. The answer to the first question is no, and to the second, yes. Nepal-India relations have been uneven for decades, but the two Modi visits did not help repair them. India continues to be seen in Nepal as the interfering Big Brother, who “micromanages” the country’s politics and installs puppet governments.

If anything, anti-India sentiment was strengthened by the 2015 Great Blockade by the Madhesis — it was seen to have Delhi’s tacit support — in pursuit of their demand for greater representation in the Nepal Parliament. It was during the blockade that China poured money into Nepal for several infrastructure projects, and sewed up trade and transit deals. But the India-China stand-off in Doklam is forcing a rethink in India.

Madhesis, who have ethnic links with Indians in Bihar and UP, have realised with not a little disappointment, that India has shelved its support to their cause for a higher stakes game unfolding with China. By that same token, Nepal cannot be faulted for pressing home the advantage it has at this delicate time in India-China relations to see who can offer it the best deal.

Deuba is likely to bring up a long list of complaints against India, from the Mahakali Multipurpose Project he signed when he was PM in 1996 but which has not seen the light of day, to the ill-effects of the November 2016 demonetisation on Nepali traders and businessmen. At the political level, there are concerns, in Nepal’s opposition as well as within the ruling coalition, that the BJP government is pushing their government towards jettisoning the country’s recently acquired “secular” status.

New Delhi has drawn comfort that Deuba’s first foreign visit, after succeeding Pushpa Kamal Dahal as PM two months ago, is to the Indian capital. Many MoUs and other agreements will be signed to convey that India is a friend, even though without the deep pockets of China. The challenge will be to convince both Deuba and Nepal that India can really keep out of the country’s internal affairs, and that ties between the two countries are more than transactional.

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