Nepal’s Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli may head to China ahead of India if the trade “blockade” is not lifted, a top official of the ruling CPN-UML party said on Saturday, making the normalisation of situation at the Indo-Nepal border a pre-condition for the premier’s maiden trip to Delhi.
Surya Thapa, deputy chief of the publicity committee of Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML), said that Oli is waiting for India to lift its “unofficial blockade”, mainly at the Raxaul-Birgunj border check point, which accounts for about 70 per cent of the bilateral trade.
“If the embargo is not lifted, the Prime Minister may visit China first, instead of India,” Thapa said.
The usual practice of the new prime ministers of Nepal is to travel to India on maiden foreign trip. Only Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ had rubbed India the wrong way when he chose China as the first destination of his foreign visit after taking over as Nepal’s prime minister in 2008.
Thapa said though the Prime Minister has high regards for Indo-Nepal ties, if India does not show any gesture Oli’s trip to China as the first foreign destination was inevitable.
Preparations for Oli’s China visit have been made at the same time as his India visit, likely in the third week of February, Thapa said.
Shortly after Oli took charge about four months ago, he had a telephonic conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who invited him to visit India.
That same day, Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Wu Chuntai also called on Oli and invited him to visit Beijing, Thapa said.
There is pressure on Oli from party leadership not to visit India first, if the situation at the border does not return to normalcy, Thapa said, adding that the situation of Nepal-India relations was “unexpected and beyond imagination.”
“They are pressing the Prime Minister to visit China first, in case the situation doesn’t improve,” he said.
Recently, Oli told a select group of journalists that “it would not be appropriate for him to visit India before lifting of the border blockade.”
Except the Raxaul-Birgunj border point, trade has resumed at all other posts. The Raxaul-Birgunj point was opened briefly a couple of days ago, but it was closed again.
Nepal was facing acute shortages of petroleum products, medicines and other essential goods due to the five-month-long blockade of key border trade points with India due to protests by Madhesis, who share cultural and family links with Indians.
The Madhesis have been protesting in the southern Terai region for five months, demanding a re-demarcation of provinces, fixing of electoral constituencies on the basis of population and proportional representation.
Nepal’s parliament earlier this month voted to amend the Constitution four months after its promulgation to address two of the key demands – proportionate representation and seat allocation in the Parliament on the basis of population.
But Madhesis rejected as “incomplete” the constitutional amendments for failing to address the re-demarcation issue.
Because of the ongoing impasse, Nepal has likely warmed up to its northern neighbour China. Thapa said Nepal wants to take its China ties to historical heights during Oli’s visit.
Opening of more trading points, trade agreements, opening of new frontiers for Nepal’s development are some tems that might be discussed during the Oli’s China visit, Thapa said.
China, effectively ending a 40-year Indian monopoly, recently provided 2.5 million litres of petroleum products to Nepal.