By Jai Kumar Verma
The two-day visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Nepal, the first bilateral visit by an Indian prime minister in 17 long years, has further cemented the strong ties between India and the Himalayan nation.
Modi met not only Sushil Koirala, the prime minster of Nepal, but also the leaders of various political parties, including Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, former Nepalese prime minister and Maoist leader.
Modi, in his visit which commenced from Aug 3, made it clear that India has no intention to meddle in the internal affairs of Nepal and is ready to amend, modify and update the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty. The Maoists always criticize and allege in public that the 1950 treaty is unduly in favour of India, and it needs abrogation or it should be revised.
Modi reiterated that Nepal needs development of highways, Information Technology and transmission lines and India is ready to help in all these fields. He also offered concessional loans of $ 1 billion for building highways and hydro power plants.
He mentioned about the great opportunity in the tourism sector and stated that all the trade deficit of Nepal can end if it generates hydro power and exports it to India. He offered India’s help in the development of a few places of Nepal, including Lumbini, Janakpur, Baraha and Chhetra. Lumbini, the birth place of Gautama Buddha, can be linked with other significant places of Buddhism in India, which will attract Indian as well as international tourists.
Modi signed the Power Trading Agreement (PTA) and Power Development Agreement (PWA), both are very important agreements which will help Nepal immensely.
The Nepalese prime minister on his part promised that he will not allow “unscrupulous elements” to take undue advantage of the open border and heavy traffic between India and Nepal. The reprehensible Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan is using the Indo-Nepal border for smuggling Indian Fake Currency Notes (IFCN) in India. Besides, this the open border is also misused by ISI for sending Pakistan-trained terrorists into India. Lately there are reports that ISI officers are using Nepal to meet important operatives of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Indian Mujahideen (IM).
Modi’s visit first to Bhutan and then to Nepal is a clear indication that India wants to strengthen its relations with immediate neighbours, which is important for the economic development of the country.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Nepal and chaired the India-Nepal Joint Commission, which reviewed all aspects of bilateral ties. The commission met after 23 years.
Several leaders of Madhesi parties, including Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party (TMLP), Sadbhavana Party and Madhes Samata Party, met Modi and complained about discrimination towards them by government and the natives of hilly region. But Modi emphatically said that the residents of Madhes should join hands with the people of the hilly region and shun anti- hill feelings. In this way Modi gave a clear message to the Nepali government that India will not meddle in the internal affairs of Nepal.
Modi has also turned down the feelers of meeting with former King Gyanendra, and again gave a clear message that India does not encourage return of kingship in Nepal.
Few analysts allege that India is inculcating good relations with its immediate neighbours just to counter China, but it is not entirely true, as cordial relations with neighbours is essential not only for security of the country but it is vital for economic progress of the nation.
China’s state-run Xinhua Agency remarked that although Modi’s visit was successful and it generated lot of goodwill but the soft loan of $1 billion is insufficient.
Analysts feel that Nepal was expecting much more economic assistance and signing of more pacts, particularly on development of hydropower and highways. India was the biggest investor in Nepal a few years back. However, now China’s investment is three times higher than Indian investment. In 2013-14, China invested 29.8 billion Nepalese rupees in 108 projects, while India invested a meagre 8.22 billion Nepalese rupees in 10 projects. Hence, the Indian government and companies must augment their investment in Nepal.
On the other hand, the government of Nepal must control anti-India elements that attack Indian projects with ulterior motives. These anti-India groups may be homegrown or doing on behest of external forces. They must be dealt with sternly as they are not only damaging India-Nepal relations but also hampering the progress of Nepal.
There can be immense progress of Nepal if more hydropower projects are installed, and Nepal produces more power and exports it to electricity-hungry India. It will create jobs for Nepalese, will finish the trade deficit of Nepal and enhance India’s dependence on Nepal. It will be a win-win situation for both the countries.
However, India has to be cautious while developing hydro power projects in Nepal because a strong anti-India lobby propagates that India wants to exploit water resources of Nepal to its benefit.
Not only did the Indian media applaud the visit, the Nepali media also portrayed it as most successful visit of any foreign dignitary in living memory. The Nepalese prime minister received Modi at the airport, where he was given a 19-gun salute. The public also gave a very warm welcome to Modi. The Maoists who always criticize and condemn India also mentioned that Nepal needs help from India for its development. All leaders, including opposition leaders, admired not only the speech but also appreciated the one- on-one meeting with Modi.
Nepal is a country of young people and they do not carry anti-India feelings. They feel that Nepal has already lost too much of time and now it must take help from India and should start hydropower and highways projects. India should not worry too much about Nepal-China relations. Instead, India should worry about India-Nepal relations. In fact, the time will decide whether the visit was fruitful or not, but presently it appears that it was a very successful visit and Modi as a seasoned leader won the hearts of Nepalese.
(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)