Ties with Nepal need out-of-box thinking

Jan 1, 2016
By Ranjana Narayan
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s diplomacy drive has ended on a high note – with his impromptu visit to Pakistan, throwing up the promise of warming of ties again between the two strong rivals. While the Modi government’s diplomatic moves appear to have soothed the turbulence in relations on India’s west, its ties with close northern neighbour Nepal need urgent mending.
With the Madhesi agitation on the border, which Nepal maintains is backed by India, still continuing, the shortage in supply of essentials is likely to add a bitter tinge to the creeping winter in the friendly relations.
Nepal is one of India’s closest neighbours, sharing ties of culture and tradition, and marriage links across the border. It is the only country with which India has visa-free and passport-free travel. Thousands of Nepalese live and work in India and many Indians have settled down in Nepal, set up businesses there. The “Roti Beti” links are an accepted facet of the relations.
Highlighting the new strain in ties, Nepalese Prime Minister KP Oli has chosen to visit China on his first overseas trip after taking over, in a break from tradition. Most Nepalese prime ministers visit India on their first state visit. The other exception was Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, Nepal’s 33rd prime minister and chairman of the Maoist party, who visited Beijing instead of New Delhi in 2008.
Modi conveyed to Oli, during a telephonic call by the latter on Thursday, the “importance of finding a durable solution to the political problems facing Nepal based on consensus or ‘sahmati’.
Oli’s decision to visit China looks aimed at rankling India. The Nepalese prime minister has not shied from making anti-India statements. Beijing, while it will obviously welcome the decision of the Nepalese prime minister to visit China, would not be willing to upset India.
India-China relations are going smoothly, despite the border hiccups. Besides, Beijing would be keen to prevent the Tibetan uprising from billowing, and for that keeping its southern border with Nepal impervious is necessary. Closer ties with Nepal would mean opening up the border outposts that got buried after the Nepal earthquake. Beijing is not keen to reopen the posts yet.
India’s new policy on Nepal -- of not bending backwards to please – apparently has the blessings of the Prime Minister’s Office. 
The talk in the diplomatic corridors is that India has always gone overboard to help Nepal in every way, and been taken for granted.  India is keen that Nepal heeds the Madhesi demands, of greater representation and inclusiveness. Otherwise the discontent in the Terai could spillover in the form of violence into India’s northern border.
Perhaps the Modi government could use the expertise and goodwill of those political leaders who have used their good offices in the past with Nepal to bring about rapprochement.
Just like the new Pakistan policy, where the Lahore visit has helped sow the promise of warmth and dialogue, maybe the Modi government could do something similar out-of-the-box.
The Statesman, January 1, 2016

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