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Context: Indian Prime Minister’s recent visit to Lumbini (Nepal) on Buddha Poornima.
What is the significance of the visit?
This visit assumes significance since the two countries should have had the best relationship in South Asia, but have been unable to capitalise on their connections, caught in the crossroads of Nepalese internal politics.
It also conveys a shared culture between India and Nepal and an attempt to deploy Indian soft power to reclaim some space in India’s Himalayan neighbour.
Significance of the venue:
– Lumbini was an inspired choice for the bilateral summit, especially since India and Nepal enjoy a close, people-centred, multi-layered, and multifaceted relationship. That Lumbini is the birthplace of Lord Buddha is testified by the Pali inscription on the pillar erected by Emperor Ashoka in 249 BC, 339 years after Buddha’s enlightenment.
– Nepal lies in the centre of the Himalayan ranges, described in the Markandeya Purana as extending from “sea to sea”, in the east from the Dihang bend down to the Bay of Bengal, and in the west from the Indus bend down to the Arabian Sea.
– Kalidas, in Kumarasambhava, called the Himalayas “the Kingdom of heaven”. Its topography and rivers make Nepal one of the best endowed countries in Asia. At the same time, the ever changing Himalayas, with an uplift rate ten times higher than that of the Alps, suffer from seismic fragility.
Significant agreements signed during Modi’s visit –
– A proposed collaboration between Madras IIT and Kathmandu University for a joint degree programme, and
– A second in the higher education sector between Indian Council of Cultural Relations and Lumbini Buddhist University for the establishment of a Dr Ambedkar Chair for Buddhist Studies.
How can infrastructure projects help revive the Indo-Nepal ties?
The real potential for turnaround in bilateral relations lies via the route of infrastructure projects. One of the big stumbling blocks in the India-Nepal relationship used to be Delhi’s inability to complete agreed upon infrastructure projects in Nepal, including roads, railway lines and mega power projects. Over the last few years this has changed.
– Nepal Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba invited Delhi to take up the long stuck West Seti hydro power project, which was once taken up by Australia but abandoned, and later coveted by China Three Gorges Corporation.
– The offer follows India’s success with the 900 MW Arun III hydropower project, developed by Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN), a joint venture between the Centre and the Himachal Pradesh government.
- Significance: India-Nepal relations are rendered complex by Nepal’s overdependence on India, according to former Nepalese ambassador to India, Lok Raj Baral. Export of surplus Nepalese hydropower to India can reverse this situation. The agreement to have Indian PSU Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) develop the Arun-IV project is welcome in this context
What are some pending issues that need to be addressed?
Moving forward, India and Nepal need to address the following issues:
1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship: It has long been a thorn in the relationship. India is willing to consider reviewing, modifying, or updating the Treaty in line with the requirements of the 21st century.
China factor: Nepal joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative in 2017, but little progress has taken place on the two identified projects – constructing a transHimalayan network, including a rail connection from Tibet to Kathmandu, Pokhara and Lumbini, and creating a Nepal-China Free Trade Area.
Unlike Nepal’s other partners, including India, China does not provide much grant assistance to Nepal. Stepping up its investments and development partnership in Nepal will allow India to address the China factor.
Kalapani boundary issue: Deuba has a difficult inheritance on the Kalapani boundary issue because Nepal’s previous regime vitiated it by altering maps and making exaggerated claims. Deuba has proposed a resolution through a dialogue mechanism. Only 2% of the India-Nepal boundary remains to be settled. Differences exist only in the areas of Kalapani and Susta. India and Nepal can resolve their boundary issues should both sides have the will to do so.
There is some urgency in getting India-Nepal relations back on the rails. Nepalese parliamentary election is due by November this year. Its outcome will determine much of the future trajectory of India-Nepal relations.
Source: This post is based on the article “PM Modi’s recent Nepal visit saw a successful deployment of India’s soft power to repair bilateral ties” published in The Indian Express on 19th May 22, and
the article “Can Lumbini bridge the Delhi-Kathmandu gap? Modi’s visit this week was important. Results of Nepal’s national polls in November will be key factor” published in The Times of India on 18th May 22.