By Deepak Goel
Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, on returning home, has chosen to describe his six-day state visit to India as “very successful”, contending that it helped to clear misunderstandings between the two neighbours and restore harmonious relations.
The assertion comes after Kathmandu during the past six months has accused New Delhi of intervening in its sovereign constitution-drafting process; of imposing a blockade which caused a humanitarian crisis in the landlocked Himalayan tion; and of stoking and supporting the Madhesi agitation in the southern Terai plains.
New Delhi, in turn, accused Kathmandu of not addressing the interl political conflict in the Nepali Terai, which has cross-border security implications. India also raised, on intertiol platforms, the issue of Nepal’s human rights violations.
It also accused Nepal of stoking ‘anti-India’ sentiment and has been irritated, though not particularly worried, about Nepal’s attempt to use the ‘Chi card’.
However, the two neighbours, for now, appear to have chosen to forget the mutual recrimitions and get down to the task of much desired economic progress.
During Oli’s state visit, the two sides signed nine agreements, ranging from infrastructure to rail and road transit. They agreed on post-earthquake reconstruction in Nepal, strengthening of road infrastructure in the Terai area of the Himalayan tion, transit routes, rail transport, and the 400 KV Muzaffarpur-Dhalkebar transmission line.
Oli’s visit also took him to Bhuj, in Gujarat, which has risen like the Phoenix after destruction wreaked by the January 26, 2001, earthquake. Oli described the Bhuj visit as significant, as he thought the reconstruction activities there after the 2001 temblor could be tremendously useful for Nepal’s own reconstruction.
Oli, on return to Kathmandu at the end of his February 19-24 visit, said his main mission was to “clear the misunderstanding” with India and take ties between the two neighbours to the same level as in 2014, when Prime Minister rendra Modi visited Nepal.
After the bilateral talks with Modi in New Delhi, Oli said: “The misunderstanding that persisted in the last few months is no longer there. I believe our relationship will greatly benefit from our discussions. It is high time to look at India-Nepal relations with a forward-looking approach in the interest of the two countries and their people.”
However, while Oli described Nepal’s Constitution — promulgated on September 20 last year — as “historic”, Modi called it a “major achievement” and stressed that its success depends on “consensus and dialogue”.
With the Nepal PM listening, he said: “The announcement of the new constitution in Nepal came after decades of struggle there... I appreciate the contribution of the political leadership and people of Nepal for it... But its success depends on consensus and dialogue.”
“I am confident on the basis of these principles and through political dialogue and by taking all sections together, you (Oli) will be able to resolve all issues relating to the constitution satisfactorily and take Nepal forward towards the path of development and stability.”
Modi’s assertion amply demonstrated that India did not fully endorse the new constitution as it needed a wider ownership and inclusion.
The conversation took place only a month after Nepal’s parliament passed two constitutiol amendments which avowedly sought to address the grievances of the Madhesis and other minorities of the Nepali Terai.
While the two leaders described the document differently — showing the distance in the understanding of issues, Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar said the Nepali PM has given assurances on issues pertaining to constituency delimitation and citizenship, and that India was confident these would be followed through.
A significant feature of Oli’s state visit was the absence of a joint communique at the end of the visit. The development marked a departure as the tradition of issuing joint communiques at the end of visits of Nepali heads of state or government to India has usually been followed — at least since 1990.
Officials privy to the visit said preparations were afoot in New Delhi earlier on the joint communique and senior officials from both the sides were engaged in filising its wording. But at the last moment, no joint statement was issued after India refused to say categorically that it welcomed Nepal’s new constitution.
On the other hand, Nepal wanted to get the phrase ‘India welcomes the new constitution in Nepal’ incorporated in the joint communique, a Nepali official said in Kathmandu. Oli is learnt to have assured that the pending issues regarding the demands of the Medhesis would be addressed in a time-bound manner. Modi told Oli that India has always wanted peace, stability and prosperity of Nepal and that it would extend all possible help to ensure its all-round development.
What emerges from the Oli visit is that Nepal is more interested in appeasing India rather than reaching out to its own people in the Terai. This may have partially satisfied India’s desire to reassert its centrality in Nepal but it does not solve the problem of Madhesi and Tharu alietion.
(Deepak Goel, Senior Editor with IANS, has been a Nepal-watcher for more than 25 years. He can be contacted at email@example.com)