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Adjustments necessary in relations between Nepal and India

Friday, April 13, 2018
By Ranajoy Sen

After reaching Kathmandu, the Nepalese Prime Minister, K P Oli, could reflect on the positives from his visit to New Delhi. The talked-of strain in Indo-Nepalese relations appears to have been made manageable, for the time being. Furthermore, the apparent Indian receptivity to assist Nepal fruitfully, constructively, and symbiotically, seems to have become more credible than it was even some months back. It is in Nepal’s interest, as it is for India’s, to have the aspect of cordiality and mutually-beneficent factor inherent in the trajectory of this bilateral relation.

For India, it is not only about fruitful parleys with a neighbour, which is sandwiched between two sprawling Asian countries – China and India. It is also about the prevention of the loosing of ground to China in diplomacy with Nepal. It does not require any prize giving to decipher that India’s relations with Nepal have witnessed greater dynamism than Sino-Nepalese relations have ever been or could possibly be in future. This is so notwithstanding certain articulations to the contrary.

An intermittent anti-India position by Nepalese political leaders
Nepal’s double landlocked geographic position adds an element of compulsion of maintaining cordial relationship with India. Whatever links to water and eventually to the sea might be achieved is only possible through dialogues with India. These attributes might seem to be relegated to the background when there are instances of angry sparring of words between the two countries. To add to it, Nepalese leaders, cutting across political lines as also those belonging to the erstwhile monarchic dispensation, have all resorted to striking a recurring anti-India line. Even if there were issues requiring urgent look-ins, the excessive critical verbiage of the political leaders of Nepal against India, perennially, did and have smacked of an element of immaturity.

At times, a measure of insensitivity might have been displayed by India; it could also have been undesired and requiring of prompt correctives. But, forwarding an anti-India position for the sake of doing so has been and is uncalled for. The election of K P Oli sparked on a viewpoint in India, stating the possible increase of anti-Indian postures in Nepal. It was contemplated that to counter so-called Indian interference in Nepal, the new Nepalese administration would embolden its equidistant policies, thereby bringing in the China factor more strongly into its diplomatic contours, than otherwise. Nevertheless the Nepalese PM’s visit to New Delhi appears to have allayed such apprehensions for the time being.

The often repeated statement from Kathmandu: what has India done for Nepal? The most important and crucial attribute of Indian assistance to Nepal has been through the relatively easy access to Indian territory by millions of Nepalese, through a relatively open border policy between India and Nepal through the Indo-Nepalese treaty of 1950. What the Nepalese leaders typically avoid stating is that it has been nearly a one-way advantage for Nepal. In return, India has not had visible benefits. Talks are on for the revision of the Indo-Nepalese treaty of 1950. It is to be undertaken after significant inputs from notable and knowledgeable representatives from both countries.

What would perhaps be necessary, if and when the treaty is subjected to adjustments, is that the movement of people between the two countries be subjected to tighter scrutiny, regulation and verification. The relations between the two countries need not and would not suffer at all as a consequence of this. It would thwart and push back unsavoury aspects of undocumented and unaccounted people from Nepal into India. The flow is almost always one-sided. Way too many people have crossed over into India and settled in this country for economic advantage through means which cannot be permissible. The unsavoury effects of this also made its presence in certain nooks and corners of India’s domestic political process.

The intermittent trouble in the Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts of West Bengal are crucial pointers to it. The repeated trouble perennially brewing in these two districts surrounding the ludicrous issue of Gorkhaland are instigated mostly by people of Nepalese ethnicity, who have crossed over in droves and settled mainly in the mountainous district of Darjeeling in West Bengal, through, what appears to be, by taking unscrupulous advantage of the Indo-Nepalese treaty of 1950. Nevertheless, corrective should be earnestly thought of.     

Introspection and correctives for Indo-Nepalese relations
The delay-free implementation of pending development projects announced by India in Nepal needs to be completed satisfactorily and without further procrastination. There are three major infrastructure projects of whose memorandums of understanding have been concluded. That was undertaken during the Indian PM, Narendra Modi’s, visit to Nepal in 2014. Notable among them was the envisaged creation of 5600 MW Pancheshwar project – a bi-national hydropower project to be developed in Mahakali River, which borders Nepal and India.

K P Oli had also visited India in March, 2016. During that visit, the two countries had signed nine agreements whose range spread across infrastructure, rail and road transit. India has decided to give effect to endeavours towards the fulfilment of these goals.

In between, there were disturbances, if not censuring, surrounding the final promulgation of the new Nepalese constitution, Nepal’s election and the re-election of Oli as PM of Nepal. An unwelcome interfering Indian hand was alleged to be palpable in Nepal by many in that country. But, with elections over, the sheer out-of-context aspect of that accusation appear to being made irrelevant.  

The near future beckons both India and Nepal to seek avenues for better and meaningful dialogues. As India gears up to proceed in that direction, the Nepalese political leadership would hopefully resort to earnest introspection for correctives on their part in relations between India and Nepal.

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