Rewrite relations

Rewrite relations

Prime minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Nepal could jumpstart a new phase in bilateral relations. Despite their many commonalities, ties between the two countries have been at best tenuous over the last few decades.

This has been the outcome of deep-seated Nepali suspicions of Indian intentions and Delhi not doing enough to allay Nepal’s anxieties or even according relations with it the priority it deserved.

Modi’s visit to Nepal, which was the first by an Indian prime minister in over 17 years, could change that. He announced a $1 billion Line of Credit for Nepal’s infrastructure development and promised help in developing its hydropower, agriculture, etc. Three MoUs relating to tourism in Nepal, goitre control and co-operation between the state-controlled television channels in the two countries were signed.

A long-pending agreement on the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project was expected to be signed during Modi’s visit; it was not, indicating that differences persist. This is unfortunate as the project’s estimated 42,000 mw hydro-electric potential could go a long way in meeting Nepal’s domestic needs even as it sells power to India.

While underscoring the importance of a constitution, Modi did well to avoid giving Nepali parliamentarians’ gratuitous advice on its contents. Had he done so, it would have been interpreted as interference in Nepal’s affairs. His engagement of leaders across the political spectrum was an astute move, aimed at signalling that India has no favourites in Nepal’s political arena.

Modi also announced India’s readiness to revise the 1950 Treaty and welcomed suggestions from Nepal. His upfront approach on a contentious subject set the right tone to the visit, signalling India’s openness to addressing Nepali concerns.

Hitherto Nepali politicians have called for a revision of the Treaty, using this as a tool to whip up anti-India sentiments among the people. However, when India expressed willingness to revise the treaty, Nepal’s political establishment backed away. By clarifying India’s position on the Treaty in the open, Modi has put the subject firmly on the table. India has some concerns in this Treaty too and would like them addressed.       
Modi’s visit has triggered a wave of optimism in Nepal over Delhi-Kathmandu relations. Such a mood was evident in the past as well, only to die out thereafter. The challenge before Modi is to ensure that the mood and momentum survives. China has made inroads into Nepal in recent decades and Delhi must rewrite relations with Kathmandu to expand its influence there.