India-Nepal pacts are of mutual help

India and Nepal have signed a string of agreements, which will not only improve infrastructure in Nepal and trans-border connectivity but also, strengthen bilateral bonds. Besides providing for $1 billion Indian investment in Nepal’s power sector, the agreements envisage tourism co-operation, training of police officials, etc.

Twin city pacts between Kathmandu-Varanasi, Janakpur-Ayodhya and Lumbini-Bodh Gaya were signed as well. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also flagged off a bus linking Kathmandu with Delhi and inaugurated an India-built trauma centre in Kathmandu.  Anti-India sections in Nepal often accuse India of playing the ‘Big Brother,’ exploiting Nepal and so on. The recent agreements belie such criticism. They are mutually beneficial. Take the power agreement, for instance.  India’s Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd will build the 900 megawatt Arun-III hydropower station. Most of the electricity generated will be exported to India but power-starved Nepal will get around 22 per cent of it free of cost and can buy more if needed.

Two months ago, India announced GMR’s investment of $1.15 billion in the Upper Karnali Hydro power plant. Thus, while it is Nepal’s rivers that are being harnessed, Indian investment in hydroelectric projects on these rivers will serve to ease the power crisis in both countries.

Mutual suspicion clouds bilateral relations. India is uneasy with Kathmandu’s growing closeness to China while Nepal resents Indian ‘meddling’ in Nepal’s politics. Rather than carping about China’s rising influence in Nepal, India can counter it by implementing agreements promptly and completing infrastructure projects in time. As for interfering in Nepal’s domestic affairs, this is a tricky issue as Nepali politicians often invite Delhi to play peacemaker in their internal wrangles and then accuse India of meddling. India can avoid such accusations by staying clear of prescribing what it believes is good for Nepal. The BJP’s coming to power in India triggered fears in Kathmandu that it would encourage Nepal to return to being a Hindu state. Modi has done well to distance himself from such calls.  It is for the Nepalese to determine the colour and contents of their Constitution.

The perception in Nepal that India micro-manages its affairs has stood in the way of the two countries realizing the full potential of their relationship. It is through its actions that India can alter the way it is perceived by its neighbour. It should shed its high-handed and hectoring approach. But Nepal too has to mend its ways. Its leaders need to abandon their tendency to stir anti-India sentiments to deflect attention away from their own shortcomings.

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