Oli's visit has helped clear the air

India-Nepal relations, which had deteriorated substantially over issues relating to Nepal’s Constitution and the Madhesi blockade that followed, appear to be on the mend. Talks between the two countries during the visit of Nepali Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli to India seem to have cleared the air somewhat and the bilateral rhetoric is far less littered with recriminations than it was a few months ago. During Oli’s visit, the two sides signed nine agreements relating to Nepal’s utilisation of an Indian grant of $250 million for post-earthquake reconstruction, improvement of roads in the Terai region, etc. The Nepalese prime minister’s description of the serious acrimony of the past five months as ‘misunderstandings’ suggests that he is keen to downplay recent problems and move on. However, the two neighbours need to work on erasing the suspicion and hard feelings that have crept in-to their relationship. Importantly, both sides need to work on the underlying issues that triggered the conflict. While the Nepali government has taken the first step in that direction and has assured India that it will fulfil commitments made on constituency delimitation and citizenship, New Delhi must ensure that Kathmandu does indeed act to recognise the political and other rights of the Madhesis.

While the worst of the crisis in the bilateral relationship is over, it could recur. Over the past several decades, India’s high-handed diplomacy and insensitivity to Nepali sovereignty has been the main reason for anti-India sentiment in that country. While there is awareness in India that this overbearing attitude harms its interests, little has been done to end this bossy behaviour. The recent ‘unofficial blockade’ has done immeasurable harm to India’s ties with Nepal. It drove Kathmandu into China’s arms. As for Nepal, while fuel and other shortages compelled it to seek Chinese help in a difficult situation, its repeated use of the ‘China card’ in a bid to teach India a lesson is hardly helpful. Not only does this ruffle feathers in Delhi, but Nepal also needs to realise that its outreach to China has limited use. China’s recent supply of oil to Nepal, for instance, could not meet even a fraction of its needs. Geography dictates Nepal’s dependence on India, which means that its flashing the ‘China card’ doesn’t take it far.

Nepali politicians and parties like stirring anti-India sentiment for political gain. However, this doesn’t serve Nepali interests in the long run as it obstructs tapping the full potential of India-Nepal relations. Oli must address this if he is committed to improving bilateral ties.

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