India sees itself as Nepal's foremost friend: Shringla

India sees itself as Nepal's 'foremost friend and development partner': Harsh Vardhan Shringla

Harsh Vardhan Shringla. Credit: PTI file photo.

India and Nepal are on the same page and share the same vision, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said on Friday, as he underlined that New Delhi sees itself as the Himalayan nation's "foremost friend and development partner" in its quest for economic and social development.

Shringla's maiden visit to Nepal from November 26-27 was largely aimed at resetting bilateral ties that came under severe strain following a bitter border row.

Delivering a Distinguished Lecture at the Asian Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs - a Kathmandu-based non-partisan foreign policy think-tank, Shringla said the relation between Nepal and India is "intricate" and they share the same geography, civilisational heritage, culture and customs.

"India sees itself as Nepal's foremost friend and development partner," Shringla said in his lecture. "Our aspiration of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas’ and your goal of ‘Samriddh Nepal, Sukhi Nepali’ are entirely compatible."

Noting that recent years have given the relationship a new momentum, he said, "For India, Nepal is fundamental to our ‘Neighbourhood First’ approach."

"India’s development and modernisation are incomplete and intrinsically and symbiotically linked to the development and modernisation of neighbouring countries such as Nepal,” he said.

He said aside from the common civilisational inheritance, India’s relationship with Nepal rests on four pillars – development cooperation; stronger connectivity; expanded infrastructure and economic projects; easier and enhanced access to educational opportunities in India for the young people of Nepal. "We will work to Nepal’s priorities," he said.

Shringla on Thursday called on Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, which included a one-on-one meeting.

The Foreign Secretary’s discussions with Prime Minister Oli included a candid review of the state of the bilateral relationship, and the potential for bringing India and Nepal ever closer.

During the meeting, Oli conveyed Nepal’s desire to build on the momentum in the bilateral relationship and enhance the level of bilateral engagement.

Shringla held productive talks with his Nepalese counterpart Bharat Raj Paudyal on a wide range of issues, including the border problem.

He also called on President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Friday and Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali on Thursday.

"In my meetings here in Kathmandu, with the President and the Prime Minister of Nepal, the Foreign Minister, and my counterpart, the Foreign Secretary, and other dignitaries and officials, I have been left with no doubt that our countries are on the same page and share the same vision," he said at the lecture, attended by experts from think-tanks and diplomats.

Shringla said that the year 2020 has brought with it the additional challenge in the form of COVID-19 pandemic and this has been the most globally disruptive event since the World War II.

"Through this period, Nepal and India have been together. We have suffered together and we have fought back together," he said.

Shringla assured the people of Nepal that once India rolls out a vaccine against COVID-19, meeting their requirement will be a priority for New Delhi, amid a spike of the deadly disease in the country.

"Together we will recover from the pandemic and together we will protect our people," he said.

Recalling Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Nepal in August 2014, he said it was the first at that level in 17 years and it injected a fresh energy into the relationship.

Talking about the development projects implemented with India’s support, Shringla said these projects are tailored to the needs of the local community, create community assets, and promote socioeconomic welfare at the grassroots level.

"Such development projects have been implemented in all 77 of Nepal’s districts and over a hundred of them have been completed since 2014," he said, noting that they cover diverse sectors such as education, health, irrigation, drinking water, skill development, youth training, and agriculture.

He said enhancing cross-border connectivity and infrastructure projects are critical and cited the Motihari–Amlekhgunj petroleum pipeline, the 900 MW Arun III hydropower power project, the Jayanagar-Kurtha cross-border rail line and modern integrated check-posts at Birgunj and Biratnagar as some of the examples of the such projects between the two sides.

"As a neighbour and friend, India sees itself as Nepal’s natural and instinctive responder in times of crisis,” he said, citing an example of New Delhi's quick response after the devastating earthquakes in Nepal in 2015.

"Seventy schools and 150 health facilities are coming up in 12 districts of Nepal with Indian support,” he said. "The outlay of Indian earthquake-related assistance is USD 1 billion but its true value is not in monetary terms. It lies in how it has helped communities on the ground," he said.

He said the people-to-people linkages are so strong and so powerful that quite frankly "we in government only complement these."

"We are dreaming of a new India, a new India as envisioned by our Prime Minister, an India with modern amenities for all our people, an India that is a middle income society...We would like our friends in Nepal to share our dreams and be a part of this journey," he said. "We need each other."

"India’s market is available to Nepal," Shringla said in his speech during which he also occasionally spoke in Nepali langauge.

The ties between the two countries came under strain after India constructed an 80-km-long road connecting the Lipulekh pass with Dharchula in Uttarakhand in May.

Days later, Nepal came out with a new map showing the Indian territories of Lipulekh, Kalapani, and Limpiyadhura as its part.

India reacted sharply, calling it a "unilateral act" and cautioning Nepal that such "artificial enlargement" of territorial claims will not be acceptable to it.