New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured Nepal on Friday that it topped India’s Neighbourhood First policy as he announced a Rs100 crore package to develop the Hindu pilgrimage city of Janakpur.

Speaking at a civic reception in Janakpur, Modi’s first stop during a two-day visit to Nepal, the prime minister laced his speeches with mythological references and symbolism, underlining the religious and cultural links between the two countries.

Modi is in Nepal on a mission to bridge the trust deficit between the two countries. India objected to Nepal’s constitution of 2015, feeling it favoured upper-caste hill tribes and disenfranchised the Tharus, Madhesis and the Janjatis.

Ties deteriorated after protesters on the India-Nepal border blockaded the movement of goods vehicles—slowing or stopping critical fuel and medical supplies—amid suspicions in Nepal that New Delhi was backing the blockade.

Coming just months after the devastating April 2015 earthquake, this fuelled anti-India sentiments in Nepal. That Nepal’s then prime minister, K.P. Sharma Oli, was seen as having been forced to resign after a coalition partner supporting him quit allegedly at India’s instance, did not help matters.

Oli assumed office once again earlier this year at the head of a Leftist coalition that won a two-thirds majority in the November-December polls. New Delhi has since reached out to him, promising to work with his government.

In his speech at Janakpur, Modi said: “Whenever there has been a problem, India and Nepal have stood together. We have been there for each other in the most difficult of times"—perhaps pointing to India’s role in rushing food and other necessities to Nepal within hours of the 25 April 2015 earthquake.

Modi assured Nepal that it was at the top of India’s Neighbourhood First policy and announced a Rs100 crore package for the development of Janakpur and its surrounding areas. Janakpur is known as the birth place of Sita, wife of the Hindu god Rama.

Earlier in the day, Modi and Oli jointly inaugurated a direct bus service between Janakpur and Ayodhya.

Modi underlined the need for linking Nepal and India through highways, information networks, rail, electric connectivity, waterways and airways. “We are also trying our best to connect Nepal with waterways so that Nepal will be able to export Nepali goods abroad," he added.

Meanwhile, India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, on a visit to Myanmar, discussed the issue of the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from relief camps in Bangladesh to Myanmar, an Indian statement said.

Swaraj met U Win Myint, president of Myanmar, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, state counsellor and minister for foreign affairs, and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander in chief of the Myanmar Defence Services.

Hlaing spoke of the “return of displaced persons, India’s development assistance to Myanmar, ongoing projects, and other issues of mutual interest," the statement said.

“The minister also underlined the need for safe and speedy return of displaced persons to Rakhine state," it said.

Seven agreements, including one on land border crossing, were signed, the statement added.

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