India, Nepal may need to work harder to bridge trust deficit
New Delhi: It was a visit aimed at repairing the trust deficit, leading in turn, to a reset in ties between India and Nepal. But at the end of Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s three-day visit to India on Sunday, it seemed as though bridging the trust deficit between the neighbours would take more work.
On Saturday, after talks between prime ministers Narendra Modi and Oli, the two sides unveiled some new “game-changing” initiatives in connectivity, energy cooperation and agriculture.
These included a new electrified rail line, to be built with India’s financial support, connecting the border city of Raxaul in India to Kathmandu in Nepal.
Another key decision was on the development of inland waterways to help “the movement of cargo, within the framework of trade and transit arrangements, providing additional access to sea for Nepal,” an Indian foreign ministry statement said.
“This new initiative would enable cost effective and efficient movement of cargo. [Oli] noted the enormous impact the additional connectivity would have on the growth of business and economy of Nepal,” it said.
The two leaders also remotely attended the groundbreaking ceremony of South Asia’s first transnational petroleum pipeline to supply fuel from India to Nepal. The 69-km pipeline from Motihari in Bihar to Amlekhganj in Nepal will deliver 2 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) of petroleum products to the fuel starved country and will be built at a cost of around Rs200 crore.
These decisions are significant given that in the past landlocked Nepal has been seen as keen to develop alternative routes to end its dependence on India for energy, connectivity, trade and transit. The rail link between Raxaul and Kathmandu, for example, could be seen as an attempt by New Delhi to counter China’s reported moves to build a rail link between Tibet and Kathmandu.
For a while it seemed these initiatives had helped paper over past differences, created by Indian reservations on Nepal’s 2015 constitution. But Oli’s speech at a civic reception in New Delhi on Saturday left few doubts that more work was needed to bridge the trust deficit.
“Relations between neighbours differ from that of others...Good neighbourliness demands harmonious co-existence forever. And, trust is the key cementing factor. It derives its strength from the observance of such fundamental principles as equality, justice, mutual respect and benefit as well as non-interference,” Oli said. “As friendly neighbours, our two countries need to be aware of, and respect for, each other’s concerns and sensitivities. Nepal has not allowed its land to be used against the sovereign interests of India. We are firm in our resolve to maintain this position. And it is natural that we expect similar assurance from India,” he said.
In a reference to the 2015 blockade of land trade routes between India and Nepal, Oli said, “We need to ensure that bilateral as well as regional connectivity and transit arrangements run smoothly without any interruption at all times. Recourse to obstacles in the movement of goods, services and people should not have any place in today’s interconnected world and in interconnected neighbourhood.”
India was seen as supportive of the Tharus, Madhesis and Janjatis who blocked key supply routes in protest against the new Nepali Constitution that seemed to marginalize them, while privileging hill populations.
In 2016, Oli had accused India of breaking up a fragile coalition he was heading and forcing him to quit.
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