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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  India-Nepal relations need sustained stability

India-Nepal relations need sustained stability

The positive atmosphere in which the PM-level talks were held suggests a thaw in ties, which must be built on to create an amicable environment for resolving contentious issues.

Border claims are often tricky to settle and can require long discussions. (PTI)Premium
Border claims are often tricky to settle and can require long discussions. (PTI)

It’s encouraging to see the positive notes struck by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Nepal counterpart Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda. The two countries have seen ties strain in recent years, but the visible cordiality between the two leaders suggests a definitive thaw in the proverbial ice. Modi promised to take bilateral relations to “the height of the Himalayas", while Prachanda had earlier said that he will go back and tell the people of Nepal that a “new history is in the making". Several agreements have been signed, including on energy, trade and connectivity. Among the key decisions are for India to allow Nepal to supply power to Bangladesh through its territory and India’s commitment to purchase 10,000 megawatts of power from Nepal over 10 years. All this should help give ties an impetus and build a more amicable atmosphere for resolving harder issues, primarily border disputes.

Border claims are often tricky to settle and can require long discussions. So, it is good that ties on other fronts aren’t being held back pending their resolution. Good relations with Kathmandu are in keeping with Modi’s “neighbourhood first" policy, but, as importantly, they are needed due to the growing strategic importance of Nepal as China tries to strengthen relations with Kathmandu. Beijing has been making investments in Nepal under its Belt and Road Initiative and could use its money, like it has done elsewhere through its debt-trap policies, to tighten its grip on its polity. If it succeeds, it will pose challenges for India. A more assertive external policy of India, in general, under the current regime has caused some smaller neighbours to feel uneasy on occasion, Nepal being one. Ties were strained severely in 2015 when the economic blockade Nepal faced amid protests—which it blamed on India—by Madhesis against its adoption of a new Constitution hurt India’s goodwill in Nepal. Relations then hit a new low after Oli’s government released a political map that showed Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh of Uttarakhand as part of its territory, eliciting a sharp response from New Delhi.

Oli’s China leanings are known all too well. For that matter, Prachanda, a former Maoist leader, too, had once gone to the extent of threatening India, although priorities have evidently changed now that he must run the government. Prachanda knows Kathmandu is squeezed between two powers and will probably try to extract the most from both. Before visiting New Delhi, he has already made a trip to Beijing, his first since assuming office in December. So, New Delhi will have to move cautiously. Beijing has been making an effort to deepen engagement with India’s neighbours. Like in Sri Lanka, where its spy ship recently anchored much too close for New Delhi’s comfort, Beijing could attempt to use Nepal as part of a broader strategy to pressure India from all sides. Interestingly, US grants for Nepal have brought a geopolitical twist, with America, too, wanting to wield influence on the Himalayan nation to counter China. All this makes Nepal an important geopolitical player. Being in India’s immediate vicinity and its area of influence, New Delhi can’t afford to take ties lightly. Relations, however, are best served by keeping them mutually respectful and settling border issues through calm discussions and no rhetoric. This would weaken the ‘big brother’ perception in Nepal of India and pave the way for greater engagement.

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Updated: 05 Jun 2023, 11:28 PM IST
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