In the last 17 years, Nepal was the country top Indian leadership hardly took note of seriously; if ever the Himalayan country’s importance was decided, they were done by a few diplomats who, beyond the rubrics of normal official engagement, never felt encouraged to infuse life into Indo-Nepal relations. Resulting in Nepal, despite being in immediate neighbourhood and relying more than 70 per cent on India for financial and institutional supports, inching closer to China than New Delhi to play its strategic card.
There have been reasons to this development. In the intervening period since 1997, there have been numerous high level visits between China and Nepal. In 2001 May, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji made an official visit to Nepal, eleven years later Prime Minister Wen Jiabao also made a brief stopover in Kathmandu on his way to West Asia. In this period, Chinese investments also poured in significantly. They provided soft loans to Kathmandu for building power plants, highways, airport in Pokhra and telecommunication facilities. Small airplanes were also given to Nepal.
In turn, India was found missing on delivery points. Road construction project in terai, integrated check posts at Birgunj and Raxaul and Biratnagar and Jogbani, rail link projects from Jogbani to Biratnagar and Jaynagar to Bardibas and trauma centre in Kathmandu – all missed several dates for completion. This created a negative perception among Nepalese about India. They felt being ignored by New Delhi which was also accused of interfering in the Himalayan country’s internal politics.
Modi visit removes misgivings
However, by paying a two-day visit to Nepal, Prime Minister Narendra Modi shredded layers of misgivings that existed among people of this tiny Himalayan nation. “Aapne hamaara man hi nahin, dil bhi jeet liya hai (You have not just won our minds but hearts too), Maoist leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda, India’s most trenchant critic, said after listening Modi’s address before parliamentarians in Kathmandu.
Nepal’s Minister for Information and Communications Minendra Rijal said Prime Minister Modi’s address to the Parliament has inspired all for national prosperity and development.
Indeed, in his 50-minute address to the Constituent Assembly-cum-Parliament, Modi left 600 plus parliamentarians spell-bound. He talked about HIT –Highways, Infoways and Transways formula for spurring Nepal’s economic growth, improving infrastructural connectivity and advancing people-to-people connectivity. He announced extending $1 billion worth of line of credit over and above the hundreds of millions of assistance for infrastructure development of the Himalayan country.
Already having proved that he is a diplomat of diplomats, he spoke of symbols of Nepali pride and ancient heritage – Pashupatinath temple, Janakpur and Lumbini. But the shove was made when he cleverly used the importance of a Constitution in the nation’s political life. “A Constitution always unites, it never divides…A Constitution is not merely a book…it integrates the past, present and the future,” Modi said, making Nepalese parliamentarians who lost last five years without drafting their Constitution, thump desk repeatedly.
His oration intertwined with subtle posturing pulled out all stops in the way of convincing Nepalese about India’s intention in the region. He said that by helping Nepal, India was not extending any charity to its smaller neighbour but only performing the duty of India as a bigger power. In that way he tried to play on Nepalese psyche, but not without taking a dig at New Delhi’s attitude also. He said India and Nepal are so close geographically, but it took an Indian Prime Minister 17 years to undertake a bilateral visit to Kathmandu.
Power project agreement
He promised that this mistake would never happen again. This was uncannily Modi’s way of wooing forlorn Nepalese to India’s side. But then rhetoric and reality went side by side. On the issue of pending 5600 MW Pancheshwar multi-purpose project on the Mahakali river, not only he set the ball rolling by agreeing to amend the terms of reference of the mega project signed between the two nations in 1996 but also assured his Nepalese interlocutors of finalizing the draft within one year.
During the visit, both the countries also agreed to conclude the power trading agreement in 45 days. It should be noted that India’s GMR is setting up hydropower project in the upper Karnali region. This apart, India has agreed to complete several other infrastructural projects within a prescribed time frame. Perhaps, India under Modi’s leadership knows better that this could be the only way to create the right noise in Nepal at a time when China’s influence across the Himalayan nation is pervasive.
Beijing has increased the pace of investment in Nepal manifold in the recent years is bringing close to its border railway line. In 2007-08, China began constructing a 770-km railway connecting Lhasa with the Nepalese border town of Khasa. This project is expected to be over by 2017. With this, it is said, China which is also laying a railway line up to Arunachal Pradesh, will get a significant strategic depth vis-à-vis India in the South Asian region. Before this happens, India has to get its act together and that is by wooing neighbours to its side. And in that game Modi appears to be a deft player whose Jeet Bahadur( Nepali boy who was reunited to his family after 16 years) diplomacy has already left many people in Nepal wag their tongues in praise of the Prime Minister and his act of dealing with neighbours.
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