Among his bilateral meetings fixed on the sidelines of the NAM summit in Tehran last week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to meet Nepal’s Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai on Thursday morning. However, the meeting eventually happened late that evening.
In a sign of the suspicions that mark the mood among sections in Kathmandu about relations with India, the slight delay triggered a controversy. Anonymous officials were quoted in the Nepali media saying Dr. Bhattarai had gone alone to meet the Indian Prime Minister, and they did not even know about the meeting.
Reports added that while the Nepali Prime Minister was alone, the Indian side was represented by its entire delegation.
The controversy is also being linked to the differences between Dr. Bhattarai and Foreign Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha ‘Prakash’ — understood to be peeved at being “sidelined”.
Ultra-nationalist websites even claimed the Prime Minister must have signed a “secret treaty” with India and must apologise.
The explanation, however, appears to be a lot simpler. A highly-placed Indian diplomatic source told The Hindu: “Iran’s request to leaders of NAM’s key founder-states to be on the stage at the plenary session meant Dr. Singh had to sit through the opening session. All his morning meetings had to be rescheduled.”
Responding to a question in Tehran about whether founder-members sit on the dais, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai too had remarked that Iran’s conference managers took the call on the seating arrangement.
Several meetings, including with President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, were shifted to later in the day.
The source added, “As it happens at such multi-lateral gatherings, the two PMs ran into each other, sat on a sofa, and had an impromptu meeting. It was a one-on-one meeting. There were no officials from the Indian side either.”
Assurance of power
The controversy overshadowed the substance of the discussions, where the two leaders discussed bilateral affairs and Nepal’s political transition.
While Dr. Bhattarai apprised the Indian leader of the political situation at home and put in a request for additional power supply, Dr. Singh is learnt to have pledged full support and assistance to Nepal.
With Nepal facing the prospect of an acute electricity crisis this winter, and power-cuts expected to go up to over 20 hours a day, Dr. Bhattarai requested India to supply an additional 200 MW.
Diplomatic sources informed about the discussions told The Hindu that Dr. Singh assured Nepal that he would “institutionalise steps to get it done”.
India had supplied 150 MW to Nepal in 2011-12, which itself was an addition of 80 MW from 2010-11.
Dr. Bhattarai had apprised the Indian leader about the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly (CA), without the constitution getting delivered, during their meeting on the sidelines of the Rio+20 summit in June.
In Tehran, he is understood to have assured Dr. Singh that all efforts were on to reach a consensus on constitutional issues, failing which, there would be no option but to go for “fresh elections to a new CA”.
Nepali parties have resumed negotiations after a three-month stalemate to determine a future political roadmap.
Dr. Singh said he was hopeful that the remaining tasks of the peace process would be completed soon, and the constitution would be promulgated “on the basis of a consensus”.
Sources say India broadly agrees with the position that if there is no political consensus, a fresh mandate is the only way out. Dr Singh reiterated India’s willingness to “assist Nepal, in any manner and pace to be decided by the people and government of Nepal”.