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Nepal PM Oli’s visit will chart the course for future ties

Backed by mandate, he may talk tough

Keeping with the tradition in India-Nepal ties, Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli will visit India first after taking over. He lands in New Delhi on Friday. Officials and experts say New Delhi should expect a tougher stand from Mr. Oli, who is armed with a massive election mandate, winning his confidence vote with a 4/5th majority, and has taken new administrative powers in the past few weeks.

 

“Expect a visit that sets the course for the future of ties between India and Nepal,” said an Indian official involved in the planning of Mr. Oli’s visit. “This won’t be about the nitty-gritty of agreements, but about putting the past behind us and presenting big ideas for moving ahead.”

“Oli comes to India with three-tier elections behind him, which he has won convincingly, from a polity that has adopted the new constitution. During his last visit to New Delhi in 2016, this wasn’t the case, and he had arrived after the blockade, so he was in a less secure and more challenging mood,” says Himal magazine founder Kanak Mani Dixit.

 

Most say the 2015 blockade, where New Delhi was accused of withholding trucks at the border with Nepal for four months to support Madhesi protesters and put pressure on the Nepali government to amend its constitution, has now been put behind.

Mr. Modi, too, is not expected to raise concerns about the constitution vocally during the visit. Even so, Mr. Oli’s ultranationalist anti-India poll campaign, and his plan to implement a 10-point agreement with China for infrastructure and energy projects, might mean a more “equidistant” foreign policy stance with India and China than in the past.

“Post-blockade Nepal is no longer afraid of any foreign country. It has more confidence,” Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali told the Nepali Times.

Many here accept that equidistance or foreign policy independence from India is easier said than done. A whopping 70 per cent of Nepal’s imports come from India, which has allowed Nepali citizens an open border, and quasi-citizen rights for employment and property ownership on a reciprocal basis. India and Nepal give each other’s army chiefs honorary ranks, and have close security ties mandated by the 1950 “Treaty of Peace and Friendship”.

At his newly set up tea centre, meant to rival Kathmandu’s “coffee culture”, Tea garden owner Keshav Sharma says Mr. Oli’s victory will usher in a “new Nepal”, however. “After many years of instability, the government looks mazboot (strong).  We have a comfort level with India, but growing business ties with China. We don’t want to be squeezed anymore.”

As a part of the shift, the nearly 70 year old treaty will also be revised soon, say officials, with an “Eminent Person’s Group” (EPG) made up of non-governmental experts on both sides due to present their report on updating the treaty by July 4th this year.

“So much has changed in the world, and for Nepal, with more than 4 million Nepalis now working outside Nepal and India, it is necessary to have a treaty that represents their aspirations, and their global exposure,” EPG member Rajan Bhattarai told The Hindu, adding that the joint report will almost certainly recommend changes on India-Nepal’s boundary management, and put in stricter norms to monitor them, as well as revising the trade and transit agreements between both countries.

On Tuesday, Mr. Oli told the Nepali parliament that he would also focus more on the implementation of ongoing agreements on the Pancheshwar multipurpose project, the “postal roads” agreement for a Terai road network, and enhancing bulk cargo trade through more checkpoints. Mr. Oli and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will together inaugurate the Birgunj-Raxaul Integrated Check Post (ICP), that began construction in 2011, as well as lay the foundation stone of the Arun-III 900 mW hydroelectric project remotely by pressing a button after their meeting at Hyderabad House on Saturday.

“Expect a visit that sets the course for the future of ties between India and Nepal,” said an Indian official involved in the planning of Mr. Oli’s visit, adding “This won’t be about the nitty-gritty of agreements, but about putting the past behind us and presenting big ideas for moving ahead.”

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 6:36:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/nepal-pm-olis-visit-will-chart-the-course-for-future-ties/article23437069.ece

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