PM Modi to visit Nepal for Buddha anniversary celebrations in mid-May

This would be his first visit to Nepal since he was re-elected in 2019, Nepal PM Deuba expected to attend the celebrations in Lumbini

May 02, 2022 08:42 pm | Updated 08:42 pm IST - NEW YORK/ NEW DELHI

Nepal Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. File

Nepal Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. File | Photo Credit: MOORTHY RV

Ahead of Buddha Purnima (birth anniversary) on May 16, the government is planning a visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Lumbini in Nepal, the Buddha’s birthplace recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site, sources confirmed. Nepal Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is also expected to be in Lumbini to mark the occasion, the sources added.

The visit, which comes a month after Mr. Deuba travelled to India for a bilateral visit, is not expected to include a stop to Kathmandu at present.

The visit to Nepal will be one of three trips the Prime Minister will undertake in May, since he restarted international travel after the last Omicron variant of the COVID-19 pandemic spread. He is currently touring Europe, and is expected to travel east for the Quad summit in Japan, expected to be held on May 23 and 24.

Next envoy to Nepal

While there are no formal bilateral discussions expected during the Nepal visit, the government is moving quickly to announce the next Ambassador to Nepal, to take over after Vinay Kwatra assumed office on Sunday as Foreign Secretary, to be in place before the visit.

According to an official aware of the decision-making, South Block has considered a number of senior IFS officers who have served in Kathmandu or at the “North” desk that oversees ties with Nepal and Bhutan, and are fluent in Nepali, but eventually could choose an official with knowledge of regional dynamics, especially China, to head the mission in Nepal.

The Prime Minister’s visit to Nepal will only last a few hours, and he is expected to pay his respects at the Mayadevi temple, which marks the birthplace of the Buddha, born as Prince Siddhartha Gautama, more than 2,500 years ago.

Mr. Deuba is also expected to attend the May 16 ceremonies, which are a part of a special three-day event planned for the first year Buddha Purnima being celebrated since the pandemic broke out in 2020.

Lamp-lighting ceremony

Temple trustees have told local media that the two Prime Ministers will take part in the lamp-lighting ceremony at the Mayadevi temple. According to the sources, the Ministry of External Affairs and security officials have already conducted a reconnaissance of the arrangements for the visit, as have Nepali government officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Culture. Mr. Modi will fly from Delhi to the recently inaugurated Kushinagar International airport, and then fly by helicopter to Lumbini, which is a short distance from the India-Nepal border.

This would mark Mr. Modi’s first visit to Nepal since he was re-elected in 2019. In his previous term, he visited Nepal on four occasions, including twice in 2014 and twice in 2018. Plans to visit Lumbini in the past, something he had announced he would do in 2014, have been put off on several occasions, owing to different circumstances. Ties between the two countries underwent a strain over the truck blockade in 2015, and subsequently over the Kalapani border dispute with the KP Sharma Oli government in 2019. In May 2018, Mr. Modi had undertaken similarly religious and cultural visits when he visited Janakpur and Muktinath along with Mr. Oli, but the visit to Lumbini was shelved due to scheduling constraints.

The visit to Lumbini at this time would follow a re-energisation of ties after Mr. Deuba’s visit to Delhi in April 2022, when four agreements and a number of infrastructure projects were launched. It is also expected to put to rest a controversy generated over the birthplace of the Buddha, after External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar called Buddha one of the world’s “greatest Indians”, a statement the Nepal government formally protested, asserting that the Buddha’s birthplace was in Nepal.

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