New chapter with Nepal

By inviting Nepal’s Deputy Prime Minister Kamal Thapa to New Delhi, India has chosen wisely to begin a fresh chapter with its neighbour with a view to ending the mistrust that has marked the relationship in the past two months. By all accounts, the talks between Mr. Thapa and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who is known for her diplomatic abilities in the neighbourhood, took off on the right note. Two short-term objectives — of ending the pile-up of trucks at the border in Bihar that Nepal terms an > unofficial blockade, and of bringing the new Prime Minister, K.P. Sharma Oli, to Delhi for talks — could soon be reached. In the longer term, the task for the government is to help Nepal build on its Constitution to assuage the anger of the people of the Terai, without India further antagonising the people of the hills. This is a balance the government seems not to have achieved in the past few months; it has come across instead as a bully to one side of the Nepali divide and a champion to the other. If India must have a role in the constitutional conflict, it must be that of uniting the political spectrum and encouraging talks — a role it has traditionally had since 1951. The >visit by Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar in the last minute to try and convince the Nepal leadership to postpone the promulgation of the Constitution, and conversations in New Delhi that seemed to favour Sushil Koirala over Mr. Oli as the new Prime Minister, didn’t help the situation. It was sad to see crowds in Kathmandu that only last year filled the roads to greet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, now burning effigies and the tricolor. While such anger was unjustified, as India’s wish has only been to push for a more inclusive foundational document for Nepal, it is necessary to undo the perception that New Delhi is interfering in the neighbour’s internal processes, and worse, ‘punishing’ Nepal for not acceding to its wishes.

In the past week, however, in both New Delhi and Kathmandu the tone has changed. > In an interview to this newspaper, Prime Minister Oli reached out with Vijaya Dasami wishes and a message of reconciliation, while officials in Delhi noted with satisfaction that the new government has a “willingness to address” the issue of the neglect of Madhesi groups. Above all, it is time to turn attention to the struggles of the ordinary citizen of Nepal, a country that has been battered by an > earthquake and ruptured by internal divisions and > brutal clashes. It is suffering without electricity, food and essential medicines. A small start at rebuilding trust may be achieved by moving swiftly on the 41-km-long > Raxaul-Amlekhgunj oil pipeline . That could remove all doubt that India wishes to squeeze its land-locked neighbour. The two countries should meanwhile work to remove mutual mistrust on all other issues as well.

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2020 6:15:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/new-chapter-with-nepal/article7777559.ece

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