India tries to boost Nepal ties despite China factor

India tries to boost Nepal ties despite China factor

Shishir Gupta,

India has been able to deliver on 16 of the 21 points raised by Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli during bilateral discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April, top foreign ministry officials said, with the latter personally tracking movement on these so as to get India-Nepal relations, which have suffered in recent years, back on track. Modi has visited Nepal four times since taking over in 2014.

The remaining five issues raised by Oli concern infrastructure projects and on these, Kathmandu has to move on things such as land acquisition, the foreign ministry officials added on condition of anonymity.

According to the officials the survey for the electric rail network between Raxaul and Kathmandu has been completed and two cross border rail links, between Jayanagar and Janakpur and Jogbani and Biratnagar have been finished, and should be ready for inauguration by this November or December.

As of now, the modalities on movement of trains are being bilaterally discussed with Nepal leasing rakes, bogies and engines from India.

Although Kathmandu is very keen that PM Modi personally visit Nepal to launch the rail link and participate in a major Hindu festival at the Sita Temple in Janakpur, no dates for a visit have been finalised by Ministry of External Affairs and the plan, as it stands now, if for the rail links to be launched through video conferencing.

“But then it is for PM Modi to take a final call,” said one of the officials. India has conveyed its unhappiness over Nepal walking out of the joint military BIMSTEC exercise in Pune last month, citing domestic political issues in Kathmandu, despite the matter being formally discussed and cleared at the level of the foreign secretaries of the two countries. Even Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda who is co-chairman of the Nepal Communist Party was not consulted on the decision, it is learnt.

Notwithstanding the sour note on the BIMSTEC exercise, South Block officials say that bilateral cooperation between the two countries has deepened with India’s foreign secretary being in constant touch with his Nepalese counterpart through video conference and PM Modi personally monitoring project delivery schedules.

“Every single leader talks about connectivity. It is definitely a positive thing. Connectivity is like motherhood. One of the things all of us who had something to do with bettering relations with our neighbours have focused on is the need to improve border infrastructure which ranges between horrible to bad. This will surely boost ties,” said former Indian Ambassador to Nepal Shiv Shankar Mukherjee.

The officials added that India is also not unduly perturbed about the growing proximity between Nepal and China as it fully understands that Kathmandu’s interests lies in playing New Delhi against Beijing.

The Nepalese leadership’s growing proximity to President Xi Jinping may be overstated, the officials said, pointing out that Prachanda didn’t get to meet Xi during his visit to Beijing in March.

They also said New Delhi is not overtly bothered on trade and transit agreement signed during Oli’s visit to China last June as the road from Lhasa is fraught with natural hurdles and economically unviable.