New Government In Nepal And Partnership With India: Legacy And Opportunities

DN Bureau

India and Nepal share strong religious, cultural, socio-economic and political ties that go back centuries. Read on for details:

Representational Image
Representational Image

New Delhi: India and Nepal share strong religious, cultural, socio-economic and political ties that go back centuries. The two countries not only share open borders but there has always been unhindered movement between peoples of the two countries who share civilizational and cultural linkages that have forged relations from thtime immemorial through marriage, kinship and familial bonds. Eminent Scholar, Prof SD Muni appropriately terms that Nepal and India as the "world's closest neighbours."

Many diplomatic and civilian engagements prove it accordingly. For instance, Nepal's army chief is an honorary general of the Indian Army and vice versa. Nepalese Gurkha soldiers have been serving in the Indian Army in great numbers and are famous for their valour, commitment and loyalty.

India's involvement in Nepal has been informed by its principle of 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam' and the policy of 'Neighbourhood First.' In this regard, India's main focus has been to boost Nepal's development through aid and grants for infrastructure development, human security, improvement in human development indicators, and supporting Nepal during adversities such as the 2015 earthquake.

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Post-independence, India built its ties with Nepal on close cultural and historical links. Through the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship India and Nepal accorded 'special relationship' status to each other under which national treatment for both Indian and Nepalese businesses and reciprocal treatment of the citizens in the two countries in matters of residence, property, employment, business and movement were accorded.

India - Nepal relations have gone through several turbulent times and the relationship has come out stronger than before. The last few years have witnessed some such turbulences. With the Madhesi issue flaring up in 2015, some Nepali politicians blamed India's hand behind this, although inconclusively.

The use of India as a punching bag for domestic politics by some Nepali leaders has become a common practice in recent times. This blame game can be attributed to such a practice. Nevertheless, it did batter India-Nepal relations to some degree, at least for the time being. With KP Sharma Oli assuming charge of the PM of Nepal in 2018, some issues between India and Nepal relations started to come up.

The Oli government showed a clear inclination towards China and didn't shy away from raking up issues ranging from territorial disputes in Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipulekh to questioning the birthplace of Lord Ram. The erstwhile PM even went on to blame India for the spread of Coronavirus in Nepal terming it the "Indian virus."

Analysts suggest that such an anti-India stance is a reflection of political instability in the domestic politics of Nepal and is often instigated by China. With his own position insecure in the coalition government, many believe the Oli government's India-bashing was a strategy to divert the attention of the public from the state of affairs in Nepal's political circles.

Nevertheless, with Sher Bahadur Deuba taking over the premiership of Nepal, the ties began to get better again. It touched a watershed mark by visiting Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautama Buddha, on Buddha Purnima this year.

This overture by the Indian Head of the Government not only conveyed how valued our shared culture is for the two neighbours but also indicated the importance and emphasis being made on mending the ties at the highest levels. With this visit also came joint India -Nepal plans to include Lumbini in the Buddhist circuit being promoted by Indian tour operators.

This would be in addition to the project to build the Ramayan Circuit that links various sites of the two neighbouring countries. The laying of the foundation stone for an Indian monastery by the Indian PM helped further bolster the relations. Not just on the front of soft power ties, but the infrastructure and other collaborations also saw the light of day. Nepal offered India to take up the languishing West Seti hydropower project of Nepal.

In the field of education, IIT Madras and Kathmandu University collaborated on offering a joint degree programme while the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) and Lumbini Buddhist University decided to establish a Dr Ambedkar Chair for Buddhist Studies.

The statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that India-Nepal bilateral relations are "as stable as the Himalayas" showed that the past setbacks in ties between the two countries have now been overcome to a great extent.

And now, with the conclusion of the recent general elections in Nepal and Pushpa Kumar Dahal "Prachanda" sworn in as the new PM of Nepal on December 25, 2022, a new chapter of India - Nepal relations could be open which can reinforce the political, economic and cultural ties between the two neighbours.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi was amongst the first to congratulate Pushpa Kumar Dahal for forming the government and expressed friendly relations between the two countries. Highlighting the mutual respect and the natural affinity between the two countries with uniquely strong bilateral relations, both sides expressed excitement about working together.

The Nepalese elections delivered a hung Parliament. While the Nepali Congress, led by Deuba emerged as the largest party with 89 seats, Prachanda's Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) or CPN - MC won 38 seats, whereas Oli's Communist Party of Nepal - Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN - UML) won 78 seats in the elections.

Due to negotiations not working out between Deuba and Prachanda, Prachanda and Oli decided to form the government on a rotation basis with the first of the term being led by Prachanda. It is important to note that although both Prachanda and Oli are pro-China yet they are not on good terms. They have been rivals at loggerheads so much so that Oli while PM alleged that Prachanda, backed by India, dislodged him from power in his previous term.

The two rivals, thus, have come together not because of ideological convergence but for power sharing. Herein lies the opportunity for India to recalibrate its strategy for Nepal and strengthen its relationship through political and diplomatic overtures that are beneficial for both sides. It is equally an opportunity for Nepal to reset its ties with its southern neighbour that is based on equality, territorial integrity and mutual respect and cooperation. (ANI)

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