Nepal's friendly ties with India received a fresh fillip after Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's successful three-day visit to India. The first from a Nepali Prime Minister in about four years, Deuba’s official visit saw the two closest neighbours of the region reaching an understanding on many outstanding issues.
Dialogue process After the conclusion of the PM's trip, the Nepali side is agog that the visit has taken the ties between the two nations to newer heights. From a Nepali perspective, the relevance of the recent visit lies in the fact that it has resumed the engagement and dialogue process with its southern neighbour with which Nepal boasts of having age-old economic, socio-cultural and spiritual links that have benefitted both.
Apart from gaining understanding and signing deals in key sectors, Deuba's official visit was aimed at bolstering ties with India by resuming dialogues and engagements at high level. The Nepal-India relationship remained stagnated for years after misunderstandings cropped up over border issues, especially in areas concerning Lipulek, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura. Former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli's administration had included these areas in a new Nepali political map following a report that India had opened a track in the area. For many, the Oli-led government brought out the new map after his government encountered troubles owing to his own party's leader. The act of introducing the map, for many, was only a step towards shoring up support for his beleaguered government from his party members and the people.
PM Deuba's fifth visit to India is worth noting as he raised the matter of border dispute with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi. Following his tête-à-tête with PM Modi, both sides agreed to address the pressing border issues through a bilateral mechanism.
Indian Foreign Secretary Harsha Vardhan Shringla stated both sides needed to address the border issue responsibly through dialogue by considering the close friendly relationship between the two nations and they should avoid politicisation of border issues. Though the Indian side is yet to make a formal statement on how to resolve the border issues, it is expected that Deuba's talks with Modi will prove to be a stepping stone towards finding a much-required breakthrough on the border problem.
Likewise, India agreed to hasten to complete the lingering Pancheswor Project, which, once completed, would be a game changer in boosting economic conditions in the region. The Indian PM agreed to speed up the mega project and to utilise and expand the market for hydropower energy produced in Nepal. Apart from discussing air entry routes to Nepal, both prime ministers inaugurated the Janakpur-Jaynagar cross-border railway, Solu Power Corridor, and Rupay, a digital payment service and constructing health facilities, which were other highlights of the Deuba visit. Similarly, the signing of an MoU on railway sector cooperation, international solar alliance, supply of fuels for the next five years, and sharing the oil-related expertise were other features of the PM’s visit to India.
Nepal's economic interdependence with India is not hidden from anyone. Resource-strapped Nepal has relied on India's economic support in building development infrastructure. India, Nepal's key development partner, has extended support in the cultural and social sectors too. Whenever Nepal finds it at receiving end of some kind of natural or other disasters, India is quick to extend its helping hand. Soon after the Gorkha Earthquake rattled Nepal in 2015 and after the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the country, India sent relief to Nepal to ease the burden on the our government and relieve the suffering of Nepalis.
India provides economic support to Nepal every year. The southern neighbour also hosts a good number of migrant Nepalis who stay and work there and remit money to their relatives back home. While reciprocating to maintain its age-old cordial affairs with its southern neighbour, Nepal has permitted Indian nationals to stay and work and has paid utmost care not to let anti-Indian activities take place on its soil.
For India, Nepal figures as an important neighbour owing to both nations' geopolitical urges. Like its smaller neighbours who need to keep India in good stead for their own advantage, India requires maintaining its neighbours in the good books as South Asia's economic and military power faces tough geopolitical competition from its northern neighbour and Pakistan. The ‘Neighbourhood First Policy,’ the brainchild of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has undeniably brought to fore India's willingness to maintain a better liaison with its neighbours in the region by addressing their economic, and socio-culture requirements.
A better knowledge of neighbours' wishes and urges helps build and strengthen trust, which works wonders in rendering the whole of South Asia a peaceful and prosperous region. The Neighbourhood First Policy will efficiently serve the interests of India only when the latter respects the importance of the smaller states in the region. Nepal must attempt to make the most of India's policy.
PM Deuba's visit was indeed aimed at taking the benefits of India's policy. However, one must not forget that a smaller independent Nepal, which shares a long and open border with India, and which is, regarded as an 'India-locked' country, can reap benefits only when the bigger neighbour India displays its honest side towards paying consideration to the aspirations and urges of Nepal for becoming a prosperous nation.
Mutual understanding Exchanges of top-level visits from state and government heads, ministers, bureaucrats, businesspersons, think tanks, civil society members, culture experts and many others from both nations always take bilateral links to a new level. Such visits help deepen mutual understanding, which helps build trust between the two neighbours. Here, it won't be an exaggeration to state that Deuba's India visit has given an additional dimension to friendly ties by bolstering it further, and building unwavering trust with our southern neighbour.