Gopal Khanal (KATHMANDU, 31 March 2022) – On the invitation of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is visiting India from today (April 1-3). This will be Prime Minister Deuba’s first bilateral trip outside of the country since taking office in July 2021.
Deuba met with visiting Chinese state councilor and foreign minister Wang Yi on March 27 in Kathmandu, and he is currently traveling to Delhi to meet with his Indian counterpart Modi. Some analysts have viewed Prime Minister Deuba’s visit to India as an attempt to send a message that the government values India. However, the purpose of this visit is primarily to maintain understanding in bilateral relations that have been stressed by some irritants.
According to the press statement issued by India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Prime Minister Deuba will call on the Vice President and hold talks with Prime Minister Modi on Saturday (2 April). The External Affairs Minister of India, S. Jayshankar and National Security Advisor (NSA), Ajit Doval, will call on Prime Minister Deuba. Besides official engagement in New Delhi, Prime Minister Deuba will visit Varanasi, Utter Pradesh.
Nepal government, however, has not made public the details of the Prime Minister’s visit. It is unfortunate that Prime Minister Deuba didn’t consult with the main opposition party, which is the largest in parliament, about the agenda of his visit to India. Even the coalition partners have not been informed about the agenda of the visit.
Nepal and India enjoy age-old and special ties of friendship and cooperation in recent years, the partnership has witnessed significant growth in all areas of cooperation. According to India’s MEA, the visit will provide an opportunity to the two sides to review this wide ranging cooperative partnership and to progress it further for the benefit of the two peoples.
The visit would focus on four primary themes, according to Indian authorities. The opening of the Janakpur-Jayanagar train line, collaboration in power acquisition, the inauguration of over 130 health posts in Nepal, and a visit to Banaras to showcase the civilizational links between Nepal and India are all examples of solid cooperation. Bilateral ties between adjoined neighbors have had their ups and downs throughout history, but they have always been resolved amicably. Lipulek, Kalapani, and Limpiyadhura, which both Nepal and India claim, are the boundary disputes. To resolve this cartographic dispute, Nepal and India should hold dialogue in the highest political level and then issue directives to the concern authorities for the complete homework. Both countries have prepared a strip map of 98 percent border.
It is obvious that various problems of bilateral ties would be discussed at the meetings of two Prime Ministers and both Prime Ministers have their own set of priorities. There are some major concerns from Nepal side that need to be addressed at the two Prime Ministers’ talks. Whether Prime Minister Deuba will raise these agenda or not is not known the day he is departing to New Delhi.
The first is the report of the Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG). The EPG, which was constituted on 2016 comprising Nepali and Indian professionals, experts and funded by both ministries, prepared the report four years ago. The report, however, has not been submitted to the Prime Ministers of Nepal and India, as required by provision. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems reluctant to receive it.
The document itself could be a valuable resource for Nepal and India as the experts have reviewed the whole gamut of bilateral ties. However, Modi’s refusal to accept the findings sends a clear message that India does not want to take the ownership of the EPG. Both governments have complete authority to implement or reject the report. If India intends to spread the message of cordiality, it should first accept the report of EPG. Prime Minister Modi must receive the document.
India has not ruled out resolving the lingering border concerns. But diplomatic negotiation has not been started yet. Instead of convening meetings of bilateral mechanisms at various levels, controversial statements from Indian authorities have further provoked the situation. The statements of higher authorities compelled the Nepali people to think about protecting Nepal’s sovereignty and geographical integrity. Even though, they have later cleared their statements.
Both countries’ concerned authorities are experienced with sensitive problems that may require multiple rounds of discussions and years to reach a consensus. The 372 -square kilometers of territory claimed by both Nepal and India, Limpiyadhura, Kalapani, and Lipulekh, can be settled by a series of meetings in which both parties can present documents to support their claims. There are examples like this in India as well. By exchanging territory, India and Bangladesh were able to resolve their border issues.
If the political leaders of both countries truly wish to resolve this long-standing issue, a planned diplomatic dialogue should be convened as soon as possible. Once the meeting starts, a nice atmosphere can be created.
Implementation of past agreements
The Mahakali Treaty was signed between Nepal and India in 1996, although it has yet to be implemented after 26 years. This treaty split the CPN-UML at the time, categorizing political leaders and intellectuals as nationalists or anti-nationalists camp. According to media reports, the Indian government is less interested in moving it forward in its current shape. Even in Nepal, some political leaders regard this deal as deceptive. Some leaders who were involved in the Mahakali Treaty’s ratification argue that it is historic and that it has preserved Nepal’s interests by integrating all local demands. Nepal and India should implement the past agreements.
A pleasant attitude can be created if India begins to solve these three challenges. In Nepal, it is not anti-Indian sentiment in Kathmandu that has exacerbated the crisis; rather, it is the activities and pronouncements of Indian political and bureaucratic leadership that have exacerbated the issue.
Fortunately, unlike their predecessors, India’s ambassadors to Nepal after 2017 have been mature and have handled the Kathmandu mission diplomatically. After an uncontroversial and, in some ways, successful stint, Ambassador Manjeev Singh Puri returned to Delhi. The current ambassador, Binaya Mohan Quatra, has always reiterated in the mutual cooperation and respect. His proactive diplomacy has been demonstrated during the time of Covid. India provided significant assistance in the fight against the corona pandemic in the hardest time. Similarly, he has remained aloof on Nepal’s domestic affairs.
I believe that the visit will result in a new level of understanding in bilateral relations. It won’t be confined to forging personal bonds with India’s ruling party’s leaders.