DECCAN CHRONICLE (28 August 2017) – For some time India-Nepal relations have not been on an even keel, although high-level visits have taken place recently and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has himself been in Kathmandu twice since assuming office in 2014.
In this backdrop it was reassuring to see Nepal PM Sher Bahadur Deuba, who heads a coalition of his Nepali Congress and former PM Pushp Kumar Dahal Prachanda’s Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist), making New Delhi his first port of call after taking charge as PM.
Mr Deuba publicly said during his four-day official visit last week that his government would not permit any anti-India activities. This has a specific context, of course. India’s open border with Nepal is exploited by drug traffickers as well as Pakistan-based terrorist elements, and border management is a serious concern.
Mr Modi drew attention to the importance of security considerations and strengthening India-Nepal relations in defence and security.
There is another compelling concern, however: efforts by China to disturb India-Nepal ties. Since China’s Doklam incursion in June (involving Bhutan’s claims), which has led to a military “standoff” between India and China in the eastern Himalayas, Beijing has been provoking Kathmandu to begin a discussion on its own tri-junction problem involving India and China. At the India-Nepal-China tri-junction at Lipulekh in the Uttarakhand region, India and Nepal have a small area where the boundary is not settled. Beijing is instigating Kathmandu to rake this up. For this reason, Beijing is said to have been closely monitoring Mr Deuba’s India trip. In the event, the Nepal leader did not oblige.
While this was helpful from the Indian perspective, we should be mindful that Mr Deuba’s current political status in his country needs to be shored up for him to be able to withstand any carrot-and stick policy that the Chinese may like to inject. A day before he arrived in India, his government was not able to have passed in Parliament a constitutional amendment to accommodate the political sensitivities of Madhesis of the Nepal terai, who are people of Indian origin. Apart from money to explore for oil in the Nepal-Tibet border region, and other such allurements, Beijing could seek to exploit the parliamentary deficiency of the Deuba government through Nepalese political elements sympathetic to it, for example former PM K.P.Oli and his Communist Party (UML).
Helping Nepal and Bhutan, which share a border with both India and China, retain their sovereignty in the full sense of the word, while keeping bilateral ties smooth, is a key challenge for India in the coming years.