By Bhairavi Singh (NEW DELHI , 2 February 2018) – Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj arrived on Thursday in Kathmandu on what the government called a “goodwill” visit. The two-day trip is Ms Swaraj’s seventh visit to the Himalayan state after she assumed office. The foreign ministry tweeted pictures of Ms Swaraj’s arrival in Kathmandu. It quoted her as saying, “Our relationship is of such a nature that we don’t need an excuse to visit each other. My visit to Nepal is to meet friends from all political parties and strengthen friendship”.
But it’s being seen as an effort to rebuild ties with Nepal as the Left alliance there prepares to form a new government that will most likely be headed by former prime minister KP Sharma Oli, who has in the past criticized India for its “high handedness” in Nepal’s internal politics.
This will also be India’s first diplomatic engagement with Nepal since the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and CPN (Maoist Centre) catapulted to power.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley, who presented the Union Budget on Thursday, allocated Rs.15,011 crore to the foreign ministry. Nepal got Rs. 650 crore for projects – a nearly 75 per cent increase from what was allocated to it in 2017-18.
India’s influence on Nepal and its politics waned after it took a hard stance on the new constitution in 2015 that was seen to be unfair to Madhesis, a group that has close ties with the people in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. An agitation by Madhesi groups against the constitution was perceived in Kathmandu to have India’s tacit support. Mr Oli who was forced to quit in 2016 had accused India of bringing down his government.
India’s attempts to improve ties with Mr Oli are seen to counter his close ties with China. The alliance backed by China has pledged to renegotiate treaties with India during much of its campaign, and deepen ties with Beijing. Ms Swaraj will also call on outgoing prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’.