By Saroj Deo, Research Associate SAFN
During former PM KP Oli’s tenure, the relations between Nepal and India were low due to different reasons, particularly border and blockage issues. It was a great opportunity for Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal to improve bilateral relations. His visit showed some positive vibes although it was not as expected. Kathmandu and Delhi had plenty of room to embark on new opportunities in numerous sectors in order to improve bilateral relations. Some of the crux areas were border issues, technology, trade, hydroelectricity. connectivity, tourism-particularly religious and adventurous and agriculture.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had been making preparations for Prachanda’s visit to India for the past few months. However, the trip faced delays due to factors such as a by-election, an incomplete cabinet, and fiscal year 2023 budgetary concerns. The leaders from the coalition parties, particularly CPN-Maoist were very optimistic about this visit and conveyed to the media that this visit would hold abundant historical significance. Before going to New Delhi, PM Dahal confirmed the leaders’ viewpoint and expressed his conviction to the media that this visit would be a watershed moment, assuring the public of its significance.
The itinerary included meetings with high-level officials, such as the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, Minister, and Security Advisor. Moreover, a visit to the Shree Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, was scheduled which has been an important topic in Nepal. Following in the footsteps of earlier prime ministers of Nepal, Dahal followed the custom of visiting temples and engaging in religious diplomacy in order to strengthen his relationship with India.
“Dahal followed the custom of visiting temples and engaging
in religious diplomacy in order to strengthen his relationship with India.“
On the day of Dahal’s visit to India, the Citizenship Bill, which has been passed twice by parliament but unsigned by former President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, was signed by Ram Chandra Paudel. Political leaders claimed it was related to the PM’s visit to India as India has concerns about the bill. While the government emphasize this visit was successful and well organise however, speaking with Kantipur TV HD, Umesh Chauhan, the Editor in Chief of Kantipur National Daily, revealed from Delhi that the preparation of the Nepali side was disorganised and lacking effectiveness which we could observe easily.
Major Problems between Nepal-India
There are many problems between Nepal-India that has been existing for a long time. The Nepal-India border disputes, including an area of Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh, Kalapani, and Susta, (in total 53 places), remain a significant challenge. To resolve these difficulties, historical data must be considered, as well as earlier unequal treaties such as the Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950. Any changes or revisions to these agreements should be governed by mutual respect and interest. Some elements of the public share concerns about India’s influence in Nepal, particularly in internal issues. Despite the agreement reached by members of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) from both countries, the Indian government has shown reluctance to recognise their reports. In addition, the new air routes from Gautam Buddha and Pokhara International Airports, the longstanding trade deficit, and connectivity routes to Bangladesh for trade have also been prominent issues for Nepal.
The Outcome of Dahal’s Visit
As he informed the people through the media, Nepal’s Prime Minister Dahal’s much-anticipated travel to India was expected to result in a breakthrough. The coalition parties, particularly the CPN-Maoist, expressed excitement and anticipation over the visit. However, opposition leaders and a few political analysts remained sceptical, considering the former PM’s unfavourable historical track record.
As the PM depart for New Delhi, the reality turned out to be different from the public’s expectations. Several infrastructure projects were remotely inaugurated and ground-breaking ceremonies were done by the two PMs. The inaugural run of Indian goods train to Nepal on the newly completed Bathnaha-Biratnagar railway, the groundbreaking of Integrated Check Posts (ICPs) at Bhairahawa-Sunauli, and the inauguration of an Integrated Check Post at Nepalgunj-Rupaidiha were among them. Additionally, the Butwal-Gorakhpur Transmission Line and the second phase of the Motihari-Amlekhgunj Petroleum Project both broke ground during the visit.
“India agreed to import 10,000 MW over the following
ten years and let Nepal export 50 MW of hydropower
to Bangladesh via India, which is a breakthrough.“
The two prime ministers saw various agreements being exchanged during the tour, which was advantageous for Nepal. These agreements included the revised India-Nepal Transit Treaty, a memorandum of understanding for the expansion of a petroleum pipeline project, a memorandum of understanding between the Institute of Foreign Affairs (IFA) of Nepal and the Sushma Swaraj Institute of Foreign Service (SSIFS) of India, a memorandum of understanding for the creation of an integrated check post (ICP), a memorandum of understanding for the creation of a hydroelectric project, a Project Development Agreement (PDA) for another hydroelectricity project, and an MOU for cross-border payments. The Agreement on Long-Term Power Trade was also started by the two prime ministers. India agreed to import 10,000 MW over the following ten years and let Nepal export 50 MW of hydropower to Bangladesh via India, which is a breakthrough. Another significant development was the mutual commitment to finish the Pancheshwar Detailed Project Report (DPR) within three months after it had been put off for thirty years. These achievements signify a positive outcome of Nepal’s PM visit to India.
The remaining agreements, which have received criticism for being unclear, are insufficient. Major flaws haven’t been addressed to the extent that was anticipated. Experts and opposition leaders have made noise about Nepal’s alleged diplomatic defeat while emphasising India’s triumph as a result of the Phukot-Karnali 480 MW Hydro-electricity Project agreement. A number of MOUs and agreements were reportedly signed during PM Dahal’s visit, which he believes repaired confidence with the Indian government. However, in terms of building improvement, the visit has been not satisfactory.
“The Eminent Persons Group(EPG) report, once executed with cooperation from both countries, is believed to offer resolutions on most of the issues.“
In order to highlight their unique relationship, Nepal and India have cited their shared cultural heritage. Moreover, although India stressed on Neighbourhood First Policy but in the case of Nepal implement part is weak. As we know actions speak louder than words, and Nepal urges India to engage in dialogue to build trust and confidence between the two nations. India has been reluctant to address the major issues including the border, trade deficit, EPG report, and other things despite Nepal’s repeated requests, which has caused discontent. The EPG report, once executed with cooperation from both countries, is believed to offer resolutions on most of the issues. It is essential for fostering bilateral cooperation and relations between the two countries to respect each other’s territorial integrity, and sovereignty, and refrain from meddling in one another’s domestic affairs.
Saroj Deo is a Research Associate at South Asia Foresight Network(SAFN) Nepal, and Research Associate at Nepal Institute for International Cooperation and Engagement.