The new Nepalese PM Sher Bahadur Deuba is on his first visit abroad to India after assuming office. It will be his fourth state visit to India though. It is virtually a norm now for the new head of government in Nepal to make his maiden visit to New Delhi. But over the last couple of years, with a rough patch seen in the relations between Kathmandu and New Delhi and Beijing aggressively wooing Nepal, it is wise to not take things for granted.
The Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang was in Nepal earlier this month even before New Delhi could meet the PM Deuba after he assumed office for the fourth time. He flew straight from Pakistan where he was the chief guest at the 70th Independence Day function. The visit to Nepal assumed greater significance as it took place in the backdrop of the stand-off between India and China over Doklam. Sources though denied that China ‘officially briefed’ Nepal on the issue. According to them there has only been informal sharing of views.
While speaking to News 18, the Nepalese Ambassador to India Deep Kumar Upadhyay said, “Nepal is a neutral country. It is in favour of reconciliation in a peaceful manner. Nepal respects sentiments linked to territorial sovereignty of nations.” The small nation wedged between two Asian giants clearly wants to steer clear of taking sides as it believes it shares a unique relationship with both.
China has also been aggressively pursuing projects under One Belt One Road (OBOR) or Belt Road Initiative (BRI) with Nepal. India had boycotted the OBOR summit in Beijing in May this year but Nepal did participate. Sources in Nepal however said it is wary of indebtedness and will carefully see that “cost meets benefit” before jumping into any project.
While China tries to make further inroads into Nepal, India too is keen to show Kathmandu that it cherishes the relations based on historical, geographic and cultural affinity between the two. Sources say both sides have left behind the bitterness of the alleged “blockade” in 2015 over the Madhesi issue and are now once again focusing on “implementing past understandings.”
Both sides are expected to give due consideration to issues related to water management. This becomes especially crucial at a time when both Nepal and India are reeling under floods. Nepal will push for speedier implementation of work on Pancheshwar hydropower project. The other projects it is pushing for are Karnali and Arun projects.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday the union cabinet gave its nod for a new bridge on the India-Nepal border over Mechi river. An MoU will be signed between India and Nepal for laying down the modalities concerning the bridge. Mechi bridge is expected to not only improve connectivity but also improve trade. Trade imbalance is another concern Nepal has been vocal about. Nepalese ambassador to India Deep Kumar Upadhyay said,” Trade gap must be mitigated. Nepali products should get free access to the big India markets. And no formal or informal hurdles should be allowed.
With these issues at hand, the two Prime Ministers will be meeting at Hyderabad House today. PM Sher Bahadur Deuba will also visit Hyderabad, Tirupati and Bodh Gaya.