Delhi seeks to boost bilateral ties with Modi’s visit to Lumbini


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to visit Lumbini on Monday, marking his fifth trip to Nepal since he was first elected prime minister in 2014. It is, however, his first visit to Nepal since his re-election in 2019.

Some Indian ministers including Kiren Rijju, the Minister of Law and Justice; Gangapuram Kishan Reddy, Minister of Culture, Tourism and Development of the North East Region of India; and Arjun Ram Meghwal, Minister of State for Culture; and other government officials will accompany Modi to Lumbini, sources say.

The Indian Prime Minister will not travel to Kathmandu however, as his visit is to offer prayers at the Mayadevi Temple in Lumbini on the occasion of Buddha Jayanti.

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba reached Bhairahawa on Sunday evening with some ministers. Before attending functions and ceremonies in Lumbini, Deuba will inaugurate the new Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa on Monday.

The two sides will also hold talks in Lumbini.

The Indian Prime Minister’s visit follows a series of visits to Kathmandu by US, British and Chinese officials, and a visit to India by Prime Minister Deuba just over a month ago.

Observers and analysts say the visit to Delhi may look purely like a religious visit, but it has strategic significance.

According to Kamal Thapa, former foreign minister, India seems to want to renew its commitments in Nepal in the context of rapid and continuous changes in the geopolitical landscape.

According to the itinerary for the day, after a brief meeting between Foreign Minister Narayan Khadka and Modi, Prime Minister Deuba will host a luncheon in honor of the Indian Prime Minister.

After delegation-level talks followed by the signing of some agreements and understandings, Modi will attend the 2566th Buddha Jayanti celebrations and address a gathering of people, including Buddhist scholars and monks, from Nepal and India. ‘India.

Officials said the two sides plan to sign at least five agreements and understandings. India has offered to set up a satellite campus of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Rupandehi and has sent draft memorandums of understanding to be signed between Indian and Nepalese universities. Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu University and Lumbini Buddhist University will sign educational cooperation agreements with a number of Indian universities.

On Sunday night in Lumbini, senior officials from both sides were putting the finishing touches on draft agreements to be signed the following day, officials said.

Prime Minister Deuba is likely to discuss some outstanding projects like the Pancheshwar multi-purpose project, an important part of the Mahakali treaty signed between Nepal and India in 1996, and the West Seti hydropower project, a reservoir-type project. a projected capacity of 1,200 megawatts.

“Our regular and pending agenda will be discussed as both sides pick up where they left off during Deuba’s visit to Delhi,” a senior Nepali government official said.

At a recent press conference in New Delhi, Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra, who took office after completing his term as Indian Ambassador in Kathmandu, said there would be follow-up talks which took place in New Delhi between Deuba and Modi.

“[Conversations] would undoubtedly cover all the elements of a bilateral engagement, be it a development partnership, an evaluation and a review of the state of progress of connectivity projects, of what More can be done to connect the two Southeast Asian companies, as well as aspects related to hydropower cooperation,” Kwatra said. “I mean, that’s a question that was specifically asked, business investment is another area, which is very strong in our partnership.”

“The whole area of ​​partnership for development, which covers cooperation in many areas, be it health, education, institution building, so I feel that the conversation between the two leaders will have a full agenda, covering the full scope of our discussions… Of course, that would include connectivity,” Kwatra added.

In a statement ahead of his one-day visit to Nepal, Modi said on Sunday he looked forward to meeting Prime Minister Deuba again after productive talks during his visit to India last month.

“We will continue to build on our common understanding to expand cooperation in multiple areas including hydropower, development and connectivity,” Modi said.

Deuba visited India from April 1-3.

“Our ties with Nepal are unprecedented. The civilizational and people-to-people contacts between India and Nepal form the enduring edifice of our close relationship,” Modi said. “My visit is to celebrate and deepen these age-old bonds that have been nurtured over the centuries and recorded in our long history of interbreeding.”

Upon arrival, Modi and Deuba will visit the Mayadevi Temple and attend a special prayer. Modi will also light a butter lamp in front of the Ashoka Pillar and water the Bodhi tree, donated by Modi during his visit to Nepal in 2014. After Bhoomi Poojan and the laying of the foundation stone of the Indian International Center for Culture and Heritage Buddhists, being built at the initiative of the International Buddhist Confederation of New Delhi, Modi will hold bilateral engagements.

Although Nepal’s second international airport, Gautam Buddha International Airport, will officially open on Monday, Modi will not land at the new airport, located 18 kilometers from Lumbini, and will fly directly to Lumbini by helicopter. Some experts have called Nepal’s failure to arrange for Modi to land at the new airport a diplomatic failure. Modi’s landing at the new airport, which needs global marketing, has reportedly attracted international attention.

After visiting Nepal in 2014, Modi had expressed his desire to visit Lumbini. In the past, Modi has offered prayers at Pashupatinath in Kathmandu, Janaki Temple in Janakpur and Muktinath in Mustang.

Chandra Dev Bhatta, an international affairs observer, said the visit will help cement the common heritage of Nepal and India, enhance Nepal’s cultural soft power and help Nepal better project Lumbini.

Some pundits and observers say the timing of Modi’s visit to Lumbini is interesting. Although Modi during his visit to Nepal in 2014 announced that he would visit Pashupatinath, Muktinath, Janakpur and Lumbini. He visited the first three shrines between 2014 and 2018, but Lumbini was expected.

Modi’s visit to Lumbini will dispel the “erroneous notion” in some sections of Indian society and media about Buddha’s birthplace, which is Nepal, said Thapa, the former foreign minister.

“Certainly, the meeting between two Prime Ministers is always important. Moreover, Modi’s direct visit to Lumbini from India has opened doors for other foreign dignitaries to start their trips to Nepal from outside the capital. If Modi had landed at the second international airport on the very day of his inauguration, he would certainly have sent a positive message around the world. But we failed to make that happen,” Thapa said.

Some diplomats, meanwhile, observe that the visit should open up prospects for new cooperation and partnership between the two sides and erase irritants in the relationship.

“We are bound by culture, civilization and religion but this is only one dimension of our ties,” said Nilamber Acharya, former Ambassador of Nepal to India, adding, “This visit is expected to open up more dimensions to bilateral relations”.

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