During Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s visit to India from Friday, the cross-border railway will be on the agenda. Prime Minister Deuba and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi are due to inaugurate the Kurtha-Jayanagar Railway on Saturday, paving the way for the train to officially start running on the tracks between Nepal and India. And that carries symbolism, many say, because Deuba’s visit to the south has only one particular purpose: to demonstrate that ties between Nepal and India are “on the right track”.
This is Deuba’s first official overseas trip since taking office in July last year.
The visit also follows Nepal’s ratification of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact, a US$500 million agreement, which has sharply divided Nepalese politics, and the three-day visit of Chinese State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi in Nepal.
But these are recent events.
This is the first visit by the Prime Minister of Nepal to India in three years, and it is also the first since the demarcation line broke following Nepal’s decision to release a new map of the country depicting the region of Kalapani within Nepalese borders.
Former KP Sharma Oli had released the new map in response to Delhi’s release of the Indian map showing the Kalapani region within Indian borders and the opening of a road link via Lipulekh to Manasarovar in the region. Tibetan Autonomous in China.
Delhi took offense and called the move a “cartographic assertion”.
The map was included in the coat of arms of Nepal through a constitutional amendment. Congress voted yes.
According to observers, the first visit of the Nepalese Prime Minister is mainly aimed at rekindling the heat in relations. According to them, during the last months of Deuba’s tenure, there has been a status quo with regard to bilateral relations – they have neither deteriorated nor improved.
“There is no shortage of agendas to discuss with India,” said Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, a former foreign minister who also served as Nepal’s ambassador to India. “The key problem is that our bilateral relations are not yet satisfactory.”
According to Thapa, the demarcation line continues to remain a major irritant while there has been no progress in the report of the Panel of Eminent Persons.
“Several bilateral issues, projects and past agreements have not advanced at the desired pace,” Thapa said. “Thus, this visit could be an opportunity for both parties to renew their commitments and efforts.”
Over the years, Nepal’s prime ministers have religiously followed the custom of making Delhi their first port of call after taking office. Deuba was due earlier in January to travel to India to attend the Gujarat summit. But the visit was canceled after the business summit in Gujarat was postponed following the rise in Covid-19 cases.
Deuba first visited India as Prime Minister in February 1996. He was in India when the Maoists launched their armed struggle, under the leadership of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, after Deuba ignored their request in 40 points. The war will continue for a decade until 2006. This time, when Deuba travels to Delhi, he has become prime minister for the fifth time, and Dahal is his coalition partner in government. And, Deuba seems determined to save the current coalition in order to keep the main opposition party, the CPN-UML, in check.
The UML won the last elections in 2017 on the ultranationalist board of party chairman KP Sharma Oli following an Indian blockade.
Deuba is often seen as a leader who rarely speaks against India, unlike Oli who during his tenure not only called the Indian virus deadlier than any other and made a scathing comment against the Indian emblem of “satyameva jayate”, rub Delhi the wrong way.
While Oli is considered to have leaned more towards China, the notion is opposed about Deuba.
Deuba’s mandate this time had started badly. Two weeks after taking office, a youth from Darchula fell in Mahakali while using an improvised cable to cross the river, reportedly after Indian security forces untangled the wire rope.
Deuba got bad press for not addressing the issue with Delhi. His government’s decision to form a committee to study border issues with China then offered his critics the grain of sand to pounce on him, calling him a leader who is afraid to stand up to India.
At a meeting of the ruling coalition on Thursday, a day before his visit to Delhi, the leaders asked Deuba to raise the border issue, according to a participant.
“Participants also suggested that Deuba address the issue of delays in receiving the EPG report from the Indian side,” the executive said.
“India’s unilateral encroachment on the Nepalese side at Darchula and the construction of structures that might divert the course of the Mahakali River were also discussed.”
Observers say that if the relations between Nepal and India are not cold, it cannot be said to be warm.
“The main task of the prime minister is to elevate relations,” said Indra Adhikari, former executive director of the Institute of Foreign Affairs, which writes on foreign policy and strategic issues. “One of the reasons the ties have gone off the rails is the long-standing border issue.”
According to her, a lasting solution to the border dispute with India is essential.
“The Kalapani issue has been suspended for decades. It is time for both parties to sit down together, activate all the required mechanisms, present evidence and evidence in order to settle the issue, once and for all,” Adhikari said.
Agreements on long-term projects are unlikely, as local elections have already been announced in Nepal, and two more elections – parliamentary and provincial – are scheduled for later this year. But, according to officials, apart from the official opening of the Kurtha-Jayanagar railway line, a separate agreement related to technical cooperation in the railway sector is expected. Deuba and Modi will inaugurate the Solu 132 kV double-circuit transmission line project in the corridor and would reach a power trade deal that would make it easier for Nepal to sell its power in the Indian market, officials said.
According to an official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, agreements on the restoration of 137 health posts damaged by the earthquake with the help of India, the rapid completion of the detailed project report of the Development Authority of Pancheshwar and the availability of Indian RuPay cards developed by the State Bank of India in Nepal are also expected. .
Some observers say that since Nepal and India share deep ties, the two sides should try to find new ways to further strengthen the bond, going beyond the usual deals and agreements.
“This visit should provide another opportunity to understand everyone’s concerns,” said Dinesh Bhattarai, who has advised two prime ministers in the past on foreign relations. “Trust is the key to any relationship. While Nepal should make its concerns clear, India should listen carefully.
According to Bhattarai, since this visit from Nepal to India comes after a long hiatus, both sides need to explore where they hesitated and failed to identify gaps.
“Links cannot move forward unless there is intention and goodwill,” Bhattarai said. “As the world is witnessing geopolitical changes, there is a need for both sides to discuss all dimensions when we are witnessing a state of flux. We must be clear if we are ready to assuage the concerns of Indians, if there there is.
Sandwiched between India and China, Nepal often struggles to maintain a delicate balance amid major geopolitical games. Kathmandu has already took a surprisingly different positionn than that of Delhi and Beijing on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
While India and China have refrained from condemning Moscow, Nepal has sided with Ukraine, a position supported by the United States and its allies. Shortly after Nepal ratified the US grant, much to Beijing’s chagrinUS Secretary of State Anthony Blinken phoned Deuba to discuss the Russian-Ukrainian war.
Then Beijing came calling. Wang arrived in Kathmandu, via India, where his attempt at rapprochement failed. In India, too, Wang’s visit was the first high-profile from the border skirmishes in the Galwan Valley in 2020.
On Thursday evening, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs published a provisional itinerary of Visit of Prime Minister Deuba.
After landing in Delhi on Friday afternoon, Deuba is due to visit the headquarters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party. In the evening, Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will visit Deuba.
Deuba and Modi will hold a meeting and hold delegation-level talks on Saturday. On Sunday morning, Deuba will fly to Varanasi and return to Delhi in the afternoon to catch a flight to Kathmandu.
Some observers say the Nepali Prime Minister’s visit to India comes at an interesting time, as China and the United States have figured hugely in the foreign policy discourse in Kathmandu.
“Our prime minister received an invitation just as the Chinese foreign minister was due to arrive following Nepal’s decision to ratify the MCC,” said Khadga KC, professor of international relations at Tribhuvan University. “I wonder if the Prime Minister’s official visit is the result of a series of recent events. This is a curious question that we must understand.
According to KC, this Deuba visit could be more optical than substantial.
“His background shows he tends to do things that suit him,” KC said. “Let’s see if this visit brings positive results… in the general interest of the country.