Nepal-India relations saw an upward trend in 2018 as high-level bilateral visits gradually helped remove the mistrust, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying New Delhi was ready to be the ‘Sherpa’ in the land-locked Himalayan nation’s quest to scale the mountain of success.
India was able to recover its lost ground in Nepal in recent months after a period of unease in bilateral ties following the violent agitation in 2015 by Madhesis, mostly of Indian-origin, who blocked Indo-Nepal border demanding more representation in Parliament and redrawing of provincial boundaries. The economic blockade severely affected Nepal, its economy and its ties with India.
India’s bilateral engagement with Nepal in 2018 began with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in February meeting Left alliance leader K P Sharma Oli days before his swearing in as prime minister.
After Nepal witnessed political instability for several years, the Left alliance came to power in the historic polls in December 2017.
Known for his pro-China stance, Oli became Nepal’s Prime Minster for the second time in February. His first term as the premier from 2015 to 2016 saw straining of ties with New Delhi over the 2015 blockade.
Oli, who publicly criticised New Delhi for allegedly interfering in Nepal’s internal matters and accused it of toppling his government, however, changed his tone after his sweeping poll victory and said he wants to “update” relations with India “in keeping with the times”.
Oli said he favours a review of all special provisions of the Indo-Nepal relations. He also vowed to deepen Nepal’s ties with China to explore more options and get more leverage in his dealings with India.
The prime ministers of Nepal and India agreed to review, adjust and update the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950 and other bilateral agreements.
China, which has been investing heavily in Nepal blunting India’s influence in the country, was quick to congratulate the new Nepalese government and said that India, China and Nepal should step up “sound interaction for win-win outcomes”.
The highest level of visit between India and Nepal came in April when Prime Minister Oli, leading a 53-member jumbo delegation, visited India for a three-day visit which, he said, helped in clearing misunderstanding and mistrust, and strengthening mutual trust between the two neighbours.
During talks between Oli and Modi, the two countries agreed to conduct feasibility studies regarding construction of Raxaul-Kathmandu railway line and operating Nepalese steamers to transport goods and people from Nepal to other countries.
In May, Prime Minister Modi travelled to Nepal for a two-day state visit, his third visit to the country in four years.
Modi visited the famed 20th century Janaki temple in Janakpur, dedicated to the Hindu goddess Sita. He and his Nepalese counterpart jointly inaugurated a direct bus service between Janakpur and Ayodhya – the two sacred cities for Hindus – to promote religious tourism in Nepal and India.
Describing his trip to Nepal as a reflection of his government’s commitment to “neighbourhood first” policy, Modi said Nepal has entered a new era and India would continue to support it.
He said India supports a “united, prosperous and strong” Nepal as he called for transforming the land-locked Himalayan nation into a land- and water-linked country.
Oli said Nepal is sensitive to India’s interests and would not allow its territory to be used against it.
Modi said India was ready to be the ‘Sherpa’ — a member of the Himalayan community renowned for mountaineering skills — to help Nepal scale the mountain of success, hailing the Himalayan nation’s successful journey from bullets to ballots.
Oli, briefing Nepal’s Parliament on Modi’s state visit, said the visit has elevated bilateral ties to new heights.
In August, Modi visited Nepal for BIMSTEC conference and held talks with Oli during which India and Nepal exchanged a memorandum of understanding to build a strategic railway line connecting Bihar’s Raxual city to Kathmandu.
This was the third meeting between Modi and Oli in 2018.
China made inroads into Nepal as Kathmandu started accessing internet through a Chinese optical fibre link laid across the Himalayan mountains, ending its sole dependency on India for connecting to the cybre space.
Nepal and China signed the protocol of Transit and Transport Agreement in September according to which the Communist giant agreed to allow Nepal to use four of its seaports and three land ports for third-country trade, reducing its dependence on India to conduct international commerce.
The Madhesi agitation in 2015 forced Nepal to explore trade links with China and reduce its long term dependence on India.
In September, Nepal decided not to participate in the first-ever joint military exercise of BIMSTEC nations in Pune, amid reports that Nepal’s political parties had expressed concern over the drill.
In December, Nepal banned the use of Indian currency notes of Rs 2,000, Rs 500 and Rs 200 denominations, a move that could affect Indian tourists visiting the Himalayan nation where Indian currency is widely used.
Notwithstanding differences in India-Nepal ties and the growing Chinese influence in the Himalayan nation, the frequent high-level visits by the leaders of the two countries have helped promote goodwill, trust, understanding and cooperation and have injected fresh momentum to further consolidate age-old and multi-faceted relations.