Saturday, January 22, 2022

India-Nepal Ties Set For Enhancement

India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla was on a visit to Kathmandu last week. His visit, coming soon after the visit of the Indian Army Chief to Nepal, would go a long way in helping reset things and give significant impetus to ties with Nepal.

India-Nepal relations have few parallels in the world and are characterised by a “roti-beti” relationship and an open border. As close as the ties are, so are inherent intricacies of the connection with identity differentiation. However, some sections of the Himalayan country’s political structure have also been willing to play the China card in their ties with India.

Lockdowns and need for Corona related quarantines certainly forced a certain ‘social distancing’ during much of the present year. However, India provided relief and medical aid to Nepal during the corona crisis in that country.

This was Mr. Shringla’s first visit to Nepal after taking over as Foreign Secretary. But it was not just “a get to know” visit. He interacted with his Nepalese counterpart, Bharat Raj Paudyal, who, too, only recently took over as Nepal’s Foreign Secretary. The visit also allowed for high level interaction with the Nepali leadership, including the President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and opposition leaders.

The meetings reviewed various aspects of bilateral ties and noted positive developments in recent months despite constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, even during the lockdown, trade and economic flows continued uninhibited between India and Nepal and so did development partnership. Discussions during the visit included on specific measures that could be taken to finalize key projects at the earliest, including the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project, as well as launch new economic initiatives. Both sides also shared their perspectives on boundary matters and discussed ways to take these forward under the appropriate bilateral mechanisms.

The Foreign Secretary’s meeting with Nepali Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli included a one-on-one discussion and stressed the need to maintain the momentum in bilateral engagements, strengthen people-to-people linkages, and make tangible progress on substantive and strategic bilateral initiatives and issues of mutual interest. The need to focus on positives in the wide-ranging relationship and be respectful of each other’s sensitivities was underscored.

Development partnership is an integral part of the India-Nepal relationship and the Foreign Secretary’s visit provided an opportunity for an in-depth review of on-going projects and discussions on COVID-19 related cooperation. It has been, in-fact, gratifying that even during the pandemic, the railway line from Jaynagar (India) to Janakpur (Nepal), which was upgraded to broad gauge by India, became operational with EMU rakes from India.

The Foreign Secretary also visited Gorkha District, which was the epicentre of the 2015 earthquake, and inaugurated three schools built there with Indian assistance. Striking another positive chord in India-Nepal ties, that of Buddhism, Mr. Shringla remotely inaugurated an India funded renovation of Tashop (Tare) Gompa monastery in Manang District.

During his meeting with the Foreign Minister of Nepal, Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, the Foreign Secretary handed over 2,000 vials of Remdesivir injection as a gift from the Government of India. This followed earlier COVID related support by Government of India to Nepal covering essential medicines, equipment and capacity building. Speaking at the handover, the Foreign Secretary noted Prime Minister Modi’s commitment that COVID vaccine produced in India is not just for the people of India but for all humanity and India will make it accessible and affordable. He also made clear that the first priority would be for closest neighbours and friends like Nepal.

The visit by the Foreign Secretary should pave the way for more frequent higher-level engagements between India and Nepal in the coming weeks and months with the Nepali Foreign Minister having being invited by India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar to India for the next meeting of the India-Nepal Joint Commission. India-Nepal ties are such that while COVID demands ‘social distancing’, there must be no societal and institutional distancing between the two countries.

Script: Amb. Manjeev Singh Puri, Former Ambassador to Nepal

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