It is heartening that, invoking mutuality of interests, India has reached out to Nepal to mend fences with that neighbour. The manner in which China had wrenched New Delhi away through crafty diplomacy was a challenge that India could hardly be comfortable with.
The recently-installed Communist government in Kathmandu had been swept to power on an anti-India platform, as Nepalese in general were sore over the economic blockade that heaped hardship on the people. They blamed India for it.
The need for applying the balm on ties with this neighbour was sorely felt particularly with China distancing India from neighbour after neighbour.
The bonhomie displayed on Modi’s visit, the third in four years, between Modi and Nepalese Prime Minister KP Oli with a surfeit of attractive deals for Nepal made it seem as though all was back to normal.
Oli, who had been sharply critical of India during the electoral campaign held out a hand of friendship when he visited India last month and Modi’s visit was a prompt response.
Billed as a religious and cultural visit, Modi’s visit to Nepal began with a visit to Janakpur where he jointly launched the Ramayan circuit along with Oli to promote tourism in Nepal and India. Fifteen destinations in both countries, such as Ayodhya, Nandigram, Shringverpur and Chitrakoot will be developed to promote religious tourism.
The two leaders inaugurated a bus service between Janakpur, considered in Hindu mythology as Goddess Sita's "maika" (parent's place), and her "sasural" (inlaws' place), Ayodhya.
The effort was to rekindle the bond of cultural and religious kinship which dates back many centuries.
Modi and Oli set the ball rolling for the construction of the 900 MW Arun III project in Sankhuwasabha district of eastern Nepal being developed by India, through remote control. This will be the largest hydropower project to be developed in Nepal, that is expected to be completed within five years at a cost of nearly Rs 6,000 crore.
In recent times, India has been blamed for dragging its feet over deals entered into in the past and this is an attempt to produce tangible and quick returns. The venture will transform the Nepalese economy by generating around 900 MW of power as it aims to provide billions of dollars to the Nepal government in the form of free electricity, royalty and tax. India, too, would benefit through the supply of the electricity generated by the project.
Modi’s visit will also give impetus to another key connectivity and infrastructure project -- the Raxaul (Bihar)-Kathmandu rail link-- - + that was announced during Oli’s visit to India last month. This will connect Nepal to the Indian railway system.
The Raxaul-Kathmandu rail line will expand “connectivity” between the neighbours and “enhance people-to-people linkages and promote economic growth and development”. With China proposing to build its own railway line between Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region and Kathmandu by 20122, with an eye at reducing the Nepalese capital’s dependence on India, this is India’s answer to the Chinese move.
Inland waterways transport with Kalughat in Bihar as the transhipment point and an agricultural partnership under which India will share its experience with organic farming and other agro initiatives were also on the agenda during Indo-Nepalese talks in Kathmandu.
An unusual request made by Oli was to allow the exchange of demonetised high-value Indian currency notes held by Nepalese banks and the general public at the earliest. According to Nepal's national bank, the Nepal Rashtra Bank (NRB), nearly 33.6 million Indian rupees in Rs.1,000 and Rs.500 banknotes are currently in the Nepali banking channel.
Although the Indian deadline for exchanging demonetised currency is long past, this plea is likely to be granted in the overall effort to restore good ties with Nepal. A way would have to be found to ensure that this is not misused.
Doubtlessly, this has been a fruitful bilateral exchange of visits. The spirit of friendship generated needs to be built upon assiduously and old cobwebs and suspicions removed once for all.