Nepal-India ties

Testing times

Published On: April 17, 2018 12:30 AM NPT By: Rishi Dhamala

Signing agreements does not mark a real gain. Many agreements remain only in papers

Nepal-India bilateral relation has seen many high and lows over the years. Now it stands at its highest. The 12-point agreement signed between Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, in essence, includes everything that needs to further development goals of two countries. The agreement centers around increasing people-to-people connectivity through the expansion of railways and inland waterways, expediting the implementation of development projects agreed in the past and new cooperation in developing agricultural sector. 

At a glance, the gains are splendid. But sustaining them mostly depends on the will power of these two leaders and on otherwise unknown diplomatic and bureaucratic order. Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the gains, it is crucial to know the actors on whose hands the fate of the agreement rests. 

Discreet actors 

While we are seeing some powerful world leaders taking major decisions on the spur of a moment and announcing them through Twitter, it is fair to say that Nepali and Indian bureaucracy and leaders still follow the classical systematic order to formulate foreign policy and planning bilateral agenda and meetings. Diplomats play an important role in shaping the relationships between the nations. Their interpretation of ground realities influences the form and content of foreign policy. If you remember the atmosphere in Kathmandu during the promulgation of constitution, recent cordial relationship between Oli and Modi would be a far-fetched prospect. But this is a much happening reality today and it reflects the importance of positive bureaucratic and diplomatic apparatus. 

According to highly placed sources, at the ministerial level, India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj played a key role in hammering out differences between the two nations and paving the way for Oli’s state visit to India. From Nepal, Foreign Minister Pradip Gyawali and Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal worked together to make the visit possible. Ajit Doval, India’s national security advisor and A B Mathur, have deeper understanding of the special bilateral relationship between the two countries. Their efforts combined with ground work done by Indian ambassador to Nepal Manjeev Singh Puri paved the way for Oli to continue the unwritten tradition of making a state visit to India after becoming prime minister. 

Much greater responsibility is now on the shoulders of these actors for implementing the agreements. Signing of agreements does not mark a real gain because experience so far has proven that such fanfare has short-lived and many agreements still remain only in papers. It is fair to be skeptical this time around as well, but considering the way this team worked, it is also equally fair to be more optimistic. 

Prosperity vision 

Like in the past, major crux of the recent agreement is mutual prosperity through the effective utilization of natural resources. We have added another dimension by integrating into it building efficient transportation channels. The two leaders reviewed the entire spectrum of Indo-Nepal relation and gave special focus on increasing connectivity in the joint statement. Prime Minister Oli expressed the desire to develop bilateral relations in such a way that benefits Nepal from India’s progress and prosperity for economic transformation and development. Prime Minister Modi assured Oli that India remains committed to strengthening its partnership with Nepal as per Nepal’s priorities. 

The two premiers inaugurated the Integrated Check Post at Birgunj by pressing a button from New Delhi and witnessed the ground-breaking ceremony of the Motihari-Amlekhgunj cross-border petroleum products pipeline at Motihari, India. They also issued three separate joint statements in key areas of mutual interest that included new partnership in agriculture, expanding railway linkages connecting Raxaul with Kathmandu and new connectivity through inland waterways. 

The two prime ministers reaffirmed their resolve to promote cooperation in agricultural science and technology, agricultural production and agro-processing in line with the Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries for mutual benefit of farmers, consumers, scientific community as well as the private sector. They also agreed to give a fresh momentum to bilateral cooperation in the agricultural sector with focus on entire gamut of agricultural development. 

On railway, government of India, in consultation with Nepal, will carry out preparatory survey work within one year, and the two sides will finalize the implementation and funding modalities of the project based on Detailed Project Report. 

They also noted that the stretch of railway lines from Jayanagar to Janakpur/Kurtha and from Jogbani to Biratnagar Custom Yard will be completed in 2018, and that work on the remaining stretch of the ongoing rail link projects—Jayanagar-Bijalpura-Bardibas and Jogbani-Biratnagar—will be taken forward with priority. The two leaders also agreed to expedite the completion of remaining survey work while emphasizing the importance of implementing the remaining three links under Phase-II of the India-Nepal cross-border rail link projects.

Leadership test 

Prime Minister Modi has moved a campaign to empower lower-class people and modernize the agriculture—which is why he is popular across India. He has put forward the policy of participation of everyone in development and just and equal distribution of outputs. 

Modi has clarified that India’s vision of ‘Together for all, Development for all’ is the guiding principle of engagement with neighboring countries, while Oli has stated that Nepal government’s top priority to economic transformation will be based on the idea of ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali’. Both Oli and Modi are development-oriented leaders and both have a strong majority in the parliament. 

Modi is considered one of the most influential global leaders. And through his nationalistic policy, Oli is gradually gaining reputation as a statesman. Nothing better describes his height than the commentary of Ranjit Rae, former Indian ambassador to Nepal, who calls Oli “more powerful than former King Mahendra”. 

Both Oli and Modi are very good orators and their actions so far have gained them wide popularity and respect. But how will they go down into the pages of history and what will be the fate of their commitments? The answer, in part, lies in how effectively they will be able to implement the agreement they recently signed. 

The author is founder and chairperson of Reporter’s Club Nepal

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