Such high level visits not only help contain growth of external influence in Nepal but also greatly boost Nepal-India relations
Indian President Pranab Mukherjee recently concluded his three-day official visit to Nepal, between November 2 and 4. This was the first visit of an Indian President to Nepal after 18, long years. Before Mukherjee, Indian President KR Narayanan had visited Nepal in 1998. During his visit, Mukherjee offered his prayers at Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu and went to Janakpur to pay his homage to Goddess Sita. He also visited Pokhara, a tourist hub, and took in the air view of Mount Everest.
Mukharjee met different groups of people in Nepal during his visit, including the parliamentarians and political leaders from both Madhesh and hills. During his meetings with Nepali leaders, he stressed on the need of amending the new constitution by accommodating all political forces in the country. India is convinced that only inclusive constitution can ensure long-term peace, progress and stability in Nepal.
In his valedictory address at the First India-Nepal Bilateral Dialogue: Exploring New Vistas in Kathmandu on November 3, President Mukherjee stated that Nepal was high on India’s priority, a priority accorded under its “neighborhood first” policy. Later, in another event in Kathmandu, he said that Nepal had opportunities to join India’s supply chains and benefit from the high rate of its economic growth. He also wanted Nepal and India to work together in such areas as flood management, irrigation as well as in important projects like Pancheshwar, Sapta Koshi and Sun Koshi hydro.
No less important was President Mukherjee’s thrust on security cooperation between Nepal and India. Considering that the security interests of the two countries are interlinked, Mukherjee said he wanted to see continuity of the existing mechanisms of consultation and coordination. Such remarks on security are important at a time when certain elements in Nepal and even abroad are critical of 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Nepal and India, which, in fact, is a security pact between the two countries. Under the 1950 Treaty, both Nepal and India had made provisions to consult and coordinate with each other in case of threat to one of them from a third country. So Mukherjee wanted to give a message that the security pact between the two countries is as relevant today as it was when the treaty was signed in 1950, just when China had started to make its inroads into Tibet.
Also significantly, during his Pokhara visit, Mukheerjee addressed a mass of ex-Indian Gurkha army officials and their families. India provides pension worth Rs 31 billion annually to around 126,000 ex-Indian Gurkha soldiers and their families. Nearly 40,000 Nepalis serve in Indian army and they have fought in critical war zones. In fact, the Gurkhas have been serving in India for last 200 years after the 1816 Sugauli Treaty between the British East India Company and Nepal.
Mukherjee then visited Janakpur, the birthplace of Goddess Sita, who was married to Lord Rama of Ayodhya. In the process Mukherjee became the third Indian president of India to visit Janakpur after Gyani Zail Singh and Neelam Sanjiva Reddy.
At Janakpur, Mukherjee announced the construction of two inns for the pilgrims from Nepal and India. In addition, a ring road would also be constructed there with Indian assistance. He revealed that the earliest written manuscript of the first Mandal of the Rig Veda was discovered in this region. Hopes are high that Janakpur will truly prosper after the construction of the Ramayan Circuit, which is expected to link Janakpur with Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama in India.
While addressing a public gathering at Janakpur, Mukherjee spoke of how Janakpur is one of the best examples of our shared civilization heritage. A center of learning since ancient times, Janakpur city has always attracted scholars from all corners of the world, he added, in what is “a fertile meeting place for intellectuals and scholars of all faiths.” This was a reminder to the Nepalis of the crown jewel they have.
It was sad that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi could not visit Janakpur in November 2014, though he had strong desire to do so. People in Tarai region of Nepal in general and Janakpur in particular, apart from those in the border regions across the Nepal-India border in Bihar (India) were embarrassed when his visit was cancelled by certain elements in Nepal for their vested interests. In fact, some people in Janakpur even went on a hunger strike to express their annoyance at those who had contributed to the cancellation of Modi’s visit.
The discontentment created due to the visit’s cancellation cannot be healed soon. Yet people felt some kind of justice was done after President Mukherjee went to Janakpur.
Expectations are high that this Janakpur visit of President Mukherjee will now pave the way for the visit of Modi to this sacred land in the near future.
Though Modi didn’t visit Janakpur in 2014, his love for this land of Goddess Sita is well known. So his government has planned to jointly develop Janakpur and Ayodhya, for which InRs 2,000 crores have been earmarked.
Amidst the upbeat mood among the people, however, it was unfortunate that certain elements in Pokhara region showed black flags to President Mukherjee. Except this brief incident, he was accorded warm welcome by every section of Nepali people wherever he went. Even those who had developed some misunderstandings about India during the economic blockade of the Nepal-India border by the Madheshis greeted him warmly.
President Mukherjee’s visit to Nepal proved historic for it helped generate warmth in the heart of Nepali people towards India. Even the Nepali cabinet meeting found his visit successful by all accounts, as it not only helped boost bilateral relations, but also generated trust and confidence between the two countries. President Mukherjee was also overwhelmed by this visit, as he said he “enjoyed every bit of my Nepal visit”. Such visit at the highest level could not only contain the growth of external influence in Nepal but also give further impetus to Nepal-India relations.
The author is Executive Director of Centre for Economic and Technical Studies in Nepal