There could be no better way to dilute the anti-India sentiments in Nepal than to expedite the old India-funded projects. One of big criticisms of India in Nepal has been that it is big on promises but short on delivery. So the latest meeting of the Nepal-India Joint Commission where the two sides agreed to expedite seven different joint projects so that the grants and loans offered by India are better utilized comes as welcome development.
The meeting on Thursday decided to finalize the detailed project reports (DPRs) for various roads, the Mahakali bridge and irrigation works that are to be undertaken with the help of India’s concessional loans. Likewise, the two sides have agreed to explore areas in which the US $1 billion pledged by India after last year’s earthquakes is to be utilized.
Similarly, the cross-border check-posts at Birjung and Biratnagar are to be upgraded. As importantly, Nepal and India have agreed to take measures to enhance Nepal’s exports to India, for instance by removing additional duties and charges on Nepali goods.
We can only hope that this progress on paper can now be translated into reality. The problem with Nepal-India joint projects, again, has been that India makes big promises but soon forgets them. Take the on-again-off-again Pancheswor Multipurpose Project, which has been halted again after WAPCOS Ltd, an Indian state-owned company, submitted its DPR back in March. Nepal and India have since been busy ‘studying’ the DPR. Now the Joint Commission has agreed to complete the ‘examination of the draft DPR…for further action’. This old trope notwithstanding, the good news is that this time, there seems to be realization on both the sides that lack of progress on Indo-Nepal projects is not to the benefit of either country: it crimps Nepal’s development prospects and it stokes the latent anti-India sentiments in Nepal. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, during his recent India visit, had also expressed his frustration at what he termed India’s tendency to sit on big projects in Nepal. We could not agree with him more when he says that only when these signature Indian initiatives come to fruition will the Nepali people be convinced that India really wants to help with Nepal’s development.
Yes, Nepal needs to do its bit to create conducive climate for their completion. But the onus is on India, as the senior partner, and as the one with both resources and expertise, to push these projects along. If it can do so, there will be no better example of judicious exercise of India’s soft power in its near neighborhood. This is also the only way India can realize its dream of being acknowledged as the undisputed leader of South Asia.
According to the Nepali interlocutors present at the Joint Commission meeting, India has shown a new willingness to act this time. It will soon be clear whether this is yet another empty promise or if the Indian political establishment has really had a change of heart.