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Time to Reassure Nepal

Ashok K. Behuria is Senior Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
Nihar R Nayak is Research Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • April 19, 2011

    External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna is starting a three-day official visit to Nepal from 20 April 2011. His visit comes at a time when Nepal is passing through political and economic uncertainties. The deadline for the drafting of the constitution is drawing nearer and the exercise has to be completed within the next forty days. The new government, which came to power under the leadership of Jhalanath Khanal in February 2011, is unable to push the process forward. The differences among political parties over various issues — integration of the Maoist combatants, restructuring of the state, judiciary, nature of the government, etc. — remain unresolved. Khanal has had many problems in putting together a working cabinet. The Home Ministry portfolio still remains a bone of contention between the CPN-UML and UCPN-Maoist. The political crisis has also had an adverse impact on Nepal’s economy, with some parts of the country suffering 18 hour-power cuts daily. In addition, Mr. Krishna’s visit is also taking place at a time when anti-Indianism is at its peak.

    Despite the political uncertainties in Nepal, Indo-Nepal relations have not been at a stand-still. Numerous high-level visits have taken place in the last one year or more. Mr. Krishna himself visited Nepal (his first) in mid-January 2010, during which he had met a wide range of political leaders and discussed the future of the peace process in Nepal as well as various issues of bilateral concern like Civil Aviation, Trade Treaty, Joint Committee on Water Resources at the Secretary level, etc. Dring this earlier visit, he had laid particular emphasis on the need for regular high level bilateral interactions to strengthen India-Nepal relationship.

    The Prime Ministers of both countries had also met on the sidelines of the 16th SAARC Summit in Thimpu in April 2010. In addition, a number of other bilateral visits have also taken place. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sujata Koirala visited India on 5-6 January 2011. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao visited Nepal between 18 and 20 January 2011. And President Ram Baram Yadav paid an official visit to India from 27 January to 5 February 2011.

    In addition to official visits, there has also been sustained contact at the non-official level between the two countries. Leaders of Madhesi and other political parties visited India in March 2011. The first-ever visit of Young Parliamentarians’ delegation from Nepal took place in November 2010, while an exchange visit of young Indian parliamentarians took place in March 2011. And at the Track II level, the public diplomacy division of the Ministry of External Affairs took the initiative to organise four rounds of dialogue with civil society representatives from Nepal. India has thus continued to work closely with the government of Nepal as well as with political parties and civil society groups with a view to supporting Nepal’s transition to a stable, peaceful, prosperous and democratic state.

    India remains Nepal’s largest trade partner, the largest source of foreign direct investment and tourist arrivals. There has been a sharp increase in bilateral trade in recent years. India continues to support developmental activities in Nepal at the grass-roots level. So far, over 400 projects have either been completed or are under various stages of implementation in Nepal. India also considers it important to develop human resources in Nepal. It provides scholarships for Nepalese students to pursue their education either in India or in Nepal; in 2010, some 1800 Nepalese students were given scholarships.

    Despite a well-grounded bilateral relationship and excellent people to people ties, it is difficult to escape the feeling that vested interest groups in Nepal are seeking to raise anti-India sentiments among the people. Some media reports in Nepal often tend to misinterpret and misrepresent facts. And some political groups have repeatedly invented ‘Indian intervention’ in the internal politics of Nepal. Since Nepal is going through a political crisis in the context of the approaching 28 May deadline for constitution making, it can only be hoped that Krishna’s visit would not be misinterpreted as interference in Nepalese affairs. Instead, the visit should be seen for what it is - a continuing effort to improve India-Nepal relations.

    Against this backdrop, Mr. Krishna’s visit is significant. It will provide him an opportunity to familiarize himself with the issues that are inhibiting the process of drafting the constitution and the perspectives of different political forces on issues that divide them.

    Mr. Krishna should take this opportunity to reassure the people of Nepal that India has always acted in the interests of the Nepalese people and that it has no intention to interfere in the internal politics of the country. H should also convey to them that India will do everything possible to ensure a better future for the Nepalese people through greater political, economic and cultural engagement. He has, however, a difficult job at hand— to fulfill the high expectations of the people of Nepal on the one hand and combat the anti-India feelings being generated by certain groups in Nepal, on the other.