Back to dialogue

The visit of Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli to New Delhi can be seen as definite signs of a thaw in the tense relations prevailing between the two South Asian nations for the past few months. The stir by the Madhesis against the new Constitution adopted by the Nepal Parliament, which led to the prolonged blockade on the India-Nepal border, soured relations between the neighbours to a great extent. Kathmandu, during the stir, indicated on several occasions that it suspected New Delhi of fueling protests by Hindi speaking Madhesis living in the Terai (foothill region) along the India-Nepal border. Oli’s visit to New Delhi and the warm reception he received from the government of India should diffuse tension for now and end suspicion between the neighbours.

To ensure the itinerary went without any hiccups, Modi had sent his special emissary Subramanian Swamy to Kathmandu set the tone for the visit.  No wonder Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Oli talked at length about the political fallout in Nepal following the agitation against the new Constitution. At the end of the discussion, Prime Minister Oli said “misunderstandings” that persisted in the last few months “no longer exist”. In his response, Modi said that the new Republican Constitution was brought in after years of struggle by the people of Nepal, and India appreciated the contribution of the political leadership and people of Nepal.

Indian Prime Minister’s statement, however, insisted that the success of the new Constitution depended on consensus and dialogue. He expressed confidence that his counterpart in Kathmandu through political dialogue and by taking all sections together will be able to resolve all issues relating to the Constitution satisfactorily and take Nepal forward towards the path of development and stability.

The spirit of the visit was captured by the statement of Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, which mentioned that the primary purpose of the visit was to clear the recent misunderstandings that have cropped up. New Delhi, to reassure the Himalayan neighbor of cooperation, signed seven agreements which included India’s decision to allow transit and use of the Vishakapatnam port for Nepal to send goods to Bangladesh. Both road and rail traffic would be allowed. This is a major step towards regional connectivity. India is also committed to building roads in the restive Terai area, which has recently been the scene of violent clashes between the Indian-origin people living here and the Nepalese security forces.  Realising that China is waiting in the wings to enter the space which may be created by the prolonged tension between Kathmandu and New Delhi, the South Block ensured that, to quote the Foreign Secretary’s exact words, “The word China did not come up.”

The success of the visit would only be known by how much willingness Oli shows in addressing the problems of the Madhesi, the Janjatia, and others. The Oli visit, in fact, brings little relief to these people. India cannot for long remain a mute spectator to the Madhesis and others lingering as second class citizens, permanently dominated by the Gorkha elite in Kathmandu. Oli and Modi have quite a task at hand to keep the relationship between two nations warm, they could be said to have begun well by initiating the dialogue.


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