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Bonhomie in the neighbourhood

Bonhomie in the neighbourhood
Barely a month after the Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli's India visit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Nepal on May 11-12. As per the Ministry of External Affairs, Modi will fly to Janakpur from Patna on May 11. In Janakpur, he will offer prayers at the Janaki temple and address a public meeting organised to felicitate him. From Janakpur, he will fly down to Kathmandu, where formal discussions with Nepali government representatives and Prime Minister Oli will take place. Modi's Nepal visit comes close on the heels of his China visit, where he held an informal summit with the Chinese president Xi Jinping amid growing bonhomie between the two countries. Modi's visit is being seen as a move to restore normal ties with Nepal. In recent years, Nepal has been drifting away from India and getting closer to China. It has inked several infrastructural deals with China, including a trans-Himalayan rail network connecting the Tibet region with Kathmandu, Pokhara, and Lumbini. During Oli's India visit, India and Nepal too agreed to develop a rail network between Raxaul and Kathmandu. The two countries have also agreed to enhance inland waterways connectivity. The competition between India and China to have Nepal on their side is benefitting Nepal like never before. Besides, the rail network promised by India and China, China is also extending its highways up to the Nepal border so that Chinese goods can easily reach the Nepali markets. So far, Nepal has been fully dependent on India for the supply of essential commodities including petroleum products. But now it has signed deals with Chinese petroleum companies for the supply of petroleum products. To counter this, Indian Oil Corporation which supplies petroleum products to Nepal has launched a pipeline project for the supply of oil to Nepal. This was launched during Oli's recent visit to India. Apart from this, last week a bus service between Nepal and Bangladesh via India was flagged off in Kathmandu. In another important development, Modi will meet Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on May 25 during her India visit. Hasina will be in India to inaugurate the Bangladesh Bhawan at Visva Bharati University in Santiniketan. The Bangladesh Bhawan is a cultural centre with a museum highlighting the links of Rabindranath Tagore with Bangladesh. Apart from these high-level meetings, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will be on a two-day visit to Myanmar from May 10. She will hold bilateral meetings with the Myanmar leaders and is expected to sign a range of agreements between the two countries.
Overall there is a greater cooperation between the countries in South Asia and their leaders. The leaders are meeting more frequently and the misgivings and fears about China's role in South Asia are gradually vanishing. While China is pursuing the ambitious One Belt One Road (OBOR) project that foresees enhanced connectivity between the countries across the globe by developing necessary infrastructure, South Asian countries too are taking the connectivity issue seriously. During Modi's Nepal visit, the issue of enhanced connectivity between the two countries will figure prominently. Nepal with its mountainous terrain needs more roads and upgraded transportation facility in its cities. Nepal needs partners to execute such projects as its institutional capability to carry out these projects is very limited. India has the capability to undertake road and highway projects in Nepal and this can be a new area of cooperation between the two countries. From the Indian point of view, India needs to have Nepal on its side for a number of reasons. India Shares nearly 1,750 km long open border with Nepal. Strategically, it is very important that Nepal understands the sensitivity of having such a long and open border. Culturally, India and Nepal are closely linked. In terms of business, Nepal's two-third of the foreign direct investment comes from India. India is also involved in some big hydropower projects in Nepal. But there still exists a lot of untapped potential in the sphere of business and trade. During Modi's latest visit to Nepal, his third since he became the Prime Minister, India would ink deals with Nepal for cooperation in new areas and projects. India is also trying to deepen its ties with other countries in its immediate neighbourhood. The visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to India and Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj's visit to Myanmar will take India's bilateral relations with these countries to the next level. Swaraj is also likely to discuss the situation in Rakhine state from where more than half a million Muslims have fled to other countries, a majority of them to Bangladesh, to evade persecution by the Myanmarese army. India will leverage its close relations with Myanmar to rehabilitate the fleeing Muslims back to their homeland in Rakhine province of Myanmar.
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