The neighbourhood watch
To strengthen relations with neighbours and to ensure compliance, India must begin with Nepal
The recent visit by Prime Minister of Nepal, KP Sharma Oli, to India – perhaps his first visit since he took over as the Prime Minister – has once again raised hopes and provided opportunities to rebuild the Indo-Nepal ties which have been declining for quite some time, especially with China taking a plunge into the South Asian region and attempting to establish amicable relations with all of India's neighbours. Since the Modi government came to power in 2014, India's neighbourhood policy was its primary concern, but it was diluted with time owing to various exigencies.
With the Prime Minister of Nepal taking the first step in rebuilding the ties with India, India should now respond with complete zeal, taking every necessary step to forge smooth and warm relations. The relationship between India and Nepal has a rich foundation as the two countries share a long historical and socio-cultural past. This visit by the Nepalese Prime Minister becomes very significant owing to the long 'anti-India' perspective held by him and his government during his first term as the Prime Minister. India has been Nepal's long-standing development partner and Nepal too has been one of India's closest neighbours with India often displaying a "Big Brother" approach towards the country. But it is now about time that India, instead of dominating over Nepal, attempts to reconsider its relationship and, this time, reads it as one marked by "friendship, harmony, equality and mutual respect". To begin with, there are many areas that can facilitate warm relations between the two countries. Starting with, the ICP (Integrated Check Posts), PM Oli on his visit to India recently inaugurated the ICP at Birgunj that would facilitate cross-border trade along with the movement of other goods and services between the two countries.
Also, the inauguration of the 69 km Motihari-Amlekhgunj cross-border petroleum products pipeline will pave way for the delivery of two million tonnes of petrol to Nepal per annum that would definitely be pivotal in reducing constraints in the relationship between India and Nepal. Despite this, both the countries signed an agreement to build a significant partnership in the agricultural sector, with India assisting Nepal in increasing its productivity owing to the fact that India is one of the notable exporters of food-grains and also controls the largest production of milk and milk products. Of all these significant developments, the most important is the agreement to develop railway connectivity between Raxaul and Kathmandu that would significantly ease travel and also lessen the transportation costs of manoeuvring various goods and services.
PM Oli is determined to convert his "land-locked country" to a "land-linked country". For this, India's support is imperative owing to the country being one of Nepal's closest and most important neighbours. On the other hand, it's equally important for India to develop its foreign relations with the countries in its vicinity. This must start with Nepal, especially because we are in a situation when China is leaving no stone unturned to mark its presence in the region and also because maintaining cordial relations with the neighbour becomes essential when India is seeking international recognition on global platforms, for instance, the permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.
Despite the visit by the Nepalese Prime Minister, the ultimate results of the exchange remain entirely unknown. But, at least the meeting has paved the way for discussions and talks between the two countries, especially since an atmosphere of turmoil between them had been evident for quite some time. Also, one significant factor that cannot be ignored is the "domestic political conditions" prevailing in both countries. For instance, in Nepal, PM Oli has been recently elected to his second term and he wants to smoothen ties with India owing to various economic and political factors. On the other hand, since India will be gearing up for elections in 2019, the PM Modi led government wants to ensure that all their promises have been fulfilled—one amongst them being, to have healthy relations in the neighbourhood.
The 2014 tenure of the Modi government began on a positive note, particularly in the context of positive relations with its neighbours, which eventually faded away. But again, with the 2019 elections around the corner, this visit by the Nepalese Prime Minister may prove to be beneficial in paving the way for other neighbours to rebuild their ties with India and at the same time, India must also look forward to having warm, healthy and positive relations in her neighbourhood.
(Dr. Navneet Kumar is Faculty at AIIMS Bhopal. The views are strictly personal)