An Indian PM visits Nepal for a bilateral meet after 17 years
The visit to Nepal will be the second by the Indian prime minister to a South Asian neighbour within two-and-half months of coming to power. Modi chose Bhutan as the first destination of his foreign trip after assuming office [Read: Understanding India-Bhutan relations]. Is the decision to choose Nepal after Bhutan a coincidence?
After Bhutan, it's Nepal: The China factor
It is certainly not. Both Bhutan and Nepal have considerably long borders with China and are significant for India's strategic interests. Of the two nations, Bhutan has been closer to India and the latter has faced periodic challenges from Nepal, which has conveniently played the China card to balance off India's influence on its soil.
Influencing post-monarchy Nepal
Nepal in the post-monarchy days has been particularly challenging for India for New Delhi had found a favourable ally in the former institution of monarchy in that country. Once it was overthrown and the country moved forward on the way of democracy, India's policy makers started facing a bigger challenge in influencing the Nepalese minds.
New Delhi has to blame itself if China has increased influence in Nepal
India has watched with worry how Beijing has gradually increased its presence in its neighbourhood, including Nepal. But New Delhi has none but itself to blame if the Chinese have moved ahead with its containment policy against India. The preceding Indian governments did pay little importance to set things in order in the subcontinent, allowing China to fill in the vacuum.
Previous governments ignored Nepal
Take the case of Nepal. Neither Atal Bihari Vajpayee nor Manmohan Singh had the time to pay a bilateral visit to Kathmandu. Vajpayee had visited Pakistan and Chine during his six-year rule and at least visited Kathmandu for the multilateral SAARC visit in 2002.
Singh, on the other hand, never went to Nepal despite serving in the office for a decade. This shows how much New Delhi has ignored its immediate neighbourhood for nearly two decades, allowing a powerful competitor like China to take advantage. Shouldn't New Delhi have pursued a robust Nepal policy, particularly after a kind of political instability engulfed that country following the fall of the monarchy in 2008?
PM Modi's fresh initiative
Prime Minister Modi has looked to plug the hole soon after taking the office. During the visit of Sushma Swaraj, India told Nepal that the Modi government is eager to take their multifaceted bilateral ties forward faster even as the sides decided to hasten cooperation in areas of defence, security, trade and and hydro power.
The two sides also agreed to "review" and adjust" the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950 to reflect today's realties.
The Modi government eyes to stop Nepal tilt dangerously in China's favour with the help of means aimed at long-term benefits. China is a country which increases influence through kind and not cash and it has already made inroads in the smaller countries bordering India through development projects. New Delhi has ignored the changing realities in Nepal for a long time till the new prime minister decided to address the matter with a sense of urgency.
India will need to tighten socks in the face of Chinese ideas to 'dominate'
Beijing has already come up with ideas like BCIM Economic Corridor, the Silk Road Economic Belt and Trans-Himalaya Economic Growth Region and these, no matter how much they speak about mutual economic benefits, are going to give India sleepless nights. The BCIM ( Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar) Economic Corridor has left India worried over the security of its northeast. Similarly, India will be worried over the Chinese influence in Nepal through the idea of Trans-Himalaya Economic Growth Region.
Other challenges for Modi
Modi's test will also lie in pressurising Nepal in stopping its soil from being used for anti-India activities. The two countries have a porous border, which makes it easy for disruptive elements for quick mobilisation on either sides. The issues of women trafficking at the India-Nepal border, power trade agreement and and extradition treaty are also in question.
A small neighbour is not essentially small when it comes to serving a nation's national interests. India was caught napping for 10 long years. Can it make up for the lost time fast?