Modi in Nepal again in December: Hindutva, strategic reasons on agenda
New Delhi, Sept 26: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to visit the northern neighbour of Nepal for the fifth time this year end. He will visit Nepal to inaugurate the first cross-border rail link between the two neighbours and also participate in a major Hindu festival at a temple dedicated to Sita, the wife of Lord Ram.
This visit is significant from a number of perspectives. It amalgamates the element of Hindutva with strategic aims of winning Nepal's confidence back. The neigbouring country has displayed an effort to diversify its foreign policy of late under the communists by deepening its engagement with the Chinese and for old ally India, these are uncomfortable signs. Modi is thus set to embark on yet another visit to Kathmandu for the betterment of relations that were soured in 2015 over an economic blockade allegedly put up by India over issues on Nepal's new constitution. The rise of the communists since then who strongly gripped the power last year put Nepal on a course which seemed closer to China than India. Nepal also joined China's much-vaunted Belt and Road Initiative while India did not.
Rail connection plus Hindutva mobilisation
India next plans to counter China's move of connecting Nepal with Tibet. The broad gauge railway line between Bihar's Jainagar and Janakpur in Nepal is in the final stages of completion and in a meeting between Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and her Nepali counterpart Pradip Kumar Gyawali on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, September 25, where talks were held over Modi's upcoming visit to Nepal and also timely completion of the bilateral projects.
On the Hindutva front, Modi is also likely to lead a high-level delegation to Janakpur to attend the Ram-Janaki Bibhawa Panchami on December 12, an occasion which coincides with the wedding of Lord Ram and Goddess Sita. The PM is even expected to lead a symbolic 'barat' (wedding procession) from India to Janakpur where the Janaki Mandir is located and considered the abode of Sita. He could also be accompanied by top Indian officials and BJP leaders.
According to observers, the second programme is aimed at not only wooing Nepal but also mobilise the majoritarian sentiments in the adjoining states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar that are considered Hindi belts and are extremely important for Modi in his bid to renew the mandate in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In fact, he also has three important state elections (Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh) coming up in the Hindi belt in central and western India this year end.
In May this year, Modi went to Nepal and offered prayers at Janaki Temple a day before the state of Karnataka went to the Assembly elections. The Opposition blamed the BJP for trying to woo the Hindu sentiments in the poll-bound state through the prime minister's act on a foreign land. The BJP improved his poll performance in the state by emerging as the largest party but could not form government as Oppositions Congress and JD(S) joined hands to get the numbers.