PM Modi on his 3rd visit to Nepal: The first two that exuded bonhomie now look distant dream
Prime Minister Narendra Modi embarked on this third tour of Nepal on Friday, May 11, which a noted Nepali commentator felt was suited to his political, personal and geopolitical interests.
There is truth in the thinking since the Indian prime minister left for a two-day trip to the northern neighbours a day ahead of the crucial Karnataka election at home where his Bharatiya Janata Party is trying hard to return to power after five years, dethroning rivals Congress. Modi will visit the Hindu religious sites in Janakpur and Muktinath where he will offer prayers at temples.
However, it is the geopolitical concern which makes this trip more important. This is Modi's first visit to Nepal when the country is being ruled by a Left alliance which is dominating the country's politics instead of the more centrist Nepali Congress and also the bilateral relations between the two countries are not at their best, thanks to a series of events that took place in 2015 like overdoing in post-earthquake rescue operations and alleged imposition of a blockade at the borders to protest Nepal's newly promulgated constitution.
Nepal has also joined its other neighbour China's Belt & Road Initiative, disregarding India's reservations about it and China's economic role in the landlocked country has also magnified immensely by this time. The current prime minister of Nepal, Khadga Prasad Oli, is a strong incumbent unlike many of his predecessors because of his mandate and also known to be not so generous towards India. Oli has also asserted Nepali nationalism of late which suggests that the country is more inclined to do things that best suit its interests, instead of blindly following either of its two big neighbours.
Modi's latest visit to Nepal takes place just after a month since Oli came to India and a few weeks after Modi met Chinese President Xi Jinping at an informal set-up in Wuhan in China. Although hopes are high about the future of India-Nepal relations in an environment of diplomatic engagements, not many are sure about India, Nepal and China entering into a trilateral cooperative venture any time soon because of the inherent geopolitical competition between India and China.
Here is a quick look at Modi's past two visits to Nepal as the prime minister since 2014:
August 3-4, 2014: Nepal was the second neighbouring country that Modi visited after becoming the PM in May 2014. He visited the country on August 3 and became the first Indian premier to do so in 17 years (after IK Gujral in 1997). He met the then Nepali prime minister, the late Sushil Kumar Koirala, and there were enough display of the two countries' bonhomie. Talks focussed on reviewing the Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950, the India-funded hydro-power projects and other infrastructure in Nepal.
Modi also became the first foreign leader to address the Nepali parliament since the restoration of democracy there in 1990 and also offered prayers and donation worth Rs 25 crore to the famous Pashupatinath Temple. Modi also pledged not to interfere in Nepal's internal affairs and also announced a credit assistance programme of $1billion to Nepal and sought to buy electricity from it to help it find its place among the developed countries of the world. Overall, it was a visit which bore a pleasant fragrance and it seemed India was truly on way to recover its relationship with Nepal which lied underemphasised for a long time. It was believed that under Modi, Indian foreign policy was in a resurgent mode.
November 25-27, 2014: This was another important visit though this time, Modi did not go for a state visit but to attend the 18th summit of the Saarc - South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation -- a body which largely remains dysfunctional even after three decades of its inception. The faultlines between India and Pakistan - two rival members of the Saarc came out in the open at this summit which made other members, especially host Nepal, to try to pacify both the sides and urge them to take the path of cooperation but with little success. Modi and his the then Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif though shook their hands eventually in the Himalayan resort of Dhulikhel near Kathmandu.
The failure of the Saarc to reach a consensus over the connectivity and regional cooperation among the South Asia nations as well as the controversy over the possibility of bilateral talks between India and Pakistan were two notable points that marked Modi's second visit to Nepal and it was less than six months before a devastating earthquake hit the Himalayan country and also Modi's newfound friendship with Kathmandu.