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Modi pulls out all the stops for Nepal trip: Is this enough to counter China?

Narendra Modi, accompanied by a 101-member delegation including seven ministers, arrives in Nepal Sunday on a two-day visit, making it the first bilateral visit by an Indian prime minister to the Himalayan nation in 17 years.

Both countries will also discuss a range of bilateral relations and some agreements are likely to be inked, including in the field of hydropower.

Nepal is the second neighbouring country Modi is visiting after Bhutan in June.

Meanwhile, in what is being seen as a major diplomatic push, Modi said he was "excited" about the visit.

"I am excited about my visit and pleased that I am able to go there within weeks of assuming office as prime minister," Modi said in a pre-departure statement. "My visit reflects our shared heritage of nature, history, culture, spiritualism and religion. It highlights the high priority that my government attaches to our relations with Nepal and our determination to take our relationship to an entirely new level," he said.

Foreign policy analysts have said that the focus on Nepal is significant, and have suggested that this is Modi's way of mitigating China's steadily growing influence in the country.

PTI

PTI

This theory gained further strength when the prime minister said the visit would increase opportunity for a detailed discussion on bilateral ties.

"During my visit, I will have the opportunity to hold detailed discussions with the Nepalese leadership on the entire gamut of bilateral relations. I look forward to working with the leadership of Nepal to forge a new relationship for the new century between our two rapidly transforming countries.

"We will identify steps to strengthen our bilateral cooperation in key sectors, including trade and investment, hydro power, agriculture and agro-processing, environment, tourism, education, culture and sports.

"I will also discuss with Nepali leadership and their business leaders how we can harness the full potential of the new digital age to empower and create new opportunities for the youth of the two countries," Modi said.

"We are committed to continuing our support to Nepal in its development efforts.

"During the visit, we will explore the ways to further strengthen our development cooperation.

"I will also discuss with the Nepalese leadership the steps to further strengthen people-to-people contacts between our countries, and how to connect lives across our open borders more seamlessly, particularly among the youth," the prime minister added.

He also expressed the hope that the India-Nepal relationship will serve as a "model and catalyst" for South Asian partnership for prosperity.

A series of tweets from the prime minister also revealed that he would be taking a boy he has been supporting for years back to his parents.

"...Long back, I met a young, helpless boy named Jeet Bahadur who had no idea about his whereabouts and also did not understand language properly... Inspired by the almighty, I started worrying about his future and soon he developed an interest in studies and also started understanding Gujarati...," Modi said.

Some time back, he managed to find Bahadur's parents and said it was all possible because the boy has "six fingers on his toes".

"I am glad that I will hand over their son to them tomorrow (Sunday)," he added.

The last bilateral visit by an Indian prime minister to Nepal was by IK Gujral in June 1997. Indian prime ministers have gone to Nepal but as part of multilateral visits.

Modi, who will also be accompanied by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval as well as captains of industry, will be the first foreign leader to address the Nepalese constituent assembly-cum-parliament on Sunday.

Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, who was in New Delhi during Modi's swearing-in ceremony, will receive the Indian prime minister at the Tribhuvan International Airport here.

Modi will hold talks with Koirala on Sunday.

On Monday, Modi will pray at the Pashupatinath temple, and later meet President Ram Baran Yadav, who would host a dinner for him.

He will also interact with leaders of the Nepalese business community.

Modi's visit comes a week after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj went to Kathmandu. During her visit, the two countries revived their joint commission after a gap of 23 years.

Security agencies from both sides Saturday conducted a three-hour security drill on the routes where Modi will be travelling and at the Hotel Hyatt where he will stay. Three bullet-proof vehicles have already landed in Kathmandu.

The flags of Nepal and India were put up on the major streets of the city.

All preparations related to Modi's visit have been completed, said Dinesh Bhattaraio, foreign relations adviser to Sushil Koirala.

The hotel has been told to prepare special vegetarian items, including Gujarati food.

Ahead of his visit, Modi tweeted: "Looking forward to visiting Nepal. Nepal and India are time-tested friends & our two nations share a common culture & heritage."

"I hope to have fruitful discussions with leaders & lawmakers of Nepal that will take India-Nepal relations to even greater heights," he said in another tweet.

In a tweet in Hindi, Modi said his visit to Nepal was also important as he will be fortunate to pray to Lord Pashupatinath.

Nepal's Speaker Subash Chandra Nembang has ordered a special tea from Ilam, a place in the country that produces world class green tea.

The Nepal Army conducted aerial surveillance in which Indian commandos also took part.

The media here has been covering the visit extensively. News channels are running talk shows related to the visit.

"I have never seen such a massive coverage in my life. The Modi wave has taken a grip over the Nepali media," Ramesh Thapa, a 63-year-old businessman from the suburbs of Kathmandu told IANS.

Three hospitals have been kept on stand-by for medical emergencies.

IANS