The four day state visit of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal or Prachanda (as he is popularly known) to Delhi , is an opportunity for both India and Nepal to reboot ties severely damaged by the agitation over the new Republican Constitution unveiled last September. The prime minister arrived late on Thursday morning.
Dahal who took over the reins from former prime minister KP Sharma Oli, has had a tenuous relationship with India in the past.
But this time around, Prachanda is sending out the right signals.
Unlike in 2008, when he annoyed India by visiting Beijing first, his first foreign trip is to Delhi. In numerous interviews ahead of the trip, Dahal made it clear that his visit is aimed at restoring
confidence between two neighbours tied by links of religion, culture and history.
"This is a very important visit to normalise India-Nepal ties," said Professor SD Muni, who has known Prachanda since his days as a Maoist revolutionary. "Previously, both sides had done their best to mess up ties. The former prime minister Oli played to his constituency and used the China card against India. New Delhi’s economic blockade, which affected people for over six months took a toll on the enormous goodwill India enjoyed in that country," he added.
Ironically when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kathmandu — soon after assuming office in August 2014, he had generated a groundswell of popular support. People were enthusiastic about the new prime minister who stopped his motorcade to shake hands with ordinary citizens. It is surprising that New Delhi did not build on this enormous goodwill which evaporated during the Madhesi agitation. Muni believes India made many mistakes.
For one, Delhi reacted late and while trying to give the Madhes and other marginalised communities of Nepal a better deal in the new Republican Constitution, it went about this task in a crude manner. Bureaucrats in New Delhi scoffed at what they saw as the Kathmandu’s elites machinations to continue to wield the levers of state power. There may be some truth that this desire to punish the hills for this perfidy led to the blockade, which the Madhes parties put in place with the active connivance of New Delhi.
Every Nepali was affected by the blockade. Even more disturbing was the fact that the Indian establishment, including former ambassadors were together in wanting to punish the Nepalese for
their anti-India stand. India with its ambitions of becoming a big power player needs to learn how to deal with its smaller more sensitive neighbours. Every country, big or small wants its sovereignty to be respected and South Block must remember this.
China Card: Land-locked Nepal is totally dependent on India for its supplies and expects New Delhi’s help to shore up its economy. The India-Nepal friendship treaty allows Nepalese citizens to work in India. Over eight million Nepalese live in this country. But Nepal is also crucial to India’s strategic interests. Delhi does not want China to overwhelm a region which is practically India’s backyard. Like every small country wedged between two Asian giants, Nepal often uses China to offset India. The Nepalese Royal family did this all the time.
During the road blocakade by India, Oli like other Nepalese leaders before him deftly played the China card. He signed a transit agreement with Beijing to tell Delhi that if it wanted to act tough, Nepal could turn to its other big neighbour. Since then, China had made major inroads into Nepal. In fact, Beijing which had taken care never to interfere in a country’s domestic politics, was showing signs of doing so in Nepal. The ouster of Oli was inevitable.
China’s president Xi Jinping is expected to visit Kathmandu in October. China is annoyed with Nepal for not following through on commitments and is threatning to call off the visit. But those in the know say that this is to build pressure on Nepal to get moving and the trip has not officially been cancelled. Indian president Pranab Mukherjee is also slated to visit Nepal later in the month. The official dates have not been announced.
People in Kathmandu believe India had a major role in Oli’s ouster and that Prachanda has India’s strong backing. However these same local sources say that the former Maoist leader has taken to
mainstream politics like a duck to water and cannot be trusted. But as of now, the new prime minister is making the right noises and said in a recent interview that he will reassure Indian leaders that Nepalese soil will not be used for anti-India activities by any country or group.
This is a very important visit to normalise India-Nepal ties. Previously, both sides had done their best to mess up ties. The former prime minister Oli played to his constituency and used the China card against India. New Delhi’s economic blockade, which affected people for over six months took a toll on the enormous goodwill India enjoyed in that country
Prachanda's wish list: The prime minister has his wish list clear. He wants India’s support for the peace process that it helped to broker to bring Maoists overground. He needs substantial economic help from Delhi to shore up Nepal’s economy, which had been sliding downhill since last year’s devastating earthquake. Delhi needs to step up its earthquake rebuilding and economic presence in Nepal. It can do much in agriculture, solar power and hydel power generation. Harnessing Nepals rivers for electricity has been on the cards for several decades, perhaps something can be done now.
Rights of Madhesis: India is looking to Prachanda to give the Madhesis and other tribes living in Nepal’s terai region their rights in the new Constitution through amendments that are already tabled in Parliament. There is a big question mark over this as Prachanda will need the support of all parties for the two-third majority needed. Unlike during his first tenure in 2008, when the Maoists had a majority, now he is dependent on the Nepali Congress and others.
Prachanda’s talks with Modi and his team begins on Friday. Much professions of friendship will be made in speeches and statements by the two leaders, but for India a fair share for Madhesh in the Republican Constitution remains a major test of the new prime minister’s sincerity.