Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to visit Nepal in December this year, making it the prime minister's fifth visit to the Himalayan nation. He will likely visit Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Gautam Buddha, and inaugurate the first cross-border rail link between the two countries, according to reports.
The Janakpur-Jayanagar railway service, the only line linking Nepal and India underwent a successful test operation in August this year. The Indian government provided an assistance of Rs 7 billion for the construction of the broad gauge railway, which began about four years ago and is now in its final phase.
Apart from inaugurating the rail link, Modi is expected to lead a high-level delegation to Janakpur to attend the Ram-Janaki Bibhawa Panchami on 12 December, which commemorates the wedding of Lord Ram and goddess Sita, according to a Hindustan Times report.
The report also said that he will inaugurate the cross-border rail link.
Other dates being considered for Modi's visit are 28 and 29 November, a high-level official from the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu told ANI.
Modi's visit to Nepal is significant in the current political context because the Himalayan nation has been drifting towards China under Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. Nepal recently finalised the Transit and Transportation Agreement with China, which will allow Kathmandu vital access to Beijing's sea and land ports.
Nepal, according to Reuters, seeks to end India’s monopoly over its trading routes by increasing connections with Beijing. Kathmandu has sought access to Chinese ports to reduce dependence on India since a prolonged blockade of its border crossings with India in 2015 and 2016 left the country short of fuel and medicine for several months.
Given the deterioration in India-Nepal ties, Modi's visit is likely aimed at reaching out to the country and giving a new fillip to bilateral relations. Even though he chose India for his first foreign trip after taking charge as Nepal prime minister for the second time in February, Oli's immediate next visit was to China.
Both Modi and Oli have reiterated that the "mistrust" between the two nations is now over, however, the Nepal prime minister has favoured Beijing over New Delhi.
Modi last visited Nepal in August this year to attend the fourth Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit.
Modi and Oli inaugurated a 400-bed Nepal-Bharat Maitri Pashupati Dharamshala — a rest house for pilgrims — build with the Indian assistance in Kathmandu in August. The dharamshala has provision for family rooms, kitchen, dining hall, library and some multipurpose halls to meet the requirements of the travellers and families on pilgrimage to Pashupatinath temple.
At the BIMSTEC summit, Modi made a strong pitch for enhanced regional connectivity and said India is committed to work with the BIMSTEC member states in the critical sector. The prime minister said this region has become a meeting point for India's Neighbourhood First and Act East policies. He concluded his visit after offering prayers at the Pashupatinath temple.
Modi also met Oli on the sidelines of the BIMSTEC Summit and they held a detailed review on all aspects of the bilateral relationship including ways to further deepen economic and trade ties
Before this, Modi had visited the Himalayan country in May 2018. Modi and Oli jointly inaugurated a direct bus service between Janakpur and Ayodhya, the two sacred cities for Hindus, as part of a "Ramayan Circuit" to promote religious tourism in Nepal and India during his two-day visit.
"Janakpur and Ayodhya are being connected. This is a historic moment," Modi said while inaugurating the bus service, connecting Lord Rama's birthplace Ayodhya with goddess Sita's birthplace Janakpur.
Modi and Oli also jointly laid the foundation stone of the 900-megawatt Arun III Hydroelectric Power Plant in Tumlingtar area in eastern Nepal through a remote system. The project is expected to bring in $1.5 billion foreign direct investment into Nepal and create jobs for thousands of people.
Nepal is currently facing shortage of power and the production of hydropower from the project will mainly serve its domestic demands. The Nepal government will receive benefits worth Nepali Rupees 348 billion from the project as royalty, income tax, customs tariff and free energy in the concession period of 25 years. The project will also provide 21.9 percent or 197 megawatts of the generated energy free of cost to Nepal.
Modi visited Nepal to attend his maiden SAARC summit and announced a number of measures, including issuance of 3-5 years business visa and immediate medical visa for patients coming to India for treatment. He held bilateral meetings with top leaders of all SAARC countries except then Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
— PMO India (@PMOIndia) November 25, 2014
During his visit to Nepal in November 2014, Modi and his then Nepalese counterpart Sushil Koirala flagged off the first ever Kathmandu-Delhi bus service from Kathmandu. Before the flagging off, both the prime ministers hopped into the bus called the Pashupatinath Express and interacted with the travellers of the bus, which was decorated with streamers, balloons and flowers.
India and Nepal also signed the Motor Vehicle Agreement under which permit would be given to vehicles to ply on designated routes in each other's country. They also inked three twin-city pacts between Kathmandu-Varanasi, Janakpur-Ayodhya and Lumbini-Bodh Gaya.
The 10 agreements signed between the two countries are those on India’s assistance to construct a police academy, tourism, traditional medicines and youth exchange. The two sides finalised terms of the $1 billion Indian assistance for Nepal’s infrastructure development, which was announced by Modi during his August visit.
Modi's first visit to Nepal after taking over as the prime minister, termed as "historic", focused on 4Cs – cooperation, connectivity, culture and constitution – to enhance bilateral ties. Modi also assured Nepal that India did not want to interfere in its internal affairs and said that New Delhi has no "intent" to dictate anything to Kathmandu.
He started his address to the Parliament in the Nepali language and recalled his previous visit to the country as a pilgrim. Modi reiterated that that Nepal is the country where apostle of peace in the world, Buddha was born and India-Nepal relations are as old as the Himalayas and the Ganga.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Sep 25, 2018 13:31 PM