Co-chairman of the Nepal Communist Party Pushpa Kamal Dahal is back after a three-day visit to New Delhi where he met with the top Indian political leadership—the prime minister, the external affairs minister, the home minister, and the national security advisor. He also held separate meetings with leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and opposition National Congress. Any high-level visit always holds symbolic value and, quite naturally, will be filled with spectacles. Thus, Dahal’s visit can be seen as a culmination of a series of efforts made by him to project himself as the chairman of Nepal’s largest political party and as an aspirant to the post of prime minister.
Dahal, for his part, said the objective of his visit was to follow up with the Indian leadership bilateral agreements reached earlier so as to ensure their timely and effective implementation. When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Kathmandu for the BIMSTEC summit, two agreements were reached—bulk cargo movement facility to the nearest railheads from Kolkata/Haldia and Visakhapatnam ports in India, and railway traffic survey agreement for the Birgunj-Kathmandu railway.
Relations with India remained strained for three years following the 2015 blockade, and leaders from both countries made efforts to reset ties. In April, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli chose India for his first foreign visit after assuming office during which, marking a departure from the past, he was able to establish ties between the two countries on an equal footing.
In May, Modi reciprocated with a two-day whirlwind visit to Nepal where he paid homage at the Janaki Temple, Janakpur and gave a speech emphasising the deep links between Nepal and India. Again in August, Modi visited Nepal to participate in the BIMSTEC summit where he also signed two agreements to further bilateral relations between the two countries. And now, just a few days after Modi left, Dahal flew to New Delhi to meet the Indian prime minister along with a host of other political leaders.
While the visits do appear to have had a significant impact on Nepal-India ties, high-level visitors barely follow the diplomatic code of conduct when they go on foreign tours. Meaning, they need to be accompanied by officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as is the practice worldwide. But our leaders rarely comply with it. Such a practice will have a serious bearing on our institutional memory and documentation which could affect diplomatic activities. Leaders may come and go, but an institution will remain despite the change in leadership.
Dahal, like every other political leader, was neither briefed by the ministry before the visit nor did he think it important to brief the concerned ministry upon his return. This needs to change. Also, if Dahal’s trip really carried a personal mission, one has to ask: how prudent is it to go knock on the doors of an external power to cement one’s future position back home? Our calculus needs some revision and rethinking. Merely blaming the third party won’t help unless we change our own ways.