On the move
- Coming together of political parties for Modi visit augurs well for Nepal’s development
Jul 30, 2014-
There has been a lot of excitement over Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s imminent visit to Nepal, as there was over Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s last week. Many believe that Nepal and India are about to enter into a new phase of their relationship, marked more by goodwill, trust and cooperation on economic matters, rather than mistrust and failure to reach agreements on important issues. That Modi has decided to visit Nepal so soon after he was elected prime minister is a good sign, as it indicates that he is very keen to deepen ties between the two countries. As for the Nepali side, political leaders have seemed keen to leave old suspicions behind and establish relations on a new footing. It is striking that none of the parties on the left have opposed the visit. Even the CPN-Maoist seems relatively well disposed toward Modi.
However, during the visit of External Affairs Minister Swaraj, it became clear that it wouldn’t be that easy to overcome problems from the past. This was most clear over the debate regarding the Power Trade Agreement (PTA). Due to a number of reasons, the two sides were unable to sign this agreement even though officials in both Nepal and India had tried hard to finalise the draft in the days before Swaraj’s visit. One of the major underlying factors was Nepal’s sensitivities regarding possible Indian efforts to establish dominance over Nepal’s water resources. Suspicion is not the only problem, however. The Indian side may be very keen to provide Nepal with a major hydropower project as a grant. But Nepal has historically shown that it has been unable to implement large-scale projects. While seeking Indian aid, Nepal must simultaneously develop its capacity to handle such projects. This is where discretion is advised on Nepal’s part; we should not demand overambitious projects we can not handle—financially, logistically and, as important, politically.
In some ways, the Nepali political class is demonstrating that it is willing to lay aside internal differences in order to forge consensus on matters of the national interest, especially when it comes to India. The major parties do genuinely seem concerned about the PTA, which will ensure Indian markets for the developers, and desire that it be signed during Modi’s visit. The new draft focuses on power trade rather than power generation. In the hope of forging an even broader national consensus, parties also plan to share the draft with representatives of civil society and exp-erts. These are positive steps. For far too long, Nepal’s relationship with India has been hampered due to internal differences among the political parties. In the future, all parties in Nepal should be able to come together and present a united face in the country’s dealings with India. This gives us the leverage to deal with external powers from a position of strength.
Published: 31-07-2014 09:15