Not so easy

  • PM Oli’s visit has been able to restore ties that were on dangerous free fall

Feb 22, 2016-

Before he left for India on Friday, Prime Minister KP Oli had said that his primary task would be to “clear misunderstandings” that had emerged in the relationship between the two countries in recent months. And his visit does seem to have helped to normalise our relationship with our large and influential neighbour. 

Over the past month, in particular, the Indian government had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the deterioration in relations and the growing anti-India sentiments in Nepal. They were thus keen to restablish friendly ties. It was partially for this reason that Oli was accorded a high-profile welcome in Delhi. 

This time, India’s reception of Nepal’s constitution was much warmer than it had previously been. In the immediate aftermath of the constitution’s promulgation, India had issued a terse statement merely “noting” the event. During Oli’s visit, however, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recognised the promulgation of the constitution as an “important achievement”. 

Still, this does not mean that India had come around to fully endorsing the actions of the Nepali political class. Modi did tell Oli that India remained concerned that the constitution’s success would depend on consensus and dialogue. This clearly hints that India expects Oli to continue negotiations with the protesting Madhesi parties, and to revise federal boundaries in a way that would have the approval of broad sections of Nepali society. It would be in Nepal’s long-term interest to reach an accommodation with Madhesis, but it would be equally important for New Delhi to nudge the Madhesi groups towards a realistic solution. 

Among the various agreements that were signed in New Delhi, there are two that will have an immediate impact. First, there was an MoU on the utilisation of the $250 million grant that India had pledged as part of its broader $1 billion pledge towards post-earthquake reconstruction. Oli should make it a priority to establish proper institutional mechanisms so as to receive these funds and use them effectively, something successive governments have sorely failed to do. 

Second, India pledged to provide 80MW of electricity immediately, and to increase this in the near future. This provision for trading electricity has come as a relief to a Nepali population that has spent much of this past winter in darkness. While import of electricity might be of immediate necessity, the Nepal government would do well to start seriously working on producing more electricity within the country, including by cooperation with other countries and the private sector.

There was one jarring note during Oli’s visit. The Indian police detained over two dozen Madhesi students when they demonstrated against Oli. They were put under detention at Delhi’s maximum security prison, Tihar jail, before their release on Sunday. The Nepal government missed an important opportunity to request their early release with the Indian authorities. This would have been a magnanimous gesture to reduce tensions between the government and the Madhesi parties—had it taken place. 

Published: 22-02-2016 08:11

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