Swaraj visiting Nepal to revive diplomatic ties, engage new govt

Sushma Swaraj

RISHI DHAMALA, KATHMANDU, Jan 31: As the left alliance is preparing to form a new government–which CPN-UML Chair KP Sharma Oli is most likely to lead–External Minister of India Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Nepal, who is due to arrive on a two-day visit on Thursday, has been interpreted as a cautious advance from the southern neighbor to revive the bilateral ties.

Swaraj coming to Nepal will be the first diplomatic engagement after the recently concluded House of Representatives and Province Assembly election, after which the left alliance constituting of CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center) rose to power. During her visit, Swaraj will call on top political leaders—Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, Oli and Maoist Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’.

“In keeping with the tradition of regular high-level political exchanges between India and Nepal, and reflects the expanding bilateral partnership and the importance that the two countries attach to further strengthening it across diverse sectors,” said the Indian External Affairs Ministry in a release on Monday.

Her visit to Nepal—at the initiative of India itself–has been seen as India’ policy to engage the new government and give message of expanding the bilateral partnership further in the backdrop of UML, the largest party, announcing to enhance connectivity with China including One Belt One Road project. Oli, during his stint as the Prime Minister of Nepal in 2015, signed several agreements with China including trade and transit deals, which aimed at ending India’s monopoly over the Nepali market. Oli, along with some senior leaders also visited Rasuwagadhi transit point immediately after the election indicating their willingness to implement agreements made with China. And, with left alliance sweeping the elections, China is expecting the pace to deepen.

Moreover, Oli and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have had a strained relation since the month-long economic blockade that occurred following the Madhesh Movement in 2015 and India’s diplomatic intervention in Nepal’s constitutional process earlier—of which Oli have remained a strong vocal critic since then. Oli also built a strong image among Nepali people criticizing India’s ‘hegemonic interference’ and invoking anti-Indian rhetoric sentiments against the blockade.

Interestingly enough, this diplomatic engagement is being taken place even though the new prime minister is yet to be sworn in Nepal. Soon after the election results were announced, Modi even reached out to Oli to congratulate him on left success and even showed eagerness to welcome him in India after the formation of new government.

Experts believe that these recent developments in Indo-Nepal ties are the conciliatory advance from New Delhi to mend ties with Kathmandu and gesture against the increasing gap with Beijing, while earning trust from Nepali people.

Swaraj’s visit to Nepal is a clear message that India wants to improve diplomatic relation and put Nepal as a top priority.

And, since Nepal is most probably getting a stable government for a five straight years and with stability and economic prosperity as major agenda, India, especially Modi, has also expressed desire to see stability, development and prosperity in Nepal. Oli also seems to have caught Modi’s gesture, as he, on the occasion of 69th Republic Day of India, wrote to Modi expressing eagerness to work with his government.

Modi holding telephone conversation with top leaders, inviting Oli to India before he is sworn-in and Swaraj carrying his message to Nepal before the formation the new government are obvious index of India’s growing concern in Nepal and signs that India wants to join hands Nepal and move together toward the path of success, stability, development and prosperity.

If Swaraj’s visit remains successful, the Indo-Nepal bilateral partnership can be expected to gain a new height, which, indeed, can prove helpful in fulfilling ‘Nepalese dreams’ of successful and prosperous Nepal.