The long-awaited India Visit of Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda took place from 31st May to 3rd June. The tradition of visiting India by the Nepalese Prime Minister is not new; PM Prachanda broke this decade-long tradition when he visited China first instead of India during his first tenure of the premiership. There has been a buzz flared up on the country’s geopolitical and foreign policy watcher’s circle. The PM himself has expressed his desire to visit India, and his desperation can be heard in his several speeches. Not surprisingly, the longer the wait, the bigger the team. PM Prachanda went on a four-day visit with a Jumbo delegation of four dozen delegates. As per the statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nepal, “The prime minister’s entourage will comprise ministers, secretaries, and senior officials of the Government of Nepal.” The delegation, including the private sector delegates and others, comprises around one hundred members.
The official visit of Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda to India carried significant implications for both nations, aiming to bolster bilateral ties in various areas and reinforce the longstanding ties between the two nations. The visit, which took place during a crucial period in regional geopolitics, holds immense significance regarding bilateral cooperation, strategic partnerships, and shared aspirations for regional stability. Against the backdrop of evolving regional geopolitics, this article delves into the visit in greater detail, examining its impact on various dimensions and the prospects for long-term collaboration.
Overview of the Progress
On his first overseas visit, PM Dahal secured some significant strides, particularly in the areas of energy exports, connectivity, infrastructure development, cross-border digital connectivity, and disagreements over border issues. Several agreements were signed during the visit, the most notable being the 669Mw Lower Arun Project and the 480Mw Phukot Karnali Project. Another Significant agreement is regarding cross-border digital connectivity, specifically enabling financial transactions through QR codes. The construction of the Siliguri-Charali Petroleum pipeline was also inked, and the pipeline now running from Motihari-Amlekhjung will be extended to Lothar of Chitwan District. Further deals include Rupaidiah Nepalgunj Integrated Check Post (ICP), Kurtha Bathnaha-Bijalpura railway line, and 400kv Butwal-Gorakhpur Transmission line foundation. The two sides talked about new opportunities for bilateral cooperation, such as Nano-fertilizers and natural farming, in an effort to give the agriculture industry a fresh lease on life. In accordance with the Government of Nepal’s request, 15 Murrah buffaloes are being provided as part of India and Nepal’s collaboration in the agricultural and livestock-related sectors. However, the arrival of Murrah buffaloes has been a subject of mockery by some factions.
The transnational energy export, in which Nepal has gained accessibility to Bangladesh thru India, is one of the visit’s noteworthy accomplishments. As the first such bilateral agreement between Nepal and its neighbor for the purpose of exporting electricity to a third country, the agreement represents a significant turning point for Nepal. An agreement was reached by both parties to facilitate long-term power trade. The agreement aimed to enhance the amount of power exported from Nepal to India to 10,000 MW within a span of ten years. To achieve this goal, they committed to implementing various measures that would encourage beneficial investments in Nepal’s hydropower generation sector and transmission infrastructure.
There is nothing new in the tradition of signing a few agreements during the Prime Minister’s visit, but what matters is how these agreements—many of which have been on hold for years—are carried through. As a result, these agreements have low credibility. It all comes down to implementation and follow-ups.
Important Yet Missed Issues:
This visit was mainly managed under the supervision of the National Security Advisor sidelining the external affairs minister S Jaishanker. Furthermore, the PM did not meet any leaders of the opposition. During the meeting held with NSA Ajit Doval and foreign secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra, PM Dahal was accompanied by his daughter, making the absence of official Nepalese delegates. These incidents mark up the need for more preparedness on the Nepalese side, to avoid diplomatic mishaps. Nepal once again fails to show its matured diplomatic practice.
There were certain areas that needed more substantial progress. The major setback was the failure to get an additional air route to Nepal through Mahendranagar for inbound flights. In addition, the permission for an additional air entry point for the newly-opened international airports in Pokhara and Bhairawaha still comes under scrutiny. However, India has committed to granting access to the Instrument Landing System. No concrete progress has been made on Pancheswer Multipurpose Project. Even after two and half decades of signing, both the parties have failed to prepare the DPR of the project and ended up reiterating the same old commitments.
Disputes over the border remained unresolved, and the opposition criticized the Prime Minister for not addressing the final report of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG). Nevertheless, it is commendable that Prime Minister Modi acknowledged the existing border issues and expressed his commitment to making concerted efforts to address them in the near future.
Saffornization of Prachanda
“Prime Minister Dahal visits the Mahakaleswar Temple in Ujjain during his official visit to India, where he offers prayers clad in saffron, holy thread, and sacred ash smeared on his forehead.” Prachanda’s picture of wearing a saffron robe and performing Hindu rituals left many people in surprise. Prachanda appears in his born-again Hindu avatar in the dramatic turn of events. Prachanda, who now can be seen visiting religious places and performing rituals, once led a bunch of guerilla cadres who killed the priests, destroyed temples and historical places, burnt Sanskrit archives, and created colossal religious and cultural unrest in the country. Prachanda is known for his flip-flopping nature, but his own party cadres didn’t expect his role to be as dramatic as it has become. Following the widespread criticism, once a fierce communist leader Prachanda is under pressure to prove he is not on the path of the Hindu Nation. No matter how hard he had tried to defend it as merely an act of cultural diplomacy, many experts believe that this move comes with political strings attached. Meaning that he might be trying to gain the confidence of PM Modi and other right-wingers, which could be beneficial during the power struggle.
Long story short, Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda’s visit to India held significant implications for both nations. Yet the question of whether the outcomes of the visit have stood up as per the media hype or not remained arguable. The visit aimed to strengthen bilateral ties and address various issues of cooperation, particularly in the areas of energy exports, connectivity, infrastructure development, and cross-border digital connectivity. While some important agreements were signed during the visit, the implementation and follow-up of these agreements will be crucial in determining their success. However, there were also missed opportunities and unresolved issues, such as the lack of progress on additional air routes and border disputes. Furthermore, the surprising display of Prachanda’s religious practices during the visit sparked controversy and speculation about his political motives. Overall, the visit showcased both progress and challenges in the bilateral relationship between Nepal and India. As Nepal and India continue to build upon the outcomes of this visit, it is expected that the ties between the two countries will further deepen, paving the way for a more prosperous and interconnected South Asia.