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India, Nepal Look to Reset Ties as PM Oli Comes Calling

Oli, in his recent address to the House of Representatives in Kathmandu, said that he was going to India “on the invite of PM Narendra Modi” and that “focus would be on how to make tangible progress on past agreements and in areas of mutual cooperation”.

Aishwarya Kumar | News18.com@aishwaryak03

Updated:April 6, 2018, 11:06 AM IST
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India, Nepal Look to Reset Ties as PM Oli Comes Calling
Nepal's Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli.
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New Delhi: Nepalese Prime Minister Khagda Prasad Sharma Oli arrives in New Delhi on Friday and there is very little doubt that the visit will be watched closely across the region.

Oli, in his recent address to the House of Representatives in Kathmandu, said that he was going to India “on the invite of PM Narendra Modi” and that “focus would be on how to make tangible progress on past agreements and in areas of mutual cooperation”.

Amid the looming shadow of a rising China, Oli’s visit is set to revisit old ties with India and hopefully strengthen it. The visit is also significant as the PM has shown signs of charting a new course in bilateral ties with India, forgetting about the Madhesi blockade of 2015 and the loss that the previous government under Oli suffered.

Reservation for the Madhesis living in Nepal’s Terai region was a sour grape for India when a new Constitution was being drafted in Nepal in 2015 and the Modi government’s suggestion that reservation is given was ignored by the then Oli government. There were protests by the Madhesis and simultaneously, border entries from India into Nepal dwindled. Oli accused its neighbour of imposing an undeclared blockade with restrictions on trade, including fuel and its products. In retort, the MEA here said that ‘freight companies and transporters had voiced concerns’.

Post that, Oli visited India in 2016 and said the visit was ‘successful’. While Oli’s visit to India on Friday is in keeping with tradition, all of Nepal’s newly elected PMs have chosen India for their first foreign visit.

A STRONGER OLI

After the debacle during his first term as Prime Minister, Oli came back to power with a huge majority.

Last year, the Left Alliance between Oli’s CPN-UML and Prachanda’s CPN-MC swept the elections, thus paving way for the Communist Party of Nepal. Unlike his last term as Prime Minister, where Oli had to resign following CPN-MC’s exit from the alliance, Oli comes to India with a formidable support from his alliance partners. With a historic vote of confidence that he won (2/3rd majority in the lower House of the Parliament), he has become the strongest PM that Nepal has seen. Additionally, like Modi and his current government, Oli makes his ‘nationalistic’ priority very visible and will put Nepal first without any hesitation.

PAKISTAN AND SAARC

The entry of Pakistan is also something that needs to be looked into.

Last month, Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaquan Abbasi became the first Pakistan PM to visit Nepal. Abbasi’s comments on regional cooperation, including his mention of Nepal as a close friend, only created ripples in the region. He threw his weight behind the SAARC Summit and urged Oli to organise it soon.

The SAARC Summit was supposed to happen in Islamabad in late 2016 but India refused to participate, accusing the Islamic nation of promoting cross-border terrorism. Abbasi heading to Nepal with a message that supports SAARC and claims Pakistan was not responsible for a crumbling of the Summit is expected to be a point of discussion during Oli’s visit here. Nepal is the current chair of SAARC.

CLOSE TIES WITH CHINA

It’s not just Pakistan’s entry into Nepal that is being watched. Nepal is a signatory to Chinese Premier Xi Jinping’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and has accessed billions of dollars in investment, aid from China.

Significant investments have been made by the Chinese in Nepal, including a nearly $350 million police academy. China is also said to be heavily investing in the Pokhara region. Other than infrastructure, more Chinese travellers too are heading to Nepal.

India, on its part, has voiced its reservation and not participated in the BRI. Oli has, however, previously shown that he shall have none of the concerns that India has. When the 2015 blockade happened, Oli turned to China and signed a series of treaties, including a rail network connecting the two countries. Oli is also expected to visit China soon.
| Edited by: Aditya Nair
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