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Ramayana, China Loom Large As PM Modi Visits Nepal To Strengthen Ties

While a number of agreements and MouS are expected to signed between the two countries, tales of Ram and Hinduism are all set to rule the agenda during the visit which starts with a trip to Janakipuram, the home of Sita's father king Janak.

Aishwarya Kumar | News18.com@aishwaryak03

Updated:May 11, 2018, 12:22 PM IST
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Ramayana, China Loom Large As PM Modi Visits Nepal To Strengthen Ties
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) with his Nepalese counterpart Khadga Prasad Oli. (PTI Photo/ File)
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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi is all set to land in Nepal on Friday, just over a month after his Nepalese counterpart KP Sharma Oli visited New Delhi. Modi’s visit will mark the first time that an Indian PM has travelled to a country in South Asia for the third consecutive time. Sources said that the visit has been planned to take forward what was discussed during Oli’s visit here.

The two heads of state are expected to jointly inaugurate the Arun III hydro-project during the visit. Both sides are also expected to come to an understanding on the Kathmandu-Raxaul railway route.

Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, during Oli’s visit to India, had said that the focus of the deliberations were on boosting cooperation in sectors like defence and security, agriculture, trade besides enhancing connectivity through railway network and waterways, sectors which Modi and Oli are anticipated to address during their upcoming talks in Nepal.

While a number of agreements and Memorandum of Understanding (MouS) are expected to be signed, tales of Ram and Hinduism are all set to rule the agenda during the visit.

To start with, Modi will land in Janakpur, considered to be a pilgrimage site dating back to the 18th century. Oli will be receiving Modi at the Janakipur Temple, one of the biggest temples in Nepal. Adjacent to the structure is the Rama Sita Vivaha Mandir where Ram and Sita are said to have been married.

King Janaka’s palace is thought to have existed here and according to the Ramayana, his daughter Sita was raised here. Ram’s bow is also said to have been found here, thus reaffirming Janakpur’s position as an important pilgrimage site for Hindus worldwide.

The PM is further expected to announce a bus service from Janakpur to Ayodhya, Ram’s birthplace and a place of immense significance for the BJP, though many have criticised his alleged use of religion as a tool for diplomacy.
Modi plans to visit the Muktinath temple in Nepal too, a spot considered sacred by both Hindus and Buddhists.
On Thursday, the PM asserted that he was looking forward to his visits to both Janakpur and Muktinath.

The visit is being considered as significant as it comes ahead of the 2019 General Assembly elections as well as in the run-up to the verdict in the much debated Ram Janmabhoomi case (if and when it comes). There is also expected to be an announcement on the Ramayana Circuit.

However, Modi’s first stop at Janakpur holds significance for reasons beyond religion.

Janakpur is a Madhesi dominated area. Reservation for the Madhesis living in Nepal’s Terai region has been a sour grape for India after the Oli government ignored Modi government’s suggestion of giving reservations to the Madhesis at the time when a new Nepalese Constitution was being drafted in 2015.

There were protests by the Madhesis and simultaneously, border entries from India into Nepal dwindled. What further deepened the crisis was the fact that it came months after over 9,000 people were killed in an earthquake in April that year.

Oli had then accused its neighbour of imposing an undeclared blockade with restrictions on trade, including those on the trade of fuel and its products. In retort, the Ministry of External Affairs in India had said that ‘freight companies and transporters had voiced concerns’.

The blockade seems to still be fresh in the minds of people in Nepal as Twitter saw more than 1,500 tweets with #BlockadeWasCrimeMrModi and #ModiNotWelcome, accompanied by pictures from 2015.

Modi’s meeting with Oli also comes just days after the former’s informal meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Oli is considered pro-China and India has kept a close watch on Nepal-China ties. Nepal is a signatory to Chinese Premier Xi Jinping’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and has received billions of dollars in investment and aid from China in the past, including nearly $350 million invested for the development of a police academy.

China is also said to be heavily investing in the Pokhara region in Nepal, which is a gateway to the Annapurna Circuit. Other than infrastructure, Nepal has also been seeing an increase in the inflow of Chinese tourists into the country.

India, on its part, has voiced its reservation and not participated in the BRI.

Oli has, however, previously shown that he may not share any of India’s concerns. During the 2015 blockade, Oli had turned to China and signed a series of treaties, including a rail network connecting the two countries. The Nepal PM is also expected to visit China soon.

During his visit to India, Oli had said that Nepal was between two big neighbours — India and China — and asserted that it wanted to have friendly, neighbourly relations with the two.
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