Analysis of Deuba’s India visit
On August 23, Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba made four-day-long official visit to southern neighbour. The prime ministerial tour to Delhi was closely observed with apprehension and suspension among political enthusiast in Nepal. Nepal has a history of levitating complexities right after state visits, particularly with India and Deuba, remains no exception. However, the reactive pendulum of official visit swinged back and forth in both direction of commendation as well as some condemnation.
Developing rudimentary infrastructure in Nepal and consolidating Nepal-India railway connectivity appeared to be the foremost keystone of Deuba’s visit. The two sides decided to pinpoint the earliest earthquake projects with a Credit line of $ 750 million for post-disaster renovation. New Delhi billed $330 million for road development from Line of control (LoC) of $550 million and $200 million for irrigation plans. Further, the railway tracks linking Jayanagar to Janakpur and from Jogbani to Biratnagar Custom Yard was directed to be completed by 2018. Similarly, the Field Location Survey of the remaining three cross-border rail links: Nautanwa to Bhairahawa and New Jalpaiguri to Kakarbhitta also received approval form both governments with a promise of early completion. This move would result in new financial evolution, trade opportunities, breach geopolitical gaps while increasing prospect for further citizen diplomacy. Moreover, two leaders mutually inaugurated the cross-border transmission lines of Raxaul-Parwanipur and Kataiya-Kusaha, which would endow over 100 MW of electricity supply from India to Nepal. Likewise, they also agreed to collaborate on ‘standardisation and conformity assessment’ of merchandise traded in each other’s grounds, on the control of drug smuggling and the construction of a trans-border bridge over the Mechi river.
Prior to Deuba’s state visit, there was a debate in Kathmandu that the recent flooding in the Terai plains should have been Deuba’s top priority in his vis-à-vis discussion with Indian authority. Another major issue to be addressed was prolonged Pancheswor power and irrigation project. However, neither the 46-point joint communiqué nor the dialogues between two prime ministers incorporate these issues. Instead, Deuba solely assured Modi that he would work to muster two third supports and push for the amendments, regarding Madhesis issue. This statement, obviously, did not contribute good message back in Kathmandu. Why does any sovereign state need to pledge a foreign leader about their internal matter? Even Deuba’s counterparts were stunned when he made the amendment promise, since it was not included in the script.
Behind the scene
The dominance of Indian influence over Nepalese politics has sustained despite many controversies. May it be the concern of political instability, constitution promulgation, Madhesis issue or the infrastructural development of Himalayan nation, India imposes. India’s influence has reached to the point of direct interference in framing of domestic politics of Nepal.
On a different note, India does not want Oli. The mistrust exists because he approves transit and connectivity contracts with China, ignores India’s whim to accommodate Madhesis in the constitutional project, and takes strong stand against India. This becomes an even more serious due to Delhi’s fear that the rise of Oli’s party would welcome Beijing inside Kathmandu’s politics.
India’s inclination to make close engagement with Kathmandu can be derived as a mechanism to safeguard political stability and promote democratic regime in Nepal. Many political analysts believe that KP Oli’s homecoming to authority could mutilate India’s national interests. This hypothesis seems further backed by series of indicative facts: In September 2015, Nepal under leadership of Oli accused India of fuelling Madhesis campaigner. In March 2016, Oli supported major projects under the agenda of the Belt and Road Initiative. Just last month, after the consultation with Sushma Swaraj and Deuba, a meeting was held between Chinese vice Premier Wang Yang and Oli.
This explains why India was rushed to unfold red carpet for Deuba. A special company of Indian external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj at Indira Gandhi International Airport and Modi’s unscheduled meeting with Deuba also took place. In the past however, junior ministers or secretaries welcomed prime ministerial visit to India. The hidden motives of both sides are apparent. India not only seeks to earn Deuba and some handful of the Nepali leaders for future expenditure but also intrigue to counter Beijing influence and kick Oli out of field. In turn Deuba’s hunger for Delhi’s support to manage his party and get remarkable victory in the forthcoming election may also have been fulfilled. In the midst of such inconsistency, Kathmandu seems to be on a downhill path into another chair game, where the same doomed players will take turns holding the national leadership. Yet Undeniably, PM Deuba’s visit has added some silver lining in diplomatic relationship. Regardless of the negative criticism, we are left with no other resilient option than expecting such one-to-one relation between two leaders will ultimately strengthen our bilateral ties.
Mr. Poudyal is currently pursuing Masters in International Relations and Diplomacy at Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu