Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given enough signals in the brief time he has been in power that he intends to correct and improve relations with all of India’s immediate neighbours. The presence of the heads of state and government from the SAARC at his swearing-in ceremony in May was an early indication of the priority of his foreign policy. So it was in the fitness of things that after his visit to Bhutan, Nepal should be his next port of call. Earlier, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, in her three-day visit to Nepal, had done the necessary spadework for the Prime Minister’s visit. Without friendly relations with our neighbours, the Indian foreign policy will remain incomplete and unfulfilled if it only cared to build closer ties with the big powers. Besides, Bhutan has always been keen on a mutually respectful partnership with India in all its myriad facets, from economic to cultural, trade to education, etc. As for Nepal, though Modi’s was the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister in 17 years, there is no gainsaying the traditional ties between the two countries. People to people ties are so strong that even overt and covert tensions at the official level did not hamper these. Though occasionally certain irritants have cropped up in the Indo-Nepal relations, thanks to wiser counsels on both sides, these have been now been sorted out without much ado. Besides, the mainstreaming of the Maoists in Nepal has further improved the scope for better ties. Modi was fully conscious of the long history of closer relations between Nepal and India when, addressing the constituent assembly in Kathmandu, he extended a $ 1 billion line of credit for Nepal’s infrastructure development. Given that Nepal has a huge untapped potential for hydropower, the Indian Prime Minister promised to begin work for the implementation of the 5600-Megawatt project in a year. The project would meet Nepal’s demand for power while sparing some even for export to India. At his oratorical best, Modi won over the lawmakers with his wit and humor while offering concrete proposals for mutual benefit and growth. For instance, he talked about building a bridge on the Mahakali river, which would`reduce the distance between us.’ Remarkably, Modi made bold to declare that he was ready to revisit the 1950 friendship treaty between the two countries, which had often been criticised by Nepali politicians. In fact,
the treaty did not accord Indian citizens the same rights and
privileges that were enjoyed under it by their Nepali counterparts. Modi wanted to correct that imbalance Contrary to the Nepali gripe that the treaty gives India an upper hand, the truth is that it accords Nepali citizens free access to India while
maintaining all manner of restrictions on Indians traveling and working in Nepal. Given the self-serving political rhetoric in Nepal, which invariably paints India as Big Brother out to
interfere in its affairs, Modi’s public offer to revisit the treaty
to allay mutual doubts about its workings should help assuage suspicions on all sides.
After a period of dalliance with China and even Pakistan, admittedly, there is a growing appreciation in Kathmandu that India does mean well by its Himalayan neighbour. Also, cultural and religious affinity makes the two countries natural partners. Now that Nepal has put behind the violent Maoist phase, with the leading lights of the movement embracing the path of democratic development, India has a greater opportunity to strengthen its ties with Nepal. Economic development underpinned by people-to-people ties is the best way to allay unfounded suspicions about the hegemonic designs of New Delhi and, on its part, Kathmandu’s alleged tilt towards Beijing. There is much that binds Nepal to India than there is that separates it. Modi’s visit has further cemented that relationship.