The visit of the newly-elected Nepalese prime minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli to India is an opportunity for both countries to mend fences. New Delhi needs to realise that Nepal is no longer the weakling that used to allow India to boss over it and be browbeaten. Having flexed its muscles in the wake of the purported economic blockade by India in 2015 and moved closer to China, it is now flush with success. The election of a government that is avowedly close to the Chinese regime has given it a rare self-confidence to deal with India on an ‘equal footing’. The Nepalese have pitched in for China’s Belt and Road initiative despite Indian warnings that it would lead them into a debt trap. Nepal strongly refutes any suggestion that it could end up in a debt trap though the danger is as real for Nepal as it is for Pakistan with Chinese money flowing in like a torrent.
After Oli’s election as prime minister, his Pakistan counterpart Shahid Abassi made an airdash to Kathmandu to congratulate him. Oli has now come to India on a call from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Evidently, there is a case to try and win him over in a subtle way since Nepal has been traditionally close to India, but any big brotherly attitude would be resented by the Nepalese under the changed circumstances. Clearly, the re-activation of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) which India’s unwillingness to attend a summit in Islamabad had stalled, will come up in talks. While India would offer economic benefits to Colombo bilaterally, Nepal is insisting that long-stalled projects like the Pancheshwar (multipurpose hydropower) and Mahakali project be first completed. The status of the Madhesis who are ethnic Indians from Bihar is also a bone of contention though Oli claims that they voted for him in the recent elections after a period of estrangement. All in all, there would need to be a spirit of give and take between India and Nepal to restore relations to anywhere close to the hitherto friendly level.