Fri, Apr 13, 2018 - Page 8 News List

China is dividing India and Nepal

By Sumit Kumar

Nepalese Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli’s state visit to India, which started on Friday last week and lasted for three days, took place at a time when the relationship between India and Nepal is at an all-time low.

Proof of this is that, setting aside established protocol, Indian Minister of Home Affairs Rajnath Singh himself was at the Indira Gandhi International Airport to receive Oli.

Although during his visit, Oli said that “our friendship is historical, renewed and developed and very fruitful, and it is oriented towards future, not looking back, but looking forward,” it was during Oli’s tenure in 2015 that the relationship started experiencing an acute deficit of trust.

Even though the two countries have shared historical, cultural, economic, and bread and blood ties with each other, this has not been enough to narrow the widening gulf between them.

More to the point, the first major issue that dented the relationship between India and Nepal was when, despite India’s active efforts to help Nepal in the aftermath of the April 2015 earthquake, Nepalese recoiled at the presence of Indian media on their soil, charging the Indian government with indulging in a cheap public relations exercise.

When in September 2015, the Madhesi people blocked all the entry points to India, protesting against the new constitution adopted by the Second Nepalese Constituent Assembly, Oli accused India of carrying out an “unofficial blockade” in Nepal.

He became so critical of New Delhi that he started fostering engagement with China during and after the political crisis.

The shift in Nepal’s policy became clear when, just after his February 2016 visit to India, Oli went to China in March and agreed, among other things, to work with the Chinese government on major projects under the Belt and Road Initiative.

Beijing last year also announced an investment of US$8.3 billion in Nepal and in the same year, then-Chinese minister of national defense and state councilor General Chang Wanquan (常萬全) visited Kathmandu, offering a grant of US$32.3 million to the Nepalese Army to improve its ability to deal with natural calamities.

The Nepalese Left Alliance’s anti-India stance during their election campaign was much evident. In an oblique reference to the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship, former Nepalese prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, and Oli said that the “unequal treaties” would be abrogated if the Left Alliance came to power.

Therefore, the massive electoral victory of the Left Alliance of Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the Prachanda-led Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center) in the 275-seat parliament and in many states, following the first parliamentary and provincial elections held under the 2015 Constitution, raised India’s concerns about Oli’s continued hostile approach toward India.

It was in this context that Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj made a surprise visit to Nepal with the aim of conveying to the new political leadership of Nepal the Modi government’s desire to strengthen the bilateral ties.

However, the hosting of Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi by the Oli government in March took India by surprise. Subsequently, Oli also decided to revive the Budhi Gandaki Hydropower Project with China, which was canceled by the Nepali Congress government.

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