Nepal’s Prime Minister K.P. Oli has been trying to play the China card against India, but it seems better sense has prevailed with the Nepali leader indicating that he will be visiting New Delhi first, before heading to Beijing.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s telephonic conversation with the Nepali leader on New Year’s Eve seems to have done the trick, with Mr Oli indicating that he would be visiting India after amending the Constitution to accommodate key demands of Madhesis. The months-long Madhesi agitation, demanding a genuinely federal and inclusive constitution, has adversely impacted relations between India and Nepal.
But if Mr Oli delivers on his promise and visits India after amending the constitution, it will set the stage for bolstering India-Nepal relations that has gone sharply downhill after the eruption of the Madhesi controversy in September.
Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa recently announced that the prime minister will embark on his maiden visit to China in January 2016. This is against the convention of Nepal PMs till date who’ve usually made India as their first overseas stop. On December 31, Mr Modi and Mr Oli had a 20-minute telephone conversation, according to a statement by the external affairs ministry. During the conversation, Mr Modi underscored the importance of finding a durable solution to the political problems facing Nepal, based on consensus or ‘sahmati’, according to the MEA statement. Mr Modi also invited his Nepali counterpart to visit India, which was accepted by Mr Oil, confirmed official sources.
Since he took charge as the country’s prime minister, Mr Oli has been cultivating closer economic and strategic ties with China, which has not gone down well with New Delhi. With the Madhesi agitation resulting in a crippling fuel blockade, the Oli government has leaned on Beijing to plug the deficit, but without much success. During Mr Oil’s visit to China, an agreement on importing one million litres of oil could be signed. But China can go only this far to address Nepal’s economic and energy imperatives. Whether the Kathmandu establishment likes it or not, India’s remains central to Nepal’s quest for development and prosperity. Mr Oli’s visit to China will signal that the Nepali leader has realized the futility of posturing and is willing to make course correction to improve relations with India and resolve the Madhesi issue by addressing their legitimate demands as soon as possible.
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