Nepal Matters for India and India Matters for Nepal

Thousands of Indian tourists are visiting Pokhara thanks to the summer heat in India which has come as a relief for tourism entrepreneurs in the lake town in the “off season.” Indian PM Modi has also played his part by visiting Nepal several times which translated into more Indians being attracted to Nepalese holy shrines and the Himalayas.  Nepalese citizens also play their part in the Indian economy by being one of the biggest export destinations of India. Nevertheless, in the political sphere the two friendly countries remain in a “hostile peace” thanks to policymakers on both sides.

While Nepal’s PM Oli won elections by standing against Indian blockade and on the promise to bring Chinese investment in infrastructure, his prime-ministership has been just that: electoral rhetoric, nothing more. There has not been any significant increase in Chinese investment or infrastructure-building activities. Regarding India, neither did he able to maintain his stance against India nor did he succeed to improve the bilateral relations in substance. For India’s part, despite PM Modi and his government’s effort to mend fences which looked promising in his first tenure failed to last. Modi 2.0’s and his team’s performance on Nepal front has been lackadaisical at best.

As the monsoon of summer of 2019 hits South Asia, it is the “deja vu all over again.” Huge swathe of land in the Nepal-India border area is submerged replaying the similar Nepalese resentment and Indian indifference. India also suffers loss of lives and properties during the monsoon. Despite India’s priority of connectivity, exports from both sides have hit roadblocks — Indian vegetables and Nepalese tea being blocked or diverted are cases in point. While Nepalese administrations have been utterly unable to fix its own problems, both regime and most people tend to put the blame on India for everything. Extremely politically charged environment has caused blindness in Nepal where the state machinery has failed to cover small potholes in the streets for years.

For India’s part, when its larger political agendas are not endorsed by Nepal, it tends to create hurdles on trade transit and avoid diplomatic engagement. Moreover, as many observers point out, it is not as much a substantial policy area that causes problems as PERSONAL EGO between stakeholders on each side that often determines the state of affairs between India and Nepal.

It is no-brainer that Nepal made India unhappy for its emphasis on SAARC vis-à-vis BIMSTEC, its denial to participate in India-led military exercises, its dislike for Modi’s new foreign minister for his alleged decision to impose blockade on Nepal, its growing friendship with China and so on. On India’s part, it prefers to leave the matters as they are rather than come to the negotiating table with Nepalese who more often than not bring proposal which India either did not want to pursue or simply unable to do so although it would like to for various limitations. The new Nepalese Ambassador being refused to be received in New Delhi or the new EPG report that recommends historic amendments in the Indo-Nepal treaty reportedly not being submitted to PM Modi are recent instances.

Former Indian foreign secretary S Jaishankar — now foreign minister — has said on some occasions that China-Nepal relations is natural given the fact that they are next door neighbors. However, in reality to what extent India is ready for that is unclear, but seems that the hesitation is already translating into negative impact on India-Nepal relations. In any event, both regional and global power balance is shifting, players are being shuffled in many corners of South Asia. Therefore, given the unmatched ties Nepal and India have, both sides should do better than this and they can if they really want to.

Nepal Matters for America, 7/19/2019