As Nepal Prime Minister Oli comes calling in April , Delhi looks to mend strained ties

Nayanima Basu New Delhi | Updated on March 29, 2018 Published on March 29, 2018

Nepalese Prime Minister KP Oli   -  REUTERS

Nepal Prime Minister KP Oli is scheduled to visit India early next month as India gears up to mend ties with its Himalayan neighbour that is seen as increasingly drifting towards China.

In his new tenure, Oli, who has visited India earlier during his previous stint as Prime Minister, will be embarking on a trip to New Delhi first and not Beijing, for now. India sees this as a “strategic move” as also a major rapprochement from Nepal’s side despite much tension that has crept between Nepal’s Left parties and the Indian government, sources told BusinessLine.

“The visit assumes significance because it comes at a time when India is trying to mend ties post the 2015 border blockade, following the Madhesi unrest. Bitterness in the bilateral ties had also crept in after the ruling Left alliance in Nepal, which has strong connections with China, swept the elections,” said a top official.

Despite mounting tensions, it was India that took the first step towards thawing of ties in its effort to assert the importance of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Neighbourhood First” policy.

Just as Oli’s name got finalised as the Prime Minister of the Himalayan Kingdom, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj made a surprise visit there, in February 2018, and held a one-on-one meeting with him.

Modi spoke to Oli twice post his massive win in the Parliamentary elections and told him that India is looking forward to taking bilateral ties ahead with the new government.

During the visit, Swaraj had made an attempt to allay the growing apprehension within Nepali leadership that New Delhi was disappointed with the victory of the Left there, and the fact that Chinese influence in the region is growing, the sources said.

This is because, the sources added, India is well aware of the fact that post the 2015 blockade a lot of distrust has come into the relationship and it has culminated in the entry of China in Nepal.

Tough task

“Even if Nepal is planning to replace India with China, it is not going to be easy for them because the relationship that they have with us is so deep,” said Nandan Unnikrishnan, Vice-President and Senior Fellow, ORF. “So they are also trying to develop a stable relationship with India. India needs to now take the relationship to a level where China does not call the shots and Nepalis also get a feeling that what India intends to do is contributory.”

In 2015, when Nepal was under Oli, critical supplies from India to Nepal were halted following New Delhi’s major discontent over their newly rolled out Constitution for not granting adequate representation to the Madhesis.

Published on March 29, 2018
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