With Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s successful New Delhi visit, the government of India has struck the right balance in its Nepal policy. The visit was notable for its positive vibes and atmospherics, after the dip in ties over the past year. Mr Dahal, also known as Prachanda, stayed in Rashtrapati Bhawan, and he was accorded ceremonial honours. In his one-to-one meeting with PM Narendra Modi, both leaders have been learnt to have candidly shared their views about the relations.
Going beyond his ideological background, Mr Modi recognised his Nepal counterpart as a force for peace and acknowledged his role in strengthening Nepal’s democratic institutions — a remarkable change from a few years ago when New Delhi doubted his democratic credentials. For his part, Prachanda made it clear that relations with India were unique and recognised that Nepal needed India for its success, development and stability. He also used the moment to reach across India’s political parties to convey his desire to rebuild trust. What was left unsaid but came through in his approach was the recognition that China could not be a substitute for India in Nepal.
But beyond the optics, there were two important achievements. Instead of announcing a range of new schemes and projects, both countries decided to focus on implementing the existing, stalled projects. Nepal’s absorption capacity has been low, and India’s delivery capabilities have been dismal. The two leaders agreed to jointly monitor projects — roads, rail-links, infrastructure and hydropower. India’s leverage in Nepal and its appeal to Nepalis depend on whether it can, through development interventions, change the lives of citizens for the better. But while getting bilateral relations back on track, India sensibly did not welcome the Constitution or drop the issue altogether — as Nepal had desired. Instead, it expressed the hope that under the current ruling coalition, the Constitution would accommodate all sections of society. This is important because Madhesis still remain dissatisfied and unless they own the Constitution, it cannot be implemented. India too will get dragged in if protests occur again. To his credit, Prachanda himself calls this a priority. In that sense, both sides are on the same page. The challenge now for the Nepal PM is to get an amendment registered and muster the numbers to pass it. He must stay focused, for he has little time, as under a power-sharing arrangement, his term is less than nine months. New Delhi should keep deeply engaged, deliver on bilateral promises, and continue to nudge Nepal on the Constitution.