After a chill in ties over the past year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to bring India-Nepal relations back on track by welcoming Nepal’s new Prime Minister and Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ as a ‘catalytic force for peace’ and terming his visit a ‘significant day in the history of the relationship’.
The Nepali leader reciprocated by lauding India’s successes, expressing the desire to learn from it and saying the two countries were friends and were bound to remain friends.
But amid the warmth and affirmation of the unique nature of the relationship, including the open border, India maintained its message on the constitution. This had provoked protests by the Madhesi people across the southern plains and disrupted bilateral ties in late 2015.
Top-level Nepali sources told HT that Kathmandu wanted Delhi to ‘welcome’ the constitution — India had only noted its promulgation. But in the absence of a firm constitutional amendment and continued Madhesi dissatisfaction, India did not think it could go so far.
But Delhi recognised the Prachanda government’s public commitment and assurances that it would address the issues through an amendment.
Modi pinned hopes that under Prachanda’s ‘wise leadership’, Nepal’s constitution would get successfully implemented “through inclusive dialogue and accommodating the aspirations of all sections of your diverse society”. Prachanda responded, “You are aware that my government has made serious effort to bring everyone on board as we enter phase of constitution implementation in the interest of all segments of Nepali society.”
SD Muni, JNU professor emeritus and a Nepal expert, said: “Maoists and Nepali Congress together brought changes in Nepal’s political system in 2006, including the republic. India is hoping that the same coalition will address constitutional issues.”
This will, however, not be easy. For one, the ruling parties will have to draft an amendment acceptable to the Madhesi parties. To get it passed requires a two-thirds majority of Parliament. Prachanda’s predecessor KP Oli’s party UML has already opposed the amendment.
During the visit, the two countries also signed three agreements — on Tarai roads, operationalising lines of credit on development projects and earthquake reconstruction. Given the perception that many projects committed by India have faced execution challenges, the two countries also agreed to have joint monitoring mechanisms to make them more efficient.
Prachanda also had separate meetings with President Pranab Mukherjee, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, finance minister Arun Jaitley and BJP general secretary Ram Madhav. He met Opposition figures such as Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, Congress leader Karan Singh and NCP MP DP Tripathi.
Modi gifted Prachanda a coffee table book — A Day in the Life of Kathmandu — by Jawed Ashraf, India’s High Commissioner-designate to Singapore, who has earlier served in Nepal. The book, containing images of Nepal’s capital from dawn to dusk taken over the past decade, is dedicated to the victims of the Nepal earthquake.