As they stepped out of the parliament complex in Kathmandu on a rainy Sunday evening after listening to Narendra Modi, Nepali lawmakers declared Indian Prime Minister’s speech a “super-duper hit”.
Hit seemed to be the buzzword Sunday. Modi, who is the first foreign leader to address Nepal’s parliament, spelled out his HIT formula — highways, information ways and transmission ways — to strengthen bilateral ties.
Neighbouring countries figure high on Modi’s foreign policy with special emphasis on building regional ties. He had invited all the seven heads of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation countries, including Nepal, to his swearing-in on May 16. India is the eighth member of the group.
“Nepal needs highways, information ways and transmission ways. India will support you in all these,” he told parliament, announcing a $1 billion credit line for the Himalayan nation.
Mindful of Delhi’s “big-brother” image, Modi unequivocally underlined India’s support for Nepal’s ‘republican transformation’. He advised lawmakers about constitution writing, which is caught in a prolonged deadlock, but appeared mindful that Nepal was a separate, sovereign country.
Modi became the first Indian PM to visit Nepal in 17 years when he arrived here early Sunday. His Nepal counterpart Sushil Koirala received him at the airport where he was given a 19-gun salute as an army band played.
The two PMs held a meeting before Modi left for parliament.
Opening his address in Nepali, which drew smiles and applause from a packed House, Modi recalled his earlier visit to Nepal was as a pilgrim. But this time, as a man from the land of Somnath who entered national politics through Kashi, he was honoured to come to the land of Pashupatinath as India’s PM, he said.
Somnath and Pashupatinath, are revered Hindu shrines dedicated to Shiva. Varanasi, or Kashi, which Modi represents in the Lok Sabha, is also known as Shiva’s city.
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He underlined another special connection — Gurkha soldiers. “India has not won any battle, any war where Nepalis have not shed blood, have not been martyred.”
The visiting PM sought to allay the perceptions that dominate the Nepali public space about India when he said, “Nepal is a sovereign country. India’s work is not to interfere in your work but to support and help if we can once you have already decided.”
Some sections in the Himalayan country accuse India of seeking to appropriate Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha. Buddha was born in Nepal, the Indian leader said.
Power trade is another worry for some. “You have the ability to become prosperous by removing darkness in India...and we will buy the power. We don’t want it free,” he said drawing laughter. Opponents see Delhi’s emphasis on cooperation in power sector as an attempt to monopolise Nepal’s natural resources.
But, it was the constitution-writing process that Modi talked about in greatest detail. He told the lawmakers the “world’s attention” was on them. “I’m sure Nepal’s constitution will show the world that transformation can be achieved by leaving shastra (weapons) and adopting saashtra (text).” He praised the Maoists, who started the fight for abolition of monarchy, for showing the strength to shun guns.
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India would support what Nepal had decided — a ‘federal democratic republican constitution, he said, dashing hopes of royalists banking on the BJP to support monarchy’s revival.
Modi will wrap up his visit Monday.