Even as the window for a possible visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Nepal – the only neighbouring country he has not visited, besides Pakistan, in his ten-year term – has almost closed, the Nepal government has said it is 'very keen' to host Singh and publicly highlighted the diplomatic imbalance in the relationship.
Minendra Rijal, Nepal's Minister for Information and the government's official spokesperson, told HT in an exclusive interview from Kathmandu, "It has been almost two decades since an Indian PM visited Nepal." The last Indian PM to pay a bilateral visit to Nepal was I K Gujral in 1997, while almost all Nepali PMs since then have visited Delhi, often as their first port of call. "We are very keen to welcome Dr Singh. We understand his hectic schedule but will work on it, and are willing to do anything it takes to have him over."
Singh had told visiting Nepali interim foreign minister, Madhav Ghimire, on January 15 he was 'keen to visit' Nepal.
But with the election notification expected next week, a highly placed Indian diplomatic source said the visit was now 'highly unlikely'."Once the notification happens, the model code of conduct kicks and campaigning begins, there is almost no possibility of the visit taking place." He however added that PM Singh will meet the new Nepali PM, Sushil Koirala, in Myanmar on the sidelines of a regional meet next week.
When asked if it made a difference to Nepal if PM Singh visited even if he was 'lame-duck', Rijal said, "It does not make a difference at all. The Prime Minister of India is the Prime Minister of India." Nepali official sources said they would be 'disappointed' if the visit does not happen.
Another Indian diplomat pointed out that there was a window if Nepal had been able to form a government soon after holding successful elections to a second Constituent Assembly on November 19. "It took three months after the polls to have a full-fledged cabinet." He said that a PM visit had to be 'memorable'. "With the Indian government in exit mode, and Nepal government just settling down, there won't be much meat in terms of deliverables now."
Nepal is going through a political transition. Singh has met Nepali political leaders, from across the spectrum, on their visits to Delhi. But he has never been able to pay a visit because of political turbulence and unstable governments in Kathmandu, a somewhat cold relationship between Delhi and Maoist party which was the largest party in the previous Constituent Assembly, and the PM's own priorities and busy schedule.