Even as Saarc remains riddled with problems, it provides a great opportunity for leaders to engage with each other bilaterally. Narendra Modi got a chance to meet Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani for the first time to understand how he plans to deal with the security transition. He and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina spoke about the shared concerns on terror and he briefed her on the progress in the land boundary agreement. Modi thanked Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa for releasing convicted fishermen. But the most substantive bilateral outing was naturally with the host country – Nepal. Modi built up on his successful visit to Kathmandu last August. Long pending projects – especially in the field of hydropower where Nepal has enormous resources which lie unutilised – have got cleared. Simple measures which make life for citizens on both sides easy, for instance lifting the restriction on use of Rs500 and Rs1000 notes partly, were announced to great cheer. And specific moves to deepen connectivity kicked off. But the core of Modi’s message to Nepal’s entire polity was to write its constitution on time, by January 22 which is the deadline, and to do it consensually. He said Nepal had to write the constitution on its own, but as a neighbour, he was offering some advice. While there have been some murmurs among hardline nationalists and conservatives in Kathmandu about this approach, Modi was absolutely right – for India is an integral element of the peace process which is in its final lap. It was in Delhi that Maoists and political parties came together for the cause of democracy against a despotic king. And India has informally acted as the facilitator and guarantor of this process. To pretend otherwise - as some in Nepal are doing - is lying to oneself.
Nepal is in the final lap of constitution writing and issues like federalism, electoral system, and form of government divide the parties. There is an effort by ruling parties to use their brute majority to push through a constitution by vote, ignoring concerns of key groups like the Maoists and Madhesi forces. Modi was not prescriptive about the contents of the Constitution and rightly so; he was being sensible about the process. A majoritarian statute will then not be owned by key political forces and social l groups. It will only embolden the far right ght (monarchists) as well as the far left (splinter radical Maoists who disagree gree with the decision to enter the peace process). cess). The four major or forces of Nepali politics – Nepali Congress, Communist ist party of Nepal (unified Marxist xist Leninist),, Maoists and Madhesi forces – brought the political change of 2006 together and have to institutionalise it together. By laying it out so publicly, Modi has brought a refreshingly transparent way of how India deals with Nepal. This is to be welcomed. The successful conclusion of the Nepali peace process will also be a success for India’s regional diplomacy. plomacy. Modi’s message was a key ancillary cillary benefit of Saarc.