Nepal President Bidhya Devi Bhandari’s official visit to India, which was to begin from Monday, has been cancelled after the country’s cabinet failed to endorse it.
Bhandari was to undertake the five-day trip, her first foreign visit after getting elected last October, at the invitation of President Pranab Mukherjee.
She was scheduled to meet Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and leaders from political parties, besides signing three agreements.
The sudden development comes after this week’s attempt to topple Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli by the Maoists, a key partner in the ruling coalition. The move fizzled out on Thursday when the Maoists backtracked.
Nepal’s foreign secretary Sankar Das Bairagi informed Indian ambassador Ranjit Rae on Friday that the President’s visit has been cancelled.
The move came following a meeting in the morning between Oli and deputy prime minister Kamal Thapa, who is also the foreign minister. Sources said the cabinet had not endorsed the visit.
“We were informed the visit has been cancelled for three reasons – lack of preparations by the Nepali side, no agreements are to be signed and because the budget session of parliament is underway,” a senior Indian diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
The cancellation of the visit surprised New Delhi, as all preparations had been completed and Bhandari was to sign an agreement related to a letter of credit, a MoU between Radio Nepal and All India Radio and another to set up an India chair in a Nepal university.
Bhandari herself was looking forward to the trip and had discussed it during an informal chat with journalists at her official residence Shital Niwas earlier this week.
“It will be a goodwill visit and will focus on strengthening bilateral relations,” she had said.
Bhandari had dinner with the Indian ambassador on Thursday night, when she expressed hope the cabinet would approve the visit on Friday.
There was speculation the visit was cancelled as certain sections of the ruling coalition believe the move to remove Oli was orchestrated from New Delhi.
The Maoists decided to topple Oli and replace him with their chairman, Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, after getting assurances of support from the Nepali Congress, the main opposition party.
But Oli’s foreign affairs adviser, Gopal Khanal, told Hindustan Times: “I don’t think there is any other reason besides lack of preparation for the postponement or cancellation of the President’s visit to India.”