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PM Narendra Modi likely to visit Nepal for the fifth time this December

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit Nepal for the fifth time in December to inaugurate the first cross-border rail link between the two countries and to participate in a major Hindu festival at a temple dedicated to goddess Sita.

india Updated: Sep 25, 2018 07:52 IST
Anil Giri
Anil Giri
Hindustan Times, Kathmandu
Narendra Modi,Nepal,China
PM Narendra Modi is expected to lead a high-level delegation to Janakpur to attend the Ram-Janaki Bibhawa Panchami on December 12. (AFP Photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit Nepal for the fifth time in December to inaugurate the first cross-border rail link between the two countries and to participate in a major Hindu festival at a temple dedicated to goddess Sita.

The broad gauge railway line between Jainagar in Bihar and Janakpur in Nepal, currently in the final stages of completion, is part of India’s efforts to counter China’s plans to forge rail links connecting the Himalayan country with Tibet.

Apart from inaugurating the rail link, Modi is expected to lead a high-level delegation to Janakpur to attend the Ram-Janaki Bibhawa Panchami on December 12, which commemorates the wedding of lord Ram and goddess Sita.

Modi will lead a symbolic ‘baraat’ or wedding procession from India to Janakpur, where Janaki Mandir is considered the home of goddess Sita. He is likely to be accompanied by top Indian officials and leaders of the BJP. The move is being seen as a strategic gesture ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, particularly for the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar that border Nepal.

The Jainagar-Janakpur railway line was built during the British Raj to transport logs from forests in Nepal’s Mahottari district to India. At the time, the line terminated at Jainagar and was 52 km long. About 15 years ago, floods swept away Bighi bridge, disrupting services on a 29-km stretch from Janakpur to Jainagar.

The line is expected to be completed by mid-October though Nepal and India are yet to finalise the modalities for movement of trains. Nepal’s railway department has announced a train wet leased from India will begin services in December and has sought related documentation from India before the signing of an agreement.

Nepal is wet leasing the train because it lacks skilled and experienced railway staff. A feasibility study and test run for the route have been completed. A railway department official said it will recruit and train Nepalese staff and “gradually phase out the Indian crew”.

However, top diplomatic sources in Kathmandu said the dates of November 28 and 29 are also being considered for Modi’s visit. Nepal’s foreign ministry and the Indian embassy in Kathmandu said it was too early to comment on the dates of the visit as the modalities for starting cross-border railway services are yet to be finalised.

Officials said details about the visit were discussed during the recent Bimstec Summit in Kathmandu by India’s foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale and Nepalese officials.

Modi made a bilateral visit to Nepal in 2014 — one of his first foreign trips after assuming office and the first by an Indian prime minister in 17 years — and he visited again the same year to participate in 18th Saarc Summit. He made another bilateral visit in May, when he visited Muktinath and Jankapur, and travelled to Kathmandu in August for the Bimstec Summit.

First Published: Sep 25, 2018 07:32 IST