NEW DELHI: “In my meetings here in Kathmandu, with the President and the Prime Minister of Nepal, the Foreign Minister, and my counterpart, the Foreign Secretary, and other dignitaries and officials, I have been left with no doubt that our countries are on the same page and share the same vision.”
India’s foreign secretary Harsh Shringla was winding up two days of deliberations in the Nepali capital with an address at a think-tank on Friday morning. He said: “India’s development and modernisation are incomplete and intrinsically and symbiotically linked to the development and modernisation of neighbouring countries such as Nepal.”
His message was clear–that the two countries are seeking to put recent misunderstandings behind them. “India sees itself as Nepal’s foremost friend and development partner” and that “Nepal is fundamental to our ‘Neighbourhood First’ approach.
“We would like our friends in Nepal to share our dreams and be a part of this journey. We cannot do it alone just as you cannot fulfil your dreams alone. We need each other.”
But Nepal’s leading national daily The Kathmandu Post made an interesting point. It reported that the territorial dispute, namely Nepal’s claim to Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpyadhura did not come up during Shringla’s meetings with the foreign minister or foreign secretary. With Nepal having altered its map to include these territories, Delhi had insisted that the matter not be on the official agenda, said the newspaper.
It also reported the positive mood on the Nepali side. It quoted a member of the Nepalese delegation as saying “If you ask me what is the major takeaway from the Indian foreign secretary’s visit, then it is that both sides have agreed to improve frayed bilateral ties and have decided to start afresh.”
The paper quoted another senior official as saying, “Both sides have agreed to continue dialogue and sort out all outstanding issues while exploring new areas of cooperation.”
Shringla met the entire top rung of the Nepali leadership dealing with foreign policy, from the prime minister and foreign minister to his ministry counterpart. Nevertheless, bumps on the road ahead could be difficult to get over. Nepal’s territorial claims, for instance, have been incorporated in its political map. Any government will find it difficult if not impossible to reverse that.
Then there’s Oli’s romance with China. India is not new to this game since the late King Birendra used to play the China card. But given Oli’s pro-China leanings, and his need to fend off the attacks of his political rival Prachanda, expect the China card to be played. Delhi will likely humour him but the red lines should be clearly drawn.