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Heal the wounds

Heal the wounds
Highlights

The upcoming six-day visit of Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli from February 19 presents a crucial opportunity for India to mend its ruptured relations with its north-east neighbour. Letting bygones be bygones,  Oli is visiting Kathmandu’s closest ally to breathe a fresh lease of life into the bilateral relations. 

The upcoming six-day visit of Nepal Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli from February 19 presents a crucial opportunity for India to mend its ruptured relations with its north-east neighbour. Letting bygones be bygones, Oli is visiting Kathmandu’s closest ally to breathe a fresh lease of life into the bilateral relations.

It has already presented a wish list through Finance Minister Bishnu Poudel when he arrived in New Delhi early this month. India has for long had a close rapport with Nepal, fastened together by centuries-old religious and cultural ties.

Yet, the end of monarchy in May 2006 and entry of Maoists into the political mainstream did raise its hackles as the new regime appeared to lean towards the Chinese. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a very successful visit in August 2014 and offered $2 billion aid to fast-track development of its infrastructure, trade and industry. Modi also went to Nepal in November for the SAARC Summit.

India’s rapid rescue and rehabilitation assistance to Nepal in the wake of a killer earthquake also won over its people. However, all that evaporated with the onset of a fierce agitation by Indian-origin ethnic minorities, Madhesis, in the southern plains of Terai region. The blockade enforced by them cut off the main lifeline of supplies from Birgunj and Raxaul areas in Bihar.

People were starved of automobile fuels, cooking gas and other essential supplies. India too officially pressed Nepal to assuage the feelings of Madhesis and render justice. The besieged Nepali politicians and its people termed as ‘arm-twisting’ by New Delhi, and even inched towards China. Amid acrimony and protests, back-channel diplomacy initiated by India saved its face, with the result that on February 8, the ethnic minority groups lifted a four-month-old and Kathmandu agreed to review the new Constitution.

The Madheshi Front has decided to pursue democratic protests for redrawing the provincial borders in a way that would unite the ethnic minorities once again. Normalcy is returning to Nepal again. From natural to man-made disasters, Nepal has come a long way.

Against this backdrop, India has to do all it can to re-assure Nepal of its hands-off approach in its internal affairs and wean it away from the tempting largesse of the Chinese. Ravaged by an unforgiving nature, the Himalayan nation is looking to its long-time friend to rebuild itself. It wants India to assist it with aid and expertise for projects worth $1 billion immediately.

Nepal has a potential for 42,000 MW hydropower which India can tap into, to meet its demands in the north-east. India also must not delay keeping its promise of around $1 billion for Nepal’s reconstruction after the devastating April quake. The Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) initiative signed in June 2015 should be given thrust to take shape as an intra-regional coordinative architecture in South Asia. India and Nepal can once again be known as two nations but one people.

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