PM Modi's third visit to Nepal in 4 years this week 'to reset ties'

NEW DELHI: Nepal, with a long history of contentious relations with India, will host Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the third time in four years, when Modi lands in Janakpur on Friday to offer prayers at the Janaki temple.
Modi’s visit, coming barely a month after Nepal PM KP Sharma Oli’s trip to India, is intended to show that both sides want to move beyond the tough times of the past few years. Modi is taking a religious route to Nepal this time, stopping at two important places of worship — Janakpur and Muktinath.
But, there will be two separate narratives that will govern his trip. First is the connectivity and infrastructure story that is being pushed by the Indian government. While Modi and Oli will jointly inaugurate the 900 MW Arun III hydroelectric project, India is concentrating on building the Raxaul-Kathmandu rail link that was announced during Oli’s visit. Sources said the survey would be completed by the end of this year. “It’s a challenging terrain,” said those familiar with developments, “but our focus is implementation.”
In his conversations with Oli and his government, Modi will emphasise that Nepal should also complete its commitments with regard to land acquisition, forest clearances etc, much of which was responsible for delays in earlier projects.
Modi will arrive in Janakpur in the morning of 11th May. After offering prayers at the temple, where he will be accompanied by Oli, he will address a civic reception and then go on to Kathmandu where a ceremonial reception awaits him. After meetings with Oli and his cabinet, Modi will meet the president and Vice President of Nepal as well as previous prime ministers. On the 12th, he is scheduled to go to Muktinath, meet some of the Madhes parties before returning to India. Kathmandu itself will have another civic reception where Modi will be ceremonially handed over the keys to the city.On a parallel track, Modi may find it a little more difficult to charm everyone as he had done in his previous visit. The ghost of the 2015 blockade hangs in the air, while Nepal’s resurgent nationalism is more often than not aimed at India.
Kanak Mani Dixit, a prominent Nepali commentator tweeted on Tuesday, “India PM is exploiting the necessary graciousness of Nepal's host government to ram through a travel agenda designed for his personal-political & geopolitical interests — does not care for courtesies & does not seem to represent the 'sauhardata' of India's people.” Modi’s first visit elicited an ecstatic reception in Kathmandu. Greater scepticism may greet him this time.
Instead India will try to keep the discourse to development assistance — agriculture partnership where the first meetings have been held and pilot projects have been identified; inland waterways transport, where Kalughat in Bihar has been identified as the transhipment point.In the past month, both sides have reviewed the trade and transit treaty which might have to be amended for inland waterways transport to take off, power cooperation, where India’s power regulator has solicited responses from Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh to decide the terms of power trade. The detailed project report for Pancheshwar project too is complete, sources said here. During his visit last month, Oli told a civic reception in New Delhi, "The bilateral relations will move forward in a new direction on the basis of equality and mutual interest. We have agreed to expedite past agreements and understandings reached between the two countries," he said.

Hanging in the air between the two sides will be three issues — the China factor; bomb blasts near the Indian consulate in Biratnagar and near the Arun III project, and the fate of millions of demonetised Indian currency in Nepal’s banks. Oli is expected to visit China soon and has often spoken about making China a bigger partner in Nepal’s development. Under his watch, India can expect to see an even greater Chinese presence. The test will be whether Oli reverts the Budi Gandaki project back to the Chinese, whether he invites China to build a high through Nepal to the Indian border, which would seriously undermine Indian security interests.
Second, the blasts outside Indian facilities in Nepal in the past month could mean a growing antipathy towards India, or the growth of third country anti-India forces in Nepal.
Despite many meetings between RBI and Rashtriya Bank of Nepal, there is no resolution to the millions of demonetised Indian currency that is held in Nepal’s banks. “The genuineness of these notes are in question,” said sources.

#Himalayan Times

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