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Prachanda helps India and Nepal move beyond the Oli frost

Sadiq Naqvi | Updated on: 17 September 2016, 19:43 IST

The much awaited meeting between Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' and PM Narendra Modi is being seen as a sign that the ice that had settled between the two neighbours in the past may be thawing. And the beginning of it all was marked by Dahal assuring India that his government was taking all the necessary steps to bring everyone on board on the contentious issues in the Constitution.

"You are aware that my government has made serious efforts to bring everyone on board as we enter the phase of implementation of the constitution in the interest of all segments of Nepalese society," Dahal said after talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Hyderabad House.

The talks mainly focussed on getting the Nepali economy back on track and getting the reconstruction programme moving, according to Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar.

Dahal is in Delhi on a three-day visit, his first foreign trip since assuming office. His visit comes after a string of high-profile visits including that of the Nepalese deputy prime minister and the subsequent visit of the foreign minister.

Perhaps this comes as a signal that Nepal and India are serious about mending ties after former Nepalese Prime Minister KP Oli's term ended.

During Oli's term the relations between the two countries had plummeted to a record low, mainly owing to differences over the Constitution.

India has been pushing that the new document takes into account aspirations of all sections, mainly that of the Madhesis, who have been protesting against the Constitution. Nepal had also accused India for causing the blockade.

Issues in hand

The Joint Commission is expected to meet next month which will focus on issues of development, connectivity and reconstruction. A visit of President Pranab Mukherjee to Nepal is also said to be on the cards.

The Indo-Nepal relations had soured to the extent that Oli had at the last moment postponed the India visit of Nepalese President Bidya Devi Bhandari and had recalled Nepal's envoy in Delhi, accusing him of working against the government.

Deep Kumar Upadhaya is reportedly back in Delhi and may join back as Nepal's Ambassador to India.

Oli, had also moved decisively closer to the China, much to India's chagrin.

With Dahal back in the saddle, India hopes to bring its influence over Nepal back on track despite the fact that he, too, in the past has had a bitter-sweet relationship with New Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Nepalese counterpart Pushpa Kamal Dahal as his wife Sita Dahal looks on during a ceremonial reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Friday. (PTI Photo by Vijay Verma)

Fresh hopes

Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, while briefing the media on the ongoing visit of the Nepalese PM, mentioned that PM Modi has had cordial, warm meeting with the visiting PM and that it has been a very productive visit.

With the Nepalese PM assuring to bring everyone on board on the issue of Constitution, Modi too expressed hope, while staying firm on India's stance on the implementation of the Constitution and the worries expressed by a big section of the Nepalese society.

"I am confident that under your wise leadership, Nepal will successfully implement the Constitution, through inclusive dialogue, accommodating the aspirations of all sections of your diverse society," Modi said.

"We certainly appreciate the gestures Nepali government has done to create an atmosphere of goodwill," Jaishankar said.

And on the list

Meanwhile, India and Nepal signed three MOUs including the one on a long-standing issue of the 605 kilometres Terai Road, out of which only 71 kilometres have been completed so far.

"The two prime ministers directed the officials to expedite the construction of postal roads and feeder roads (Terai Roads) and complete them expeditiously, in accordance with the modalities for implementation agreed by both sides in February 2016," the joint statement issued late in the evening said.

And they have also agreed on setting up a monitoring mechanism to ensure timely completion of projects.

Jaishankar mentioned how the need for an oversight was felt even as India has its own analysis on why the projects were not being implemented in at timely manner "for often we have not got the conditions we expected" and the project was been marred.

Helping hand

Keeping with its one billion dollar commitment, India extended a line of credit totalling $750 million for earthquake reconstruction in addition to the $250 million allocated earlier.

India also agreed in principle for another line of credit "to take up projects namely, Hulaki Rajmarg (Phase-II); cross-border transmission line connecting Butwal, 400 KV sub-stations at Dhalkebar and Hetauda, and a polytechnic in Kaski District."

Here is a list of other important outcomes of the meeting between the two leaders:

"The two prime ministers expressed satisfaction at the performance of the Indian Joint Ventures in Nepal and emphasised on the need for channelising more Indian investments into Nepal according to its development priorities."

"The two prime ministers reviewed the progress made in the implementation of the two ongoing India-Nepal cross-border rail-link projects - (a) Jayanagar-Bijalpur-Bardibas and (b) Jogbani-Biratnagar, and agreed that both sides will take further measures necessary for expeditious completion of both the projects. Both sides agreed that steps will be initiated to facilitate the development of three other agreed cross-border rail-link projects (Nepalgunj-Nepalgunj Road; Kakarbitta-New Jalpaiguri; Bhairawaha - Nautanwa) so that the land acquisition can commence on the Nepali side."

"The two prime ministers directed the officials to expedite the construction of sub-station at Dhalkebar so that the Muzaffarpur-Dhalkebar transmission line can be operated at its full capacity as planned. It was decided that the construction of transmission lines (i) from Kataiya to Kusaha, and (ii) from Raxaul to Parwanipur will be completed by December 2016 to augment grid connectivity and power supply between the two countries."

A proposal to integrate the Buddhist circuit of both countries including the proposed rail link between Kapilvastu and Kushinagar.

Both sides have "stressed on the need to ensure that the open border, which has facilitated economic interaction and movement of people and goods on both sides of the border and has been a unique feature of India-Nepal bilateral ties, is not allowed to be misused by unscrupulous elements posing security threats to either side. The two sides committed that they will not allow their territory to be used against each other."

"In response to the declared policy of the government of Nepal to grant NRs 3 lakh to each beneficiary for reconstruction of houses, Government of India conveyed that it would increase its contribution for 50,000 households from NRs 2 lakh to NRs 3 lakh. For this purpose, US $50 million will be drawn by the government of Nepal from the LOC of US $750 million for post-earthquake reconstruction."

They have "reviewed progress of other major hydro-power projects, Pancheshwar, Upper Karnali and Arun-III, and noted that various issues be addressed expeditiously with a view to implementing the projects in a time-bound manner"

Both countries "welcomed the signing of the MOU for the construction of Raxaul-Amlekhgunj petroleum pipeline in August 2015 and directed that construction work be undertaken expeditiously."

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

Also read: Oli out, Prachanda said to be next PM. Will Indo-Nepal relations improve?

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First published: 17 September 2016, 19:43 IST