India, Nepal look to reaffirm their longstanding ties in the New Year
The two countries are likely to continue working closely in areas like connectivity, energy and development
The ties between India and Nepal are often referred to as ‘roti-beti ka rishta’ for the unique ties of kinship that the people of the two countries share, with an open border, vibrant trade and robust connectivity.
State-to-state relations between India and Nepal that begun since the signing of the India-Nepal Peace Treaty in 1950 have been predominantly friendly, characterized by a mutual respect of sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of each other.
In December 2021, the ruling coalition in Kathmandu led by the country’s largest democratic party - Nepali Congress - reelected Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba as its President. Deuba secured 2,733 votes in the second round of election, defeating Shekhar Koirala, nephew of former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, who secured 1,855 votes.
With the Nepali Prime Minister looking secure in his position and the dust of political upheavals in Kathmandu seeming to be finally settled, improvement of the country’s high-priority relations with India are likely to take centre-stage.
Nepali Prime Minister Deuba is not new to Indian political circles. He assumed the reigns of the Himalayan nation for the fifth time in July 2021 following a Supreme Court ruling dismissing President Bidya Devi Bhandari’s ‘unconstitutional’ move to dissolve the lower-house of the parliament at the behest of the then PM incumbent KP Sharma Oli.
Exchanging customary greetings after Deuba’s winning the vote of confidence in the reinstated House of Representatives, the Nepal PM and Indian PM Narendra Modi had looked forward to working closely to further enhance the unique partnership and strengthen bilateral cooperation at all levels including the deep-rooted people-to-people ties.
Here was the political leadership looking to reset India-Nepal relations that had since 2015 faced rough weather. Former PM incumbent Oli’s unilateral constitutional amendment including territories disputed with India in May 2020 had pushed India-Nepal relations to its lowest ebb.
But, even when relations remained strained, the two countries continued to engage with each other with official visits from Chief of India’s Research and Analysis Wing Samant Kumar Goel in October 2020 followed by Indian Army Chief M Naravane and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla in November.
Despite the tough challenges faced by the two countries in the COVID-19 pandemic, trade routes remained opened between India and Nepal, providing continuity to supplies of medicines and equipment and cross-border trade, benefitting the people of the our two nations.
In January 2021, the India-Nepal Joint Commission meeting was held in New Delhi and was attended by Nepal’s then Foreign Minister, Pradeep Kumar Gyawali.
According to a Ministry of External Affairs statement, at this meeting co-chaired by Gyawali and Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, constructive discussions were held on the bilateral relationship between the two countries that have indeed been taking the test of time and implement constructive measures for the future.
Even during the pandemic’s 2nd wave in mid-2021, India was able to deliver large quantities of Covid-19 related medicines and equipment to Nepal. Under India’s Vaccine Maitri Initiative, Nepal was among the first countries to receive Made-in-India vaccines.
Continuing with their outreach following the change in regime in Nepal in July 2021, this time, a special delegation of the ruling Nepali Congress led by former Nepali Foreign Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat visited New Delhi and held talks with EAM Jaishankar and BJP Party President JP Nadda.
The visit of the NC delegation to India ensued after Vijay Chauthaiwale who heads the Foreign Affairs Department of BJP went to Kathmandu in August on an invitation of Nepali Congress to improve bilateral ties.
High-level exchanges between the two countries have also been held. Foreign Ministers of the two countries met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York and both ministers agreed to take the special relationship forward.
In early November, on the sidelines of the COP26 Conference in Glasgow, PM Modi met with his Nepali counterpart Deuba for the first time and held productive discussion on further strengthening close bilateral ties, combat climate change, COVID-19 and facilitate post-pandemic economic recovery.
During this meeting, the two prime ministers had also extended an invitation to visit each other’s country.
Addressing the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction in December, EAM Jaishnakar announced that India had completed reconstruction of 50,000 houses in Nepal under Indian grant assistance and stated that projects in remaining sectors of health, education and culture are in progress.
Reiterating India’s vision of ‘One Earth, One Health’ as spelled out by PM Narendra Modi during the G20 Summit, Jaishankar had said that this principle is not only to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic but also future crisis and this approach has guided India’s cooperation with our partners during the Covid-19 pandemic including Nepal.
Key sectors of cooperation
Entering the New Year of 2022, the leadership of Nepal and India would look to sustain the cooperation that they have achieved during the pandemic. Amidst the threat of the new Variant of Concern ‘Omicron’, both countries are likely to up their joint fight against the deadly virus including on the vaccines front.
Under its Vaccine Maitri initiative, India has already supplied over 5 million doses of vaccines as grant, together under commercial arrangements and COVAX facility besides supplying life-saving medicines equipment’s and medical oxygen since the early days of the pandemic.
The two countries in the New Year are likely to continue working closely in sectors such as connectivity, energy and enhance their development cooperation.
Cross-border rail linkages are an important facet of India-Nepal Development cooperation, which include Jaynagar-Bijalpura-Bardibas rail link and Jogbani-Biratnagar (18.6 km) rail link.
In October 2021, India handed over to Nepal the completed 34.9 km cross-border rail section between Jaynagar and Kurtha built under New Delhi’s grant assistance. This year, both countries will look forward to this first broad gauge cross-border rail link further boosting trade and commerce activities as well as people-to-people linkages.
Similarly, the Motihari-Amlekhgunj Petroleum Pipeline Project constructed in 2019 is the first of its kind project in the region with a capacity to carry two million metric tonnes of petroleum products into Nepal. Both countries are exploring the possibility of its extension to Chitwan.
The two countries are jointly implementing the Lower Arun Hydropower Project and a MoU was signed between Nepal investment Board and India’s Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam Ltd for the development of 679 MW Hydro Electric Project with an estimated cost of US $ 1.3 billion.
All in all, both countries in the New Year are expected to reaffirm their time-tested and robust partnership, having much in common and continu