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Swaraj’s visit seen as India’s attempt to cosy up with new establishment in Nepal

KATHMANDU, २० माघ:

Minister of External Affairs of India, Sushma Swaraj has concluded her visit here on Friday and termed the visit successful. During her sojourn she paid separate courtesy calls on President Bidya Devi Bhandari and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba.

She also met separately with CPN (UML) chairman KP Sharma Oli, CPN (Maoist Centre) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the Federal Socialist Forum Nepal chairman Upendra Yadav and leaders of the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal.

As reported by the media, the Indian Minister of External Affairs’ meetings with the President and the Prime Minister were focussed on centuries-old Nepal-India ties and on matters of mutual concern.

According to Dr Dinesh Bhattarai, the PM’s foreign affairs advisor, in the meeting the Indian Minister congratulated the Prime Minister and the government on the successful conclusion of the three tiers of elections – local, provincial and federal – as per the new constitution and wished for the institutionalisation of democracy in Nepal.

The PM expressed his hope that such friendly visit would help such friendly visits would help further strengthen the bilateral ties between the two neighbours in the days ahead.

Apart from the formal meetings with Nepal’s leaders, Swaraj also held one-to-one meeting with UML chairperson Oli, Maoist Centre chairman Dahal and FSPN chair Yadav.

Although Swaraj told the media when she arrived here on Thursday for the two-day visit that she had no particular agenda and had come here on a goodwill visit, the general public in Nepal had conjectured that she must have come here with a ‘mission and a message’. This public perception is based on the Nepalis’ experience.

If we look at the current discourse in the Nepali media regarding Swaraj’s Nepal visit, it seems more focussed on whether the timing of the visit was right or wrong. Some commentators have termed the Indian External Affairs Minister’s visit as a premature one.

According to them, Nepal has recently conducted the House of Representatives election and the new government is not in office yet based on the mandate of this election. The present government is only a caretaker one after having concluded the elections and is on its way out.

So Swaraj’s this visit is a hasty one. They have questioned the very intent of her visit.

Moreover, they contend that Swaraj is not coming here at the formal invitation of the government or any political party.

So, Swaraj’s sudden visit has raised some eyebrows in the political sphere in the present transition phase obtaining immediately after the parliamentary elections in which the leftist alliance comprising the UML and the Maoist Centre have won majority seats and are poised to form a government. More so, the alliance constituents are also working towards party unification.

In fact, two prominent leaders Narayan Kaji Shrestha of the Maoist Centre and RPP chairman Kamal Thapa have taken exception to Swaraj’s visit, saying it was ill-timed.

As to why this visit was taken by some as ill-timed is that Swaraj’s visit has taken place entirely on India’s initiation. It is India’s effort to ‘reach out’ to the Nepali leaders following the kind of results the recent parliamentary elections have thrown up, with the UML emerging as the largest party in parliament.

India wants to cosy up with the leaders of the two parties in the leftist alliance as these parties will be forming the next government and Oli is seen as the prime minister-in-waiting.

Moreover, according to some commentators India wants to ‘mend’ its ties with Oli and the UML which were perceived to have strained after India imposed an undeclared blockade on Nepal immediately after the promulgation of Nepal’s constitution. Oli was the Prime Minister at that time.

In fact, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called UML chair Oli twice after the elections, congratulating him for the election victory and expressing his desire to work together with him.

In his latest call to Oli, Modi had said that he was sending External Affairs Minister Swaraj to Nepal for a meeting. Thus, Swaraj’s this visit is a PR exercise by Indian PM Modi.

The Indian External Affairs Minister’s visit is a sign that New Delhi is taking proactive steps towards improving its relations with the incoming government in Nepal.

Meanwhile, foreign affairs experts have expressed the belief that Swaraj’s visit would help further the age-old bilateral ties between the two countries.

At a programme organised here on Friday, they stressed that Nepal should seek support from India to pursue its goal of economic prosperity.

UML leader Dr Rajan Bhattarai said although Swaraj’s visit was completely a goodwill visit, she has held meetings with the leaders and stressed on further enhancing friendly relations between Nepal and India with the message of the Indian Prime Minister. He opined that Nepal should now focus on its economic development and prosperity and India’s cooperation would be important to that end.

Rastriya Prajatantra Party (Democratic) chairman Pashupati Shamsher JB Rana said Nepal should play a role to strengthen its relations with India as it has a large scale trade with India. He also stressed the need of developing hydropower sector, expressing the hope that Swaraj’s visit would help to forward Pancheshwar hydropower project.

Former ambassador of Nepal to India, Dr Durgesh Man Singh pointed out the need of redefining Nepal-India relations befitting the 21st century and Swaraj’s this visit should contribute to that end.


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