India’s relations with Nepal continued to grow in 2019 with high-level bilateral visits and increased energy collaboration, including the inauguration of the first-ever cross-border petroleum pipeline in South Asia, amidst China’s heavy investments in the landlocked country. Nepal enjoys a special significance in India’s foreign policy due to its geographical, historical, cultural and economic linkages. The people of the two countries maintain close bonds through marriages and family ties, also known as ‘Roti-Beti ka Rishta’ (relation of food and family).
The Himalayan nation, sandwiched between India and China, witnessed political instability for many years before the pro-China Left alliance came to power in the historic polls in December, 2017. Though the year began with Nepal banning the use of Indian currency notes of Rs 2,000, Rs 500 and Rs 200 denominations – a move that had an impact on Indian tourists visiting the Himalayan nation where Indian currency is widely used – the bilateral relations remained firmly on track, notwithstanding the minor hiccups.
The bilateral engagements kicked off in February with Nepal-India Joint Secretary-level meeting in Pokhara during which the top officials from both the sides reviewed the bilateral trade and transit treaty. Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale called on Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli in Kathmandu in March and held talks on a wide range of issues, including railways and waterway projects, with the top Nepali leadership.
The two sides also reviewed progress of post-earthquake reconstruction of projects in housing, education, health and cultural heritage sectors. India has pledged an assistance of USD 250 million to Nepal for the reconstruction projects. India also donated Rs 1.6 billion to Nepal for the reconstruction of houses damaged in the quakes in Gorkha and Nuwakot districts. This was part of a total amount of Rs 450 billion donated by India for constructing 50,000 houses to Nepal following the 2015 earthquakes, partnering with the United Nations Development Programme.
Prime Minister Oli congratulated Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his re-election in the general elections in May and visited India to attend his swearing-in ceremony. They underlined the importance of regular exchange of high-level visits between the two countries in order to further strengthen bilateral ties and advance cooperation in all possible areas for the mutual benefits of the two sides. Oli also invited Modi to visit the Himalayan country. The two leaders also jointly inaugurated the 69-km long Motihari-Amlekhjung oil pipeline through video conference in September. The pipeline was constructed with Indian assistance of Rs 324 crore. This was the first cross-border petroleum pipeline constructed in the South Asian region.
This year, Nepal issued three commemorative coins marking the 550th birth anniversary of founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak, who visited Kathmandu five hundred years ago. The country also paid rich tributes to Mahatma Gandhi, marking his 150th birth anniversary. High-level engagements continued as External Affairs Minister S Jaishanker visited Nepal to attend the fifth meeting of Nepal-India Joint Commission which reviewed the entire gamut of bilateral relations with special focus on the areas of connectivity, economic partnership, trade, transit, power and water resources.
Nepal stood with India in its fight against terrorism as it strongly condemned the February terrorist attack in Pulwama that killed 40 security personnel, saying such heinous acts of terrorism cannot be justified. India issued travel advisory to Mansoravar pilgrims in April after some people died due to harsh weather conditions, poor tour management and lack of precautionary measures. Seventeen climbers, including eight Indian nationals, died in the Himalayan expedition this year.
Indian climbers for the first time topped the list of those attempting to summit the world’s highest peak as 78 nationals were given permission to climb the Mt. Everest. China, which has been investing heavily in the landlocked nation in recent years, continued its engagements with Nepal with high-level visits. Chinese President Xi Jinping travelled to Nepal, becoming the first head of the Communist nation to visit Nepal in 23 years, and announced Rs 56 billion aid to help the country’s development programmes.
During his visit, China agreed to upgrade the Araniko Highway linking Kathmandu with Tibet that was shut down since the 2015 earthquake and conduct a feasibility study of trans-Himalayan railway at the earliest as per Nepal’s request. It has been widely felt that Nepal’s Communist government is inching closure to its northern neighbour. Nepal also raised objections to India’s updated political map showing Kalapani and Lipulek areas under its territory, claiming that these areas lie within the Nepalese territory.
It said that any border issue relating to the two friendly countries need to be resolved through diplomatic channels on the basis of historical documents and evidences. The year concluded on a positive note with former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ favouring a trilateral strategic partnership between Nepal, India and China based on mutual benefit.
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Source: Financial Express