The upcoming visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Nepal is set to deepen relations between the two nations in various spheres. This is a win-win scenario for both countries: India's role is crucial for Nepal as it enters a new era of democracy, change and development, while harnessing Nepal's resources can help solve India's pressing energy needs. Modi's visit to Kathmandu is an incredible opportunity for both nations to address bilateral concerns and build a solid foundation for new agreements on infrastructure, energy security and trade.
In this backdrop, Ananta Aspen Centre, a New Delhi-based institution, organized a public discussion today on "India-Nepal ties: Energizing the Future" with a panel of policy experts from both sides. The discussion explored key bilateral issues, including border security, sustainable growth, political transition in Nepal and boosting economic cooperation.
Emphasizing on the strong geopolitical and historical affinity between the two countries, Jayant Prasad, Former Ambassador of India to Nepal, identified energy and infrastructure as the key areas of bilateral convergence.
Nepal is more like an elder sister to India than a younger brother. We share a common terrain in southern Himalayas, as well as deep familial, cultural and civilizational bonds. At the people-to-people level, India's ties with Nepal are closer than with any other country," said Prasad. "At the microlevel, the two sides need to work on making the border more people-friendly, without compromising on security. Building infrastructure, especially roads and railways, in Nepal with Indian support offers a great opportunity. At the macro level, cooperation in hydropower production can provide revenue to Nepal and power to an energy-starved India.
D.P. Tripathi, General Secretary of the Nationalist Congress Party lauded the Indian government's approach towards Nepal, while rooting for strong political interaction from both sides.
Despite being in the opposition, I agree that the "neighbours first" approach taken by the Indian government is correct. The Government of India is wise enough to understand that history does not go back, it goes forward," Tripathi opined. "In our bilateral relationship, whenever political interaction has been spearheaded by the leadership, ties have been strong. Relationship weakens when bureaucracy plays the dominant role. Hence, to ensure strong bilateral ties, it is important that the bureaucracy is subordinated to the political leadership.
Addressing the gathering, Siddharth Varadarajan, Senior Fellow, Centre for Public Affairs and Critical Theory, Shiv Nadar University, evinced hope that Modi's visit would pave way for greater exchange of information between the two nations.
"There are serious problems of transition in Nepal. In India, the Nepal story went off the radar of the public discourse in the last decade. The impending visit of the Indian Prime Minister should lay the ground for more people-to-people exchange. This will also bring India-Nepal relationship to the forefront of public discourse," said Varadarajan, also a former Editor of The Hindu.
Joining the discussion via video link from Kathmandu, Sujeev Shakya, Author and Founder CEO, Beed Management highlighted hydropower and tourism as potential sectors of India-Nepal cooperation.
"Nepal is looking forward to Prime Minister Modi's visit. The onus of cooperation now lies with Nepal, and it needs to look at cementing development and economic partnership. It will be important to see how people to people connect emerges in the next few years. For instance, a person in Kathmandu should be able to develop relations with a person in Chennai or Gujarat," said Shakya. "Hydropower, agriculture, tourism and services are the four sectors where economic relations can be deepened," he added.
Collaboration on hydropower production stands to benefit both India and Nepal. The hydropower potential of Nepal's rivers has been estimated at 83,000 MW, and the technical feasibility for development could yield an estimated 44,000 MW. In addition, connectivity between Indian and Nepalese grids could address energy needs of both countries. Seeking to enhance joint partnership in the energy sectors, India and Nepal recently conceptualised a Power Trade Agreement, which is expected to be discussed in Prime Minister Modi's visit.
Prashant Jha, Associate Editor, The Hindustan Times and Former Columnist, The Kathmandu Post, reflected on the political dimensions of India-Nepal ties.
"India plays an active role in Nepalese politics. This is why there is often resentment, lobbying etc. in our relations. It is important for Indian government to think over how it sees its role in influencing the nature of power-sharing government and in drafting the Nepali Constitution. The Prime Minister's visit can be useful in understanding the intricacies of the process. On the other hand, Nepalese government should be clear on what kind of relationship it wants with India. There is certainly need for more development and infrastructure cooperation. For development-oriented politics, India and Nepal will have to come closer," said Jha.
Prime Minister Modi's visit will be the first bilateral visit to Nepal by an Indian PM in 17 years. Recently, Indian Foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj, visited Kathmandu to chair the meeting Indo-Nepal Joint Commission, which was convened for the first time in 23 years. Swaraj's meeting led to an agreement to review the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) and to finalise the text of the Power Trade Agreement.
India is Nepal's largest trading partner. In 2009-2010, total bilateral trade reached US $3.21 billion, with Nepal's imports from India estimated at US $2.71 billion, and exports to India at nearly US $0.50 billion.
(Samarth Pathak is a Program Officer at the Ananta Aspen Centre, a New Delhi-based institution working on international relations, domestic policy and values-based leadership. A former journalist, his experience encompasses news reporting and policy research on issues pertaining to politics, foreign policy and human rights. Follow him on Facebook. Views expressed are personal.)