Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s proposed visit to Nepal scheduled on May 11, 2018 following his counterpart Oli’s visit would be at a very short span of time. As the two South Asian nations have embarked on a process to build and strengthen confidence, Modi’s visit to Nepal would essentially be a continuation of the momentum towards restoration of normalcy in bilateral relations. Earlier, India’s cold response to the new Nepali constitution in 2015 which was “noted and not “welcomed” by India had sown deep discord. This was further exacerbated by the Madhesi initiated economic blockade at the Nepal-India border (2015-2016) that almost crippled the landlocked nation. These irritants still remain fresh in the memories of many within Nepal. Modi’s visit will be an affirmation of India’s commitment towards developing ad sustaining cordial bilateral relations, which will be mutually beneficial to both India and Nepal. Besides, to further concretize the commitments issued in the India-Nepal Joint Statement during the State Visit of Prime Minister of Nepal to India (April 07, 2018), it is expected that there will be talks on working the modalities for implementation of the commitments particularly boosting of connectivity through rail and waterways.
It is too early to remark that bilateral relations between India and Nepal are becoming normal now. However, it is evident that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli are investing their respective political capital to build trust-deficit that had significantly marred bilateral relations in the recent past. The initiative undertaken by the South Asian leaders is a step towards the path of normalization of bilateral relations. The two leaders have signed signed three important agreements — in areas of agriculture, connecting Nepal to the Indian river transport system and developing cross-border rail link between Kathmandu in Nepal and Raxaul on the Indian border. These are welcome developments and certainly constitute a positive step towards amelioration of bilateral relations.
One most significant outcome of Prime Minister Oli’s visit to India was expression of his conviction that India has a significant role to play in Nepal’s development and prosperity. Being so close to India, Nepal can significantly benefit from the development processes taking place within India. Connectivity is one important area wherein the landlocked nation can enormously benefit from India. While there is caution sounded from several quarters about not to quick jump into any conclusion about normalcy in India-Nepal relations, there is displayed optimism that India and Nepal have definitely agreed to establish working relations for cordial relations based on mutual interests in future.
Modi’s primary emphasis would be on building bridges for purposes of rebuilding trust after recent incident resulting in Nepali resentment. Much would depend upon Modi’s personal charisma and the degree of political capital he is willing to invest to restore trust deficit.
The most important issue that India and Nepal can consider cooperating upon is on boosting connectivity. The two nations must prioritise the objective of expanding connectivity to increase people-to-people linkages and encourage economic growth and development. The proposed rail and inland waterways connectivity would further facilitate trade and movement of cargoes and people. The inland waterways would be provide additional advantage of giving Nepal access to the sea which would boost its connectivity in the region. This can definitely impact on India’s geo-strategic position in the region vis a vis China without voicing any hard-line stance against Beijing’s increasing strategic strength in the region and growing interest in Nepal.