Opportunity to repolish India-Nepal ties

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    Recently, Nepal had its general elections, the second since the promulgation of the Nepal Constitution of 2015.

    Major Points 

    • This was also the first time in Nepal’s history that a parliament had completed a five-year tenure even though legislative activities were conducted for barely 18 months. 
    • The November 2022 parliamentary elections saw an awkward pre-poll alliance between the ruling coalition of the Nepali Congress and the two communist parties that had split from the main Nepal Communist Party.
    • Nepal Congress (NC) has emerged as the largest party from the November 20 elections while the CPN-UML party is in the second position.

    India -Nepal ties 

    • Historial: India and Nepal share close and friendly relations characterized by age-old historical and cultural linkages, open borders  and deep-rooted people-to-people contacts. 
      • The multifaceted relations between the two countries have been given renewed momentum in the last few years through intensified high-level political exchanges, and regular meetings of bilateral mechanisms.
    • Regular visits: In consonance with Government’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has visited Nepal four times since 2014 and similarly Nepalese Prime Ministers have paid regular visits to India.
    • Disaster Management: Operation Maitri & post-earthquake reconstruction assistance:
      • In the wake of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, GoI was the first responder and carried out its largest disaster relief operation abroad (Operation Maitri). India extended US$ 1 billion to Nepal as part of its long-term assistance for post-earthquake reconstruction in housing, education, health, and cultural heritage sectors.
    • Development Partnership: GoI provides substantial financial and technical assistance to Nepal for the implementation of large development and infrastructure and connectivity projects, as well as small development projects/high-impact community development projects in key areas of education, health, irrigation, rural infrastructure, livelihood development, etc. all across the country
      • India, is providing financial and technical assistance for construction of two broad gauge cross-border railway links viz., Jaynagar-Bardibas and Jogbani-Biratnagar. India and Nepal signed a Letter of Exchange (LoE) to the India-Nepal Rail Services Agreement (RSA).
    • Cooperation in water resources: Cooperation in water resources, primarily concerning the common rivers, is an important area of cooperation. Three-tier bilateral mechanism (with a Ministerial meeting at the apex) has been established in 2008 to discuss issues relating to cooperation in water resources, flood management, and inundation.
    • Power cooperation: India and Nepal have robust cooperation in the power sector. Three cross-border transmission lines were completed recently with GoI assistance: the 400 kV Muzaffarpur-Dhalkebar line; 132 kV Kataiya-Kusaha and Raxaul-Parwanipur lines.
    • Defence and security cooperation: India and Nepal have long-standing and extensive mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of defence and security. Historically, both armies have shared an excellent and harmonious relationship, and since 1950, India and Nepal have been awarding the honorary rank of General to each other’s Army Chief.
    • Trade and economic ties: India remains Nepal’s largest trade partner, with bilateral trade crossing US$ 7 billion in FY 2019-20. India provides transit for almost the entire third-country trade of Nepal. India’s export to Nepal has grown over 8 times in the past 10 years while exports from Nepal have almost doubled. 
    • Educational and people-to-people exchanges: India and Nepal extend visa-free entry in their respective territories to each other’s nationals. Nearly eight (8) million Nepalese citizens live and work in India and around 6,00,000 Indians reside in Nepal.
    • Cultural exchanges: GoI initiatives to promote cultural exchanges include cultural programmes, symposia, and events organized in partnership with different local bodies of Nepal, as well as conferences and seminars in Hindi, and Sanskrit. 
    • COVID assistance: As part of our Covid-19 assistance, India supplied more than 23 tonnes of medicines and medical equipment to Nepal on Grant basis during the first wave of COVID-19

    Existing Issues 

    • India’s entrenched interests in Nepal suffered a setback in 2015, when a blockade at the borders ensued following protests by Madhesis and some other ethnic groups against marginalisation of their interests in the newly-passed Nepalese Constitution.
    • The blockade, which Nepal accused India of facilitating, caused a humanitarian crisis in the landlocked country that was already reeling from the effects of a powerful earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people.
    • Kalapani dispute:  The area is in India’s control but Nepal claims the region because of historical and cartographic reasons. The area is the largest territorial dispute between Nepal and India consisting of at least 37,000 hectares of land in the High Himalayas.
    • Impacts on recent elections: New generation of young Nepalis see a world beyond India. They are digitally connected to different parts of the globe For them, India is just another country
    • India has always relied on its intelligence agencies or retired diplomats to be the interlocutors when it came to having reliable contacts in Nepal or understanding perspectives about Nepal. 
      • There is also a media gap; most media houses do not have a permanent correspondent in Nepal. And, social media has disrupted how information is created or consumed.

    Conclusion and Way Forward 

    • More engagement will be required to understand the new set of people, who are of course led by the old set. 
    • It will be also important to create a conducive environment for the exchange of ideas and people and set the stage for the next steps in relationship building.
    •  India and the rest of the international community will have to be recalibrating their ways of dealing with Nepal.

    Mains Practice Question 

    [Q] Nepal’s internal political processes have significant to India’s strategic interests. Discuss