October 14, 2015
While Nepali tension eased slightly Tuesday – 63 trucks carrying some kind of fuel crossed the Jogbani border into Nepal, the government began issuing gasoline for private vehicles, and authorities re-opened the Tibet-Nepal Jilung crossing, which had been damaged by April’s crippling earthquake (not a fuel route) – rattled Indo-Nepali relations continue to inform almost everything that is going on in Kathmandu. Some would argue that it's the only story in town . Below is an article from the Calcutta Telegraph, published yesterday, that lays out a non-hysterical near-future scenario between Delhi and Nepal’s new prime minister.
New Delhi, Oct. 12: At 9am today, when Indian ambassador Ranjit Rae arrived at the home of new Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, his hands held a bouquet of flowers, his face carried a smile and his lips bore a request: to visit New Delhi soon.
For weeks before Sunday when Oli was elected in Nepal's Parliament as Prime Minister, New Delhi had publicly locked horns with Kathmandu's political elite, criticising Nepal for a fresh constitution that triggered protests in its plains bordering India. And Oli, a communist leader who led accusations that India was blockading the land-locked country to force it to amend its constitution, had emerged the epitome of bilateral tensions.
But Oli's election yesterday, coupled with a stunning backlash of public sentiment against India in the hills surrounding Kathmandu, has forced a sharp recalibration by New Delhi in its approach towards its northern neighbour.
The shift is in part forced by necessity, officials said, because India could not afford to be ignoring or distancing itself from a democratically elected PM in Nepal.
Hope too is driving the change in approach - sections in India's foreign policy establishment have argued that Oli, who was traditionally friendly to New Delhi, had adopted a hard-line posture in order to emerge a favourite in domestic politics to become PM. Now that he has taken office, the reality on the need for better ties with India should soften his positions, this section of diplomats is arguing.
But a slow recognition is also dawning within some in the ministry of external affairs (MEA) that, as with its snubs to the Maldives earlier this year, India's repeated public criticism of Nepal may no longer present the best strategy for New Delhi.
"The foreign ministry needs to understand, that as far as Nepal is concerned, the script is the same - only the actors have changed," Sangeeta Thapliyal, professor of Inner Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University told The Telegraph. "This was always a crisis that could have been managed - and with Oli's election, there is a possibility of a resolution."
With the Maldives, India called off a planned visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March after the Indian Ocean archipelago arrested former President Mohammed Nasheed and quickly convicted him on charges of terrorism.
Maldives foreign minister Dunya Maumoon - niece of current President Abdulla Yameen - had already announced Modi's visit and New Delhi's decision left Male upset and humiliated.
Despite diplomatic pressure from India, the Maldives went ahead in the following months with an amendment to its constitution that allows foreigners to purchase territory on its islands - triggering worries in New Delhi that Beijing could gobble up land for a military base.
Though Yameen initially agreed to commute Nasheed's sentence to house arrest, he was rearrested in August. And last month, the Maldives offered China a slice of the Male International Airport project that was originally contracted to Indian firm GMR - an agreement that was cancelled later by Yameen's predecessor who was supported at the time by the current President.
Amid recognition of dwindling diplomatic returns, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj visited the country on Saturday, resurrecting a government-to-government discussion mechanism that was lying dormant for 15 years, and assuring Male of New Delhi's full support.
Yameen's office made a point of mentioning in its press release that the Maldives President told the Indian foreign minister male would not accept foreign interference - a part of their conversation the MEA here did not mention.
India's response to Oli's election captures a similar rethink in strategy - though New Delhi's goals remain the same - senior officials admitted.
Three weeks after Nepal promulgated its new constitution, India is yet to unambiguously congratulate Kathmandu on the document.
Instead, it issued no fewer than five statements calling on Nepal's leadership to engage in talks with the Madhesi and Tharu communities that dominate the country's plains to resolve the dispute over the constitution.
But over the past 24 hours, New Delhi has emphasized its "special" relationship with Kathmandu in congratulating Oli. New Delhi would have preferred outgoing Prime Minister Sushil Koirala of the Nepali Congress to return to power.
But on Sunday evening, Modi dialled Oli before any other world leader, and acknowledged the new PM had been elected in "democratic and orderly elections."
"Prime Minister expressed the hope and expectation that Shri Oli will carry all sections of the society along, so that there is peace and stability in the country," the foreign office here said in a statement. "We are confident that the Government of Nepal will address the remaining political issues confronting the country in a spirit of dialogue and reconciliation."
Modi also invited Oli to visit India at the earliest - a trip that officials said may materialize immediately after elections in Bihar where Kathmandu's response to Madhesi demands is a sensitive subject.