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India seeks game-changing ties with Nepal
Amid China’s growing influence in the Himalayan Kingdom, India on Saturday sought to set “game-changing equations” with Nepal as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his visiting Nepalese counterpart KP Sharma Oli agreed to increase engagement in key areas of connectivity, agriculture, Defence, security and trade.
Later while giving the details of the bilateral discussions between Modi and Oli, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said the expansion of electrified rail link between Raxaul to Kathmandu, development of inland waterway and collaboration in agriculture were the “three new game changers of the relations”.
This was the first bilateral visit of Oli to India after taking over as Nepal’s PM for the second time. Oli had earlier come to India in February 2015 in his previous tenure as PM. The relations between India and Nepal took a nosedive thereafter with his Government accusing India of causing instability and economic blockage. However, during his visit this time it is evident that both sides want to bury the past and have a ‘forward looking relationship’.
Known for his pro-China tilt, Oli said that he has come to India with an aim to enhance relations to newer heights and build a strong edifice of “trust-based” relationship. “We want to erect a strong edifice of trust-based relations between the two close neighbours that we are. We want to create a model relationship, which makes not only us but our posterity equally proud of our accomplishment. A relationship that is cherished forever,” Oli said in his media statement. It is learnt that during his discussion with Modi, Oli said, “Nepal has entered a new era of stability. I look for India’s support for economic growth of Nepal.”
Appreciating Oli’s gesture of choosing India as the first destination of his visit, Modi assured him that India will stand with Nepal as reliable partner and is committed to deepening of relations with it.
“I understand that my basic principle of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” for India’s development and the vision of Prime Minister of Nepal for a “Samruddha Nepal, Sukhi Nepal” are complementary to each other. So, we both agree that we have to move ahead with the hopes and expectations of a public-centered vision, the common goals of development, and the happiness and prosperity of the people of both the countries,” Modi said in the media statement after the talks.
In a landmark decision, India will assist Nepal in developing inland waterway on its rivers that will connect with Indian waterways and provide Nepal additional access to sea. “Apart from building connectivity, this new initiative will also be helpful in the movement of cargo,” Gokhale said. The requisite procedures and modalities for including inland waterways as an additional means of transport in the Protocol to the Treaty of Transit between India and Nepal will be worked out soon.
“With our assistance, Nepal will get an extra connectivity to the sea. And the country of Everest will be able to connect directly to the ocean. I believe that this is a historical beginning. Nepal will not only be ‘land-linked’ but ‘water-linked’ also,” Modi said in his media statement.
In his comments, Oli mentioned about the enormous impact this additional connectivity would have on the growth of business and economy of Nepal. “I thanked Prime Minister Modiji for positively considering our proposal on inland waterways. Enhanced connectivity will definitely contribute to our desire to be a land-linked country instead of land-locked,” Oli said.
The electrified rail link between Raxual to Kathmandu valley is expected to boost connectivity and trade. The preparatory survey work for this rail link will begin within an year, and the two sides would finalise the implementation and funding modalities of the project based on the Detailed Project Report.
India is already engaged in implementation of Phase-I of the India-Nepal cross-border rail link projects. The stretch of railway lines from Jayanagar to Janakpur/Kurtha and from Jogbani to Biratnagar Custom Yard under first phase is expected to be completed by this year-end. The ongoing Final Location Survey of the three links under Phase-II of the India-Nepal cross-border rail link projects -- New Jalpaiguri-Kakarbhitta, Nautanwa-Bhairahawa, and Nepalgunj Road-Nepalgunj -- too is expected to be complete soon.
In the agriculture sector, India will undertake a pilot project on organic farming and soil health improvement. During their discussions, PM Modi mentioned his Government’s initiative of providing soil health cards for the farmers and how that can be replicated in Nepal too which is primarily agriculture dominant.
Talking about discussions on defence and security issues, Modi said India and Nepal have close and deep connection on the matters of defence and security. “We both agree to prevent the abuse of our open border, and to pursue our shared security interests,” Modi said. Modi and Oli also inaugurated Birgunj-Raxaul Integrated Check Post and witnessed the ground breaking ceremony of the Motihari-Amlekhgunj cross-border petroleum products pipeline at Motihari. The two sides also discussed about expediting the post-earthquake reconstruction projects in Nepal being implemented with India support.
During their discussions on regional issues, the issue of stalled SAARC Summit also came up. It is learnt that Modi mentioned to Oli about the current situation on cross-border terrorism from Pakistan and its impact in the South Asian region, particularly India. Nepal is the chair of the SAARC and the next summit is scheduled to be held in Pakistan which will take over as its chair thereafter.
Earlier, during his meeting with Oli, President Ram Nath Kovind said India’s interest lies in the stability and economic growth of Nepal and for that New Delhi is ready to expand cooperation as per its priorities. Kovind expressed confidence that under Oli’s leadership, Nepal would chart a new course of rapid socio-economic transformation for its people.
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