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Deuba’s India visit: Symbolism over substance

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Deuba’s India visit: Symbolism over substance

With India closely monitoring the US-China competition in the Himalayas, it could convey to PM Deuba a message in this regard

Right or wrong, it is routine business for a Nepali prime minister to make New Delhi his first foreign port of call. And so on cue Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is visiting India from April 1-3. Covid lockdowns notwithstanding, when Deuba became PM last July, there was no enthusiasm in New Delhi to roll out a red carpet for the septuagenarian Nepali leader. Things have not changed much.

Deuba is thus unlikely to sign any important agreement. Foreign policy analyst Geja Sharma Wagle says it is more a goodwill visit to strengthen relations at the top political level (see Editorial).

The visit coincides with some vital domestic, regional, and international developments. Deuba is visiting India ahead of local polls which will soon be followed by national elections.

As India is concerned over the shape of the post-election government, say Nepali Congress leaders, the issue could figure in bilateral talks. Of late, India has adopted a hands-off approach in Nepal but it has also subtly let its distaste for a broad (Panda-hugging) left alliance be known. 

With India also closely monitoring the growing US-China competition in the Himalayas, the Indian side could convey to PM Deuba some message in this regard.

Says India-Nepal relations expert and ApEx columnist Nihar R. Nayak, India is uncomfortable with the growing strategic competition between two major world powers in the Himalayas. India expects these powers to respect India’s security concerns, he says, adding that this issue could crop up during Deuba’s Delhi trip. “India is worried that some Chinese projects in Nepal may undercut its strategic and security interests in the Himalayas. It does not want any disturbance on its northern frontier,” Nayak says.

The Russia-Ukraine crisis could also come up during discussions.

On the bilateral front, government officials say that even with low expectations, all outstanding issues will be discussed. Supply of fertilizers, connectivity projects mainly railways, Pancheshwar multipurpose development project are all on the agenda. Nepal is also preparing to raise the map dispute.