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Oli’s foreign outlook

Oli’s foreign outlook

A few incidents marred Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day Nepal visit. While welcoming Modi in Janakpur, Province 2 Chief Minister Lalbabu Raut broke every rule in the diplomacy playbook by asking the Indian prime minister to help resolve a purely domestic issue. Later, while Indian journalists were allowed in a joint press meet between the two prime ministers, Nepali journalists were curiously barred. Then there was the unforgettable botch-job with the Nepali flag.


Yet it would be a stretch to say that the visit was fruit­less or that Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli somehow ‘surrendered’ before Modi. While the Indian prime minister was in town, the hashtag #BlockadeWasCri­meMrModi was the number one trending theme on Twitter. The common feeling was that Modi should apologize for the five-month-long blockade. While that was understandable, given how much people suffered during those testing times, it was also an unrealistic expectation. Seldom in history have state or govern­ment heads formally apologized for the past misdeeds of their countries. The Americans, for instance, have never apologized for dropping nuclear bombs on Japan or, more recently, for needlessly invading Iraq.


Interestingly, this time too Modi fell short of welcom­ing the constitution. But he congratulated Nepalis for the three tiers of elections—held under the same consti­tution. Modi also unequivocally said India is in favor of an undivided and strong Nepal, dispelling doubts that it is supporting divisive forces here. Another important development has been India’s acceptance of the left merger, undoubtedly at Oli’s urging; until now there seemed to be a feeling in New Delhi that the alliance (and now a unified party) was a ‘Chinese construct’.


In other words, there has been a marked thaw in Nepal-India relations since Oli became prime minister, and he must be given some credit for that. Following Modi’s departure from Nepal, Oli has, moreover, clar­ified that he is as keen on improving ties with China, where he is going soon. Notwithstanding the agree­ments that were (or were not) signed during Modi’s recent visit, his recent dealings with our two import­ant neighbors are marked by a level of finesse that has seldom been seen in Nepali leaders. Even his staunch critics grudgingly accept this. Oli may have more stra­tegic acumen than people give him credit for. Now that he is in charge of a strong, unified party, we may just get to witness that acumen put to even better use.