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Editorial: Deuba’s unfulfilling Delhi trip

Editorial: Deuba’s unfulfilling Delhi trip

Given the limited expectations from his visit, the three-day India trip of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba was a bit of a mixed bag. Easily the most notable agreement was the one allowing more export of Nepali electricity to India, and potentially even to Bhutan and Bangladesh under the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) framework. Save for that, the trip achieved precious little.

PM Deuba’s delegation made much of the fact that the border row had been raised in bilateral talks with Narendra Modi. But then the end result was the same-old commitment to settle the issue through existing bilateral mechanisms. India’s reluctance to include the border issue in the final joint statement (which never came), also suggests that it is in no mood for concession. Nor was there any mention of the pending EPG report that the Indian prime minister has refused to receive.

On Pancheshwar, too, the same old bromides were repeated. There were also moments of controversy. For instance, the Nepali prime minister chose to visit the headquarters of the ruling Indian party while making no effort to reach out to any of the main opposition parties. While many Nepali Congress leaders tend to frown upon the cozy relations of Nepali communists with their Chinese counterparts, this was also unbecoming of the leader of Nepal’s oldest democratic party.

Despite Deuba’s visit, Nepal-India relations are still passing through difficult times, something that has continued since India’s 2015-16 border blockade. So long as India does not show the willingness to listen to Nepal's concerns—on the border, on the ever-widening trade deficit, on the EPG, and on not favoring hydropower built solely with its investment—it is hard to expect Nepal-India ties to improve much.

India has been increasingly concerned about the possibility of Nepal slipping out of its influence and going into the Chinese camp. That is a remote possibility given the deep and multi-faceted Nepal-India ties, whatever the political persuasions of the ruling parties in Kathmandu. Nevertheless, irrespective of the hardening of China’s Nepal stand in recent times, India’s reluctance to help Nepal overcome its pressing problems will continue to make it look north for help.