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PM Dahal 3.0: A change of heart during India visit?

PM Dahal 3.0: A change of heart during India visit?
The implications of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s four-day visit to India will be known in due course of time.    Notably, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised during the visit to take bilateral relations to Himalayan heights by resolving all pending issues with Nepal.  Now, however, India appears to be on a wait-and-watch mode. It will study how Dahal concludes his visit to China, as it is believed that the road to Beijing passes through New Delhi. 

While Dahal is right in saying that his visit has reduced the trust deficit with India, the real picture will emerge gradually.  

It seems PM Dahal visited India with a well-defined plan—with two goals in mind. The first was to formally take up all pending bilateral issues by incorporating inputs from several quarters. And second, the primary motive was to seek Indian cooperation for sharing hydropower for mutual interests to minimize a yawning trade deficit with India. Perhaps, after getting a green signal from India, he became impatient for his visit. Dahal wanted to get India’s commitments on hydropower sharing and various other matters like hydropower trade with Bangladesh through India. Some other agreements on enhancing transport connectivity for strengthening Nepal-India trade relationship were also on his wish-list . Dahal perhaps felt that the handover of two more lucrative hydropower projects (669 MW Lower Arun and 480 MW Phuket Karnali) will help the country overcome a serious economic crisis, knowing well the limitations of other natural resources like forests. So he went ahead, despite the recent handover of other vital projects—750-MW West Seti, 450-MW Seti River-6 and 900-MW Arun-3. Altogether, India now has projects with combined capacity of 3249 MW in its basket.  Against this backdrop, Dahal faces charges of compromising Nepal’s national interest.  But nobody questions as to why Nepal remains deprived of the benefits of hydropower for more than seven decades. This is one of the major factors keeping millions of people below the poverty line and forcing younger generations to toil in other countries for their bread and better.   He did raise long-pending and serious issues like border disputes knowing well that such issues cannot be solved at one go. Resolution of these problems requires long-lasting and cool deliberations between the two sides.  The Maoist supremo is known for his dynamism as he can turn his coat any time to suit his interests. Dahal and the then second-in-command of the Maoist party, Baburam Bhattarai, displayed their images of revolutionary leaders while taking the oath of office by presenting them in the western outfit (tie and suit). Dahal continued to wear this dress even during his second oath-taking ceremony and at all official functions.  However, while taking oath as the PM for the third time, Dahal had a change of dress.  He donned the official dress of Daura and Suruwal, perhaps to present himself in a hardcore patriotic avatar and show that he was no less patriotic than others. Looking back, he was ‘anti-India’ while taking up arms against the state in 1996, as most of the demands he submitted to the then government were against India.  However, he changed his mind together with his second-in-command Baburam Bhattarai and wrote to the Indian Prime Minister’s Office in 2003, pledging to cooperate with India. It will be no wonder if Dahal, one fine day, denounces the decade-long insurgency as the Maoist folly against the state in which around 17,000 people were killed.  Back to his recent visit. An agreement on the purchase of 10,000 MW of electricity was almost certain to materialize this time. A 25-year bilateral trade treaty was also supposed to become a reality. India was also expected to allow at least one air entry point to Nepal for incoming international flights.   But things did not unfold as planned. The 10,000-MW energy deal did not materialize in writing, though Modi made a commitment to this effect at the joint press conference.  While a 10-year trade treaty materialized instead of a 25-year one, Nepal got no additional air entry route.  The two sides agreed on completion and submission of a detailed project report of the Pancheshwar multipurpose project within three months. This project has been pending for several decades despite. Notably,  PM Modi had, during his first visit to Nepal in 2014, issued instructions for submission of the project’s DPR within three months. Any diplomacy has marginal benefits. It is the geography and cultural ties that bind two nations together. In our case, nature decided geographic proximity millions of years ago. We cannot make our rivers flow northward nor can we stop their flow. Perhaps, India wants to check whether Dahal had a change of mind or heart. Mind can change with change in circumstances but the heart does not. As things stand, India seems interested in having better relations with Nepal. We should also reciprocate with self-respect and in mutual interests.