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#NeighborhoodFirst is a two-way street

A week in #India-#Nepal relations full of highlights and silence amidst frenzy of sensationalism reminds that two civilizationally linked—open border states must do their homework in letter and spirit to unlock shared potential before it’s too late and monkeys erode their unique heritage of “Sanatan Dharma” and people-to-people relations using their expectation gap

#NeighborhoodFirst is a two-way street

India and Nepal are deeply connected through natural resources, cultural heritage, and the shared philosophy of Sanatan Dharma. Their integrated people-to-people relations stand as a testament to a living culture and heritage. The significant trade and commerce through open border check posts underscore their economic relationship and its potential for growth via Indian territory.

Despite these factors defining their geo-strategic relationship, the India-Nepal dynamic hasn't seen the bold transformation observed in India-Bangladesh relations. Both Bangladesh and Nepal are set to graduate from Least Developed Country (LDC) status in 2026. Attention is now on their preparedness and ability to leverage opportunities with regional leaders like India, which is on track to become the world’s fourth-largest economy. 

The post-Covid Bangladesh showcases an economic success story, collaborating closely with India. The development of markets, demographic dividends, institutional growth, the Matarbari deep-sea port, and linking industrial value chains with North-East India are testaments to Bangladesh’s political will and strategic alignment with India, garnering support from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This robust partnership has led to Bangladesh’s thriving supply chains, GDP growth, and overall progress.

In contrast, Nepal’s political instability hampers its potential. Since the general elections of November 2022, the government has been formed three times, with a fourth vote of confidence for the prime minister imminent. Mainstream political parties seem more focused on power struggles than on harnessing Nepal’s economic potential. A pressing concern is the exodus of Nepali youth seeking opportunities abroad, reflecting a domestic business environment marked by stagnation and lack of investment. The phenomenon of "shutter down" businesses indicates widespread disillusionment.

A critical question needs to be asked as to why there is a domestic lull, why the prime minister hasn’t called for an emergency meeting to discuss closure of businesses, up-and-running businesses fear of going bust, and young population leaving the country in droves. 

Despite these challenges, Nepal recently hosted the Third Investment Summit in Kathmandu on April 28-29, featuring over 50 countries, 800 foreign delegates, and 2200 domestic leaders. The summit began with enthusiastic statements from international diplomatic leaders and investment partners. However, domestic business leaders appeared detached, awaiting substantial reforms in domestic laws and regulations. The reliance on ordinances for partial legal amendments undermines sustainable growth and highlights the fragility of Nepal’s business ecosystem.

The Confederation of Nepalese Industries (CNI), one of the chambers of commerce, had called for amendments to 28 laws and regulations to encourage businesses and investors, but the government addressed only a part of their demand through ordinances just ahead of the summit. Ordinance-driven changes mar the momentum of sustainable growth and cannot be seen as a constructive step. 

Despite the three mainstream political leaders—Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Sher Bahadur Deuba and KP Sharma Oli—speaking in one voice about political consensus on Nepal’s readiness to receive foreign investment, the ordinance route amendments betrays the fragility of the country’s business ecosystem.

The summit did showcase success stories, notably India’s steady commitment and investment. Indian Minister Piyush Goyal’s endorsement of global investment in Nepal highlighted the potential for shared progress. Nepali leaders acknowledged India’s role in helping Nepal meet its Net Zero Commitments and assisting with clean energy exports. The potential export of clean energy to Bangladesh via India and the opening of Bangladeshi ports through North East India could be transformative for Nepal. However, realizing these opportunities requires robust connectivity, infrastructural development, a conducive business environment, and unrestricted access to resources and talent.

The question remains how Nepal’s political leadership will capitalize on the trust and strategic partnership with India to foster domestic growth and attract foreign investment. The future of Nepal’s economic and regional integration hinges on its ability to create a stable, business-friendly environment supported by both domestic and regional players.

New Nepal political map 2020 

On 25 April 2024, Nepal’s Cabinet approved printing of the new 100 rupee note with the new Nepal political map. The decision was not made public until 3 May 2024. 

Let’s relook at the recent developments relating to the India-Nepal boundary row: 

1. Nearly 98 percent of the boundary between India and Nepal has already been delineated.

2. In a unilateral move, bypassing the existing bilateral mechanism of boundary resolution with India, Nepal’s Parliament unanimously approved the new Nepal Political Map in June 2020 tabled by then KP Sharma Oli-led government.  

3. The new Nepal Map included the territories of Lipulekh, Limpiyadhura and Kalapani, the point of contention between India and Nepal.

4. When the Lower House of Nepal’s Parliament approved the new Map, India conveyed its readiness to talk and noted “that the onus is on the K P Sharma Oli government in Nepal to create a “positive and conducive atmosphere” for talks to resolve the row over Kalapani-Lipulekh region.”

5. Nepal overlooked Indian Statement of openness to talk after the Lower House approval and went ahead and tabled instead at the Upper House which then approved unanimously.

6. In the same year 2020, Nepal minted new coins Rs 1 and Rs 2 Coins with New Nepal Map. Similarly, there were news updates that the new Map was introduced in the school curriculum.

7. Repeatedly, the Indian Government expressed readiness to discuss the boundary issue under the existing bilateral framework. The results of the progress under the bilateral mechanism on this issue are not evident enough on social media.

8. In the meantime, the boundary issues did not stall both sides from pursuing the shared progress agenda.

9. During the Joint Presser of Prime Minister Dahal and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 1 June 2023 at the time of Nepal’s Prime Minister Dahal’s visit to India, Prime Minister Modi said, “We will continue to work to take our relations to the height of the Himalayas. And in this spirit, we will resolve all the issues, be it the boundary issue or any other issue. I am happy to share that the partnership between India and Nepal has been a super hit.” The collaborative spirit also led to the mega announcement of Nepal exporting 10,000 MW to India over a period of 10 years. Such a cross-border energy trade partnership is expected to correct the trade deficit between India-Nepal and also foreseen to pave the way for Nepal’s clean energy export to Bangladesh and others in the long term.

10. In March 2024, the third time government post 2022 General Elections formed in Nepal (with five coalition partners namely CPN (Maoist Centre), NCP (UML), RSP, CPN (US), JSP under the prime ministership of Dahal. In specific, the coalition partners announce their “Minimum Policy Priority and Common Program” which includes “to further strengthen the geographical integrity, sovereignty, independence and freedom of Nepal, to advance effective diplomatic efforts to take back Nepali lands such as Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh, Kalapani, Susta, and to effectively manage the border”.

11. On 25 April, 2024, the Cabinet of Nepal Government passed the decision to print new 100 rupees notes with the new Nepal Map. The Cabinet decision was announced on 3 May 2024. 

The week in Nepal-India relations 

Let’s take a closer look at the period April 25–May 3 in Nepal-India relations:

1. The decision of the Cabinet meeting held on April 25 was made public only on May 3.

2. Some of the key events during the period April 25-May 3 included the Third Nepal Investment Summit held on April 28-29 which witnessed mega success stories on Indian Investment into Nepal; official Visit of G Murmu, the Comptroller Auditor General of India and signing of MoU with Toyam Raya, the Auditor General of Nepal on enhancing cooperation between the two Supreme Audit Institutions on May 2; and on May 3, the Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud arrived in Kathmandu for a 3-day visit at the invitation of Chief Justice of Nepal, Bishwambhar Prasad Shrestha.


In view of the above developments in India-Nepal relations, including a peek into the key week with announcements demonstrating political will, government decisions, high-level visits, success stories in multifaceted India-Nepal relations leaves me with following 10 conclusions:

1. India remains by the far the most strategic partner for Nepal, be it due to civilizational linkages, integrated People-to-People lives, largest trade partnership and importantly can help Nepal achieve its Net Zero Commitments by facilitating the export of clean energy from Nepal. India is also a key regional leader that can influence, support and navigate any global agenda for securing and safeguarding Mountain, River and Sea economies between Himalayas to Bay of Bengal. The high-level visits from Judiciary, Constitutional Agencies, Business Leaders show the spirit of collaboration and partnership as foreseen by Prime Minister Modi to take the India-Nepal relations to the “height of Himalayas” earlier at the Joint presser with Prime Minister Dahal in June 2023.

2. There is a boundary dispute between Nepal and India which calls for diplomacy and dialogue without any further delay. The Political Statements by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Dahal have set the track in motion which must be followed in letter and spirit.

3. In the wake of the above, the political leadership in Nepal appears vague and unclear as to what they want by changing the goalposts year upon year with their most strategic partner. How does one reconcile the same Prime Minister Dahal at the Presser with Prime Minister Modi in June 2023 speaking of the “solid foundation built on the one hand by rich tradition of civilizational, cultural and socio-economic linkage and on the other by the firm commitment of the two counties to the time-tested principle of sovereign equality, mutual respect, understanding and cooperation”, acknowledging Indian investment in Nepal as a keynote success story at the Nepal Investment Summit on April 2024 while his cabinet then approves new Rupees 100 Banknotes with “unilateral” new Map and announces in May 2024. Is there leadership void to pursue National Issues and development agenda in Nepal? If Bangladesh can achieve both with Neighbourhood First spirit, where does Nepal default and why?

4. One may also question here how effectively did the Nepal Government evaluate India-Nepal partnership potential during the launch of “minimum policy priority and common program” in March 2024. Did Prime Minister Dahal convince his coalition partners of the understanding achieved with India and how he intends to leverage this relationship with Prime Minister Modi for the welfare of the people of Nepal. Prime Minister Dahal could have focused on seeking investment and support in technological sector, engagement with Indian Corporate as Tech Mahindra, TCS, Infosys, Wipro for the youth of Nepal, agreed for Skills related investments along the borders, sought Indian support for three AIIMS level Healthcare Institutions in Nepal (West, Centre and East) and secured a guaranteed seat with prime educational institutions as IITs/ IIMs/ors. for the top brightest students of Nepal.

5. Did Prime Minister Dahal fall for an agenda of “nationalism” for his own survival? Or did the coalition partners like former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, whose national appeal thrives on call for “nationalism”, dissuaded him from the development agenda for the people of Nepal? The two communist leaders of Nepal have taken each other for a ride and still continue to do so at the cost of National Interest. In the frenzy of domestic vote bank scoring and outsmarting each other, both have jeopardized the gains during their respective tenure with India which they could have leveraged for welfare of Nepali people and thus strengthened their foothold in Nepal.

6. Now let’s turn towards India—the Indian media frenzy with Nepal’s Cabinet decision of new banknotes with new Nepal map was dramatic and sensationalism driven. Their overkill of imagination can be seen with two potential conclusions, a) Nepal is hostile towards India and India-Nepal relation at its worst, b) Nepal is in China’s lap and that the communist leaders are being controlled and manipulated by China. Unless and until, the importance of domestic mileage in Nepali politics is understood and appreciated, such hasty conclusions will lead to more provocation and not resolution.

7. To begin with, one shouldn’t forget that Nepal’s Parliament already approved the New Nepal Map in 2020 and thus its implementation is an internal matter of Nepal. Nepal had already minted Nepali Coins of denomination Rs 1 and Rs 2 in 2020. Whether they decide and mint/ print 10/20/100 or more is an internal matter! The issue should have been the timely resolution after the statement of Prime Minister Modi at the Joint Presser in June 2023. Media overaction with China linkages mar dialogue and diplomacy in India as in Nepal. 

8. Indian media and Nepali media should have mentioned about the embarrassment caused to the leadership at the Judiciary and Constitutional Agencies of both India and Nepal when such a Cabinet decision was made public. (Referring to the visits of CAG Murmu and CJI DY Chandrachud to Nepal in May 2024)

9. Last but not least, while India remains focused on people-to-people and economic relations in Nepal and is also well aware of the domestic politics compulsions driving behavior of the Nepali leaders, it must therefore work with rigor to remove the irritants in matters of national consideration to Nepal. It is imperative that India is seen as more indifferent to political constitutions. The pace of developments and economic interventions from India should be driven by welfare and progress of Nepali people. Access to essentials such as electricity, onions, tea or trade and commerce related approvals shouldn’t become a one step forward and two steps back decision. It is also time to upscale the HICDP intervention to move away from school buildings to big ticket investment in skills and vocational institutes, healthcare institutions at the Province level and IIT/IIM at the capital level. It is only timely and relevant that Modi 3.0 has a reinvigorated Nepal policy that takes Nepal along in #Amritkaal and not let domestic politics compulsions of Nepal dent the spirit of Neighbourhood First

10. The two countries are duty bound to preserve and nurture their unique shared heritage of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam where human and nature’s coexistence can be seen as a way of life in a family and society, in the decision making and governance at the State level. It is imperative for both India-Nepal to recognize their richness of Sanatan Dharma and strive together to protect and nurture its core principles of plurality and freedom of expression. Man-made political boundaries do not and cannot split the custodians of Dharma—as seen in the lives of SitaRam or Machendranath and Gorakhnath, or in the journey of Buddha.

It is time to correct the course and revive Kathmandu to Kashi understanding before it’s too late. 

The author is New Delhi-based financial, geopolitical and security analyst. Views are personal