May the friendship between India and Nepal live long, and may Nepal rise higher than the Himalayas, were Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words while addressing the Constituent Assembly of Nepal in 2014 . Being the first foreign leader to be addressing the assembly and the constitution drafting committee of Nepal he had expressed India’s desire to stand by Nepal in the process of transition to a Federal Democratic Republic.
It was to echo these sentiments that the External Affairs Minister of India paid a goodwill visit to the Himalayan Kingdom on the first day of February. As the EAM touched down, Nepal had double the reasons to be joyous on her arrival, the second one being an almost 75% increase in the allocation of funds for Nepal to the Ministry of External Affairs in the then being announced Union Budget for fiscal 2018-19.
In doing so, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj became the first foreign leader to have visited Nepal after the successful conclusion of their three tier elections. The visit, her seventh since the NDA government assumed office, was largely aimed at showing India’s support to Nepal’s government in waiting and re-asserting that India will stand by the landlocked nation in whatever they choose to do.
She met the top leadership of the victorious alliance and extended cooperation in working with the new government for the peace, progress and prosperity of the populace of both the countries and the region at large. She also called on the President of Nepal, outgoing Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and leaders of the Madhesi parties. Ranging from extending cooperation and infusing optimism by meeting the electoral winners to thanking the old mates, the visit had it all.
Elections to the federal parliament and seven provincial assemblies of Nepal were held in two phases on November 26 and December 7, 2017. The outcome was a thumping majority received by the two left leaning parties of K. P Sharma Oli’s CPN (UML) and P K Dahal’s CPN (MC). The two parties together have not only secured a majority on 174 seats in a 275 member assembly but have also won in 6 out of 7 provinces with the second province being the only exception.
The elections concluded peacefully and Oli led UML came out to be the single largest party winning 80 of the 165 seats under the FPTP voting system and 33.25% votes under Proportional Representation, thus registering triumph on 121 seats out of the 275. However, the absence of a pre poll alliance between the two partners (UML and MC) had initially placed hurdles in the swearing in of the new government with a few more posed by the challenges of demarking an administrative capital in each of the 7 provinces and the constitution of an upper house.
However, it wasn’t a long wait for a new political dawn in Nepal. With Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli now sworn in as the 38th Prime Minister of the country, the populace expects a stable government working for the all-inclusive development of Nepal.
Having achieved political stability the Nepalese leadership is now looking at economic self-reliance. Former President of India Shri Pranab Mukherjee while addressing a Conference in Kathmandu in November 2016 had spoken of Trade and Co-operation being the foundational pillars of the Nepal – India partnership. He had spoken of the importance of the growing trade between the two countries and called upon the Indian private sector to enhance their engagement with Nepal.
Trade between India and Nepal has grown more than seven times (32,294 Crores INR in 2015-16 from 1,755 Crores INR in 1995-96) since 1996 and Nepal’s exports to India have grown more than eleven times since the same time (2468.3 Crores INR in 2015-16 from 230 Crores INR in 1995-96 ). Currently, a total of about 150 Indian firms are operating in Nepal in both the manufacturing and the service industry.
Moving away from trade, the Indian establishment has also been magnanimous in extending a helping hand to the electorate and directorate of Nepal in times of distress. The total Indian relief assistance to Nepal under Operation Maitri (the relief operation carried out by the Government of India when a 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal) was to the extent of 67 million USD. An additional assistance of 1 Billion USD was also extended during the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction held in 2015 which included 250 million USD of grant and 750 million USD concessional Line of Credit .
Tourism and religion too define the relationship between the two countries. As per the Statistics released by the Government of Nepal for the year 2016, almost 1.28 lakh Indian pilgrims had visited the revered Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu. Indians also rank as first amongst the tourists of all other nationalities that visit the kingdom for tourism and holidaying .
The relationship between these two neighbours is unique in a way that it is not defined by the MoUs and agreements between the governments but by the language, culture, concurrence and cooperation amongst its populace which have fought against all odds in this journey of highs and lows. With 6 million Nepali citizens currently residing and working in India and close to 6 lakh Indians domiciled in Nepal the communities are growing big and strong .
Former Prime Minister of India Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee had described the relationship between India and Nepal to be higher than the Himalayas and deeper than the Indian Ocean. Akin to the Himalayas and Indian Ocean which stand strong irrespective of the extremities of the weather, time tested ties between India and Nepal also have their roots dug deep in ancient cultural ethos and amity.
(Deeksha Goel is a Senior Research Fellow at India Foundation. The views expressed are personal. The article originally appeared in The Pioneer on 18 February 2018.)