India Foundation, New Delhi in collaboration with Neeti Anusandhaan, Pratishthan,Nepal (NeNAP) and Nepal Center for Contemporary Studies (NCCS) organized a bilateral seminar on “Nepal and India: Exploring New Vistas” on November 2 and 3, 2017 at Radisson Hotel, Kathmandu. Inaugurated by the Rt. Honorable Prime Minister of Nepal,Mr. Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and closed by His Excellency the President of India Shri Pranab Mukharjee, the seminar discussed several aspects of India-Nepal relations, featuring imminent speakers from India and Nepal with proven repute in several aspects of these relations. The report below summarizes the major proceedings of the seminar and recapitulates the crux of what was said in different sessions in the two days.
The inaugural session of the seminar was graced by Rt. Honorable Prime Minister of Nepal, Mr. Pushpa Kamal Dahal. On the dais, besides him were Shri Ram Madhav, the General Secretary of Bharatiya Janata Party and the Director of India Foundation, Shri Neelakantha Uprety, the former Chief Election Commissioner of Nepal, Capt. Alok Bansal of the India Foundation, and Shri Lok Raj Baral, the Chairperson of the Nepal Center for Contemporary Studies.
Welcoming all the dignitaries on the dais and delegates and guests on the floor, Prof Dr Lok Raj Baral, former Ambassador of Nepal to India, remarked that the seminar was a new start to add impetus to the age-old cultural ties between the two peoples. As a guest speaker, Ram Madhav, the General Secretary of Bharatiya Janata Party said, “India has already experienced 80 years of democracy. It began in 1935 with the India Independence Act.”
He added, “We began our process of Constitution building in 1947 and it took us threeyears. Constitution making is not easy. We took threeyears to make sure that everybody was happy and satisfied. Today, afterseven decades of our independence, we can proudly say we are the largest democracy in the world. We are also successful and that is something we are proud about. In 1947, we had decided that our journey would be democratic. In those days, democracy wasn’t as highly regarded as it is today. Yet, we decided that that would be our political model and we stuck with it.”
Explaining the nature of India Foundation, Shri Madhav said, “Our organization, the India foundation, is not a conventional think tank. We want to ensure that ideas are implemented. We want to talk about issues facing both sides so that we can have a bilateral relationship and also we can help each other become successful countries. What do we need to do in order for us to jointly progress in critical areas like trade? That is the main idea for us holding this two-day conference.”
Shri Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Rt. Honorable Prime Minister of Nepal mentioned the visit of His Excellency the President Pranabas historic, as it was taking place after years of the visit of former Indian President K.R. Narayanan. He opined that the impact of this visit, added to his own visit of India in the recent past, would bring the two nations closer. The Prime Minister also mentioned the old geographical, historical and cultural bonds, which was not limited to documents and treaties. The misunderstandings, if there were any, were all transient.
Mentioning the potential of the two regions, the Prime Minister said, “We have tremendous potential; we need to unleash it. We have a glorious history of humanity, spirituality, innovation and wisdom. Ours are lands of Buddha, Mahaveera and Gandhi. Our pioneering philosophers have bequeathed us a glorious tradition; we need to revive our glory.”
The Prime Minister also discussed at length the problems of poverty and backwardness, and urged the need for noble work, imagination and innovationto address the same. He termed India-Nepal relation as ‘multi-dimensional’. He expressed happiness at the fact that Eminent Persons Group (EPG) had started working, and it could devise better means to strengthen the relations. In the meantime, he stressed the need to develop new infrastructure, better connectivity through roads and railways, technology transfer, mitigation of trade deficit, unrestricted market access, and collaborative efforts to combat climate change, disasters, and other common issues.
The Prime Minister also cited the necessity to honor one another’s dignity and honor. In an interdependent world, partnership has no alternative. So, he informed that Nepal was trying to negotiate and develop an India-China-Nepal tripartite partnership. He also stressed the need to enhance people-to-people interaction among the populace of India and Nepal, for which, the planned Hindu-Buddhist Circuit would be a great boost.
The seminar began with a discussion on “Inclusive Democracy: Experience of India and Nepal.”Chaired by JNU Professor, S.D. Muni, the seminar featured former Prime Minister of Nepal, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai,Member of Indian Rajya Sabha and journalist, Shri Tarun Vijay, former minister Shri Mahantha Thakur, and Member of Lok Sabha, Shri RP Sharma as speakers.
The second day in the first session of the seminar was a discussion on “Reinvigorating the Civilizational Links: Bonds beyond Borders.” Chaired by former Chief of Nepal Army General, Rookmangad Katuwal, it featured Indian parliamentarian, Mala Rajya Laxmi Shah, JNU Professor,Dr Sangeeta Thapaliyal, former Diplomat and Professor, Dr. Jaya Raj Acharya, and former Diplomat and Nepal’s former Ambassador to India, Prof. Lok Raj Baral.
The third session of the seminar was on “Connectively and Freedom of Movement.” Moderated by Shri Jayant Prasad, Director Indian Defence and Strategic Analysis (IDSA) and former Ambassador of India to Nepal, this session featured Sh. Nisha Taneja and Dr. Vandana Mishra from India, and Shri PrashantJha and Dr. Arzu Rana Deuba from Nepal.
The fourth session of the seminar was a discussion on “Sharing the Federal Experience.” Chaired by former Indian diplomat G. Parthasarathy, it featured Dr. Sekhar Koirala, Shri Shakti Sinha, Dr. Krishna Hachhethu and Dr. Rajest Kharat as speakers.
The fifth session of the seminar was a discussion on“Geo-Political Imperatives: Nepal’s Relation with its Neighbors.” Chaired by former Prime Minister of Nepal, Dr Baburam Bhattarai, it featured G. Parthasarathy, Capt. Alok Bansal, Dr. Sekhar Koirala and Shri Pashupati Shumsher JBR as speakers.
At the end of all these discussions, the Valedictory Session of the seminar was organized, which was addressed by Shri Pranab Mukherjee, His Excellency the President of India. Shri Mukherjee, in his address, mentioned the priority of his government to help Nepal move into the path of development and prosperity. He expressed happiness at the achievement and progress made in bilateral relations between India and Nepal, but expressed the need to enhance the partnership. Mentioning the unique civilizational linkages and fraternal ties, national treatment to each other’s citizens, and shared beliefs, he said, “Nepal and India share a common destiny. At a time when Nepal was on the threshold of new ear, presently engaged in charting out a course of socio-economic development, he applauded Nepal for its enterprise and achievement and expressed India’s willingness to share its experience in building strong democratic institutions.”
President Mukherjee stressed the need to enhance trade and economic engagements and increase job opportunities, infrastructural development, rural development, manufacturing capacity etc. Mentioning that several million Nepali citizens were working in India, he said, “We cannot remain hostage of political baggage”, and stressed the need to prioritize long-standing development partnership.
He expressed satisfaction at the development of small development projects that are joint ventures of India and Nepal. He also assured India’s commitment to post-earthquake reconstruction efforts that involve Indian assistance of 9000 million US Dollars. Mukherjee reminded the audience of the various projects—hulaki roads, first international oil pipeline, cross-border transmission lines and railways—under constructions. The completion of hydropower projects like Arun 3 and Upper Karnali, he believed, would enable Nepal to use the same transmission line to export its power later, when the surplus was generated. He also stressed the need to work further on flood management, irrigation and multi-purpose projects like Pancheshwor, Saptakoshi and Sunkoshiprojects.
Lauding the valor of the Gorkhas, he made a special mention of their contribution in the security of India. He also expressed his happiness at the close academic partnership through 300o annual scholarships to students, 250 scholarships to employees, and the decision of the government of India to allow Nepali students to partake in IIT entrance examination in Nepal itself.
President Mukherjee called Nepal the crucible of social and cultural tradition of Hinduism and Buddhism, and expressed his gladness that a Hindu-Buddhist circuit was being worked out to enhance tourist flow, by laying newer networks of roads and railways. In a common ecological landscape, he stressed the need to have similar approaches to environmental conservation.
President Mukherjee also highlighted his government’s special focus on sub-regional cooperation mechanisms like movement of goods and motor vehicle agreements. He expressed his dismay that in forums like SAARC, some members were using terror as a state policy against humanity, and appealed everyone to join hands in vanquishing cross-border and state-sponsored terrorism. He urged, that in places sharing open borders, we should be more vigilant to ensure that our borders are not misused by elements that do not share love for the two countries in their heart.
President Mukharjee admitted that due to an overwhelmingly large bilateral relation, it is possible that minute misunderstandings might sometimes take place between India and Nepal, but he suggested bilateral talks and dialogues as solutions. Finally, in favor of a united, stable, peaceful and prosperous Nepal, he expressed India’s commitment to stand by it, and called for a stronger public and private sector partnership for shared prosperity.
Before the address of His Excellency the President of India, Nepal’s External Affair Minister,Dr.PrakashSaranMahat addressed the gathering. He enumerated various bilateral relations between India and Nepal related to trade, infrastructural development, power generation, tourism and employment, and stressed the priority of his government to enhance such relations in the days to come. He remarked, “The seminar’s value had been enhanced by the presence of President Mukherjee.”
He recalled the long and glorious political career of President Mukherjee as a statement and a leader of high stature. He mentioned the unique relationship of Nepal and India, which are time tested, comprehensive, deep and multi-dimensional in terms of geography, history and culture that bind the people together through a multi-faced, people-to-people relation. He said, “Our relations cannot be compared with any other relationship. Many Nepali political leaders and activists participated in India’s freedom movement, and the Indian leaders helped Nepal in its quest for democracy.”
He also mentioned a huge Nepali workforce in India. He lauded India for being the first country to respond to the need of Nepal in the earthquake of 2015. He called for a stronger understanding and cooperation to make all bilateral mechanism function. He expressed his government’s commitment to work in this direction in order to strengthen bilateral mechanism.
He added, “We made a special understanding of the need to review treaties and agreements to update them. Imminent Person’s Groupwas working to chart out an area that needs mitigation.” Dr. Mahat also highlighted trade and transit and called for solving huge trade deficit, exemplified by 1:13 export ration between Nepal and India. Cross-border railways, integration check posts and cross-border transmission lines, he mentioned, are projects that could enhance connectivity. He also stressed the need to harness power potential and its transmission. He also foregrounded the need to develop better technological ties between the two nations.
Dr. Mahat opined that Nepal’s glorious cultural and religious heritage provides a great opportunity to develop Hindu-Buddhist circuit for enhanced tourism. He also informed that Nepal is against any form of terrorism and that it would not allow its territory to be used by terrorist forces against the interest of the two nations. He also mentioned the government’s initiatives to make the open border more secured. He appealed India to stand together with Nepal at the regional and international forums to reap harvest of technology and solve collective problems like human trafficking.
Dr. Mahat expressed his happiness on being able to launch the new constitution, and assured that its due amendment will accommodate the voices of all to make it more inclusive. The minister also assured that Nepal would support India’s claim for a permanent position in the UN Security Council.
The last session of the two-day seminar on bilateral relations between India and Nepal was on “Economic Growth: Interests and Imperatives.” Chaired by Shri Madhav Kumar Nepal, the former Prime Minister of Nepal, the session featured former Indian diplomat Shri Shakti Sinha and Shri Birendra Gupta, entrepreneur Shri Sekhar Golchha, and economist Dr. Haribansha Jha.