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India PM in Nepal to boost ties

Publication Date : 03-08-2014


India Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be looking to boost hydropower cooperation and reinvigorate ties when he lands in Nepal today in the first visit by an Indian premier in 17 years.

Modi had chosen to travel to another neighbour, Bhutan, in June for his maiden foreign trip after taking power in May.

But that the Indian leader is visiting Nepal at all shows his resolve to improve ties with a neighbour with which India shares close cultural and historical links but which has been neglected in the last few years.

Mistrust has grown between the two sides, with some Nepalese believing that India takes Nepal for granted and tries to assert undue influence on their politics.

Modi is ending the relative neglect of Nepal by the previous government even as China has increased its influence in the Himalayan nation.

During his two-day visit, Modi will offer special prayers at the Pashupatinath Temple, an important Hindu shrine, hold talks with the Nepali leadership and address Nepal's Parliament, the first foreign leader to do so in more than two decades.

But at the top of the agenda will be an energy pact for trade in power between the two countries.

India is also looking at bumping up developmental assistance to Nepal.

Nepali foreign minister Mahendra Pandey was quoted by local newspapers as saying that Nepal is "very much hopeful" about signing a power trade agreement, which includes setting up transmission lines between the two countries.

Nepal has not been able to cash in on its hydropower potential although it has a ready market in energy-hungry India.

Prolonged political instability leading to stalled or delayed projects has meant that Nepal has been unable to tap its rich hydropower resources with its steep gradient and perennial rivers.

It is able to generate only 660 megawatts (MW) of electricity out of a possible 45,000MW so that it suffers crippling electricity shortage.

Political differences have seen Nepal's parties failing to draft a Constitution since the end of the monarchy in 2008, plunging the country into continuing political uncertainty at the cost of growth and development.

However, in recent years its northern neighbour China has been undertaking several infrastructure projects in Nepal, from dams to roads, much to India's discomfort.

Analysts said Modi, who has made India's neighbourhood a foreign policy priority, will be looking to draw Nepal closer by reducing mistrust.

"There is a gap in trust between the two countries' leadership, particularly at the political level. India has been operating through bureaucracy or intelligence agencies.

If Modi can set aside that impression, then we can deal (and move ahead)," said South Asia foreign policy specialist S.D. Muni.

Officials said the visit is aimed at showing the importance of India's ties with Nepal. "The entire gamut of our relations with Nepal would be discussed and reviewed. This signals India's intention at the highest level to extend its wholehearted support for a democratic, stable, peaceful and prosperous Nepal,'' said Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Syed Akbaruddin.

Apart from energy, security cooperation with Nepal has also become a top priority as terrorists have been using the Nepal route to get into India and a cross-border fake currency racket has grown.

"It is an important visit after 17 years," said Prof Muni.

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