Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Nepalese counterpart K P Sharma Oli on Saturday held wide-ranging talks to reset bilateral ties and agreed to step up two-way engagement in defence and security, connectivity, trade and agriculture.
Oli, seen as a leader who wants to develop closer ties with China, said his government wanted to build a strong edifice of a “trust-based” relationship with India. “I have come to India with an aim of taking our relations to new heights commensurate with the realities of the 21st century,” he said. Known for his pro-China stance, 65-year-old Oli took charge as Nepal’s prime minister in February for a second time. He had earlier served in the position in 2015-16, when Kathmandu’s ties with New Delhi were strained.
Oli arrived in New Delhi on Friday on a three-day visit, his first overseas tour after taking charge as Nepal’s prime minister.
In a joint statement, Modi said the Nepalese prime minister’s vision of a “prosperous and developed Nepal” was in sync with his vision of “sabkasaath, sabkavikas (inclusive, all-round development)”.
On defence and security ties, Modi said, “We have strong relations when it comes to the aspect of security. We will work together to stop the misuse of our open border.”
Oli invited Modi to visit Nepal. “I have invited Prime Minister Modi to visit Nepal at the earliest convenient time. I am hopeful the visit will take place soon,” Oli said.
Modi said there was a long history of India’s contribution towards Nepal’s development and assured Oli that it would continue.
He praised the successful conduct of national and provincial polls in Nepal and complimented the people for reposing their faith in democracy.
The Nepalese prime minister said his country needed support from its friends, adding “relations among neighbours are different from other relations. This is based on mutual respect”. Oli had publicly criticised New Delhi for interfering in Nepal’s internal matters and accused it of toppling his government. After his sweeping poll victory, Oli said his party would forge a partnership with India to move the country forward towards the path of economic prosperity.
The Arun-3 hydel power project between India and Nepal, which has been held up for several years and was scheduled to be jointly inaugurated by Oli and Modi, was missing from Oli’s agenda.
The two leaders inaugurated the integrated check post at Birgunj in Nepal. They hoped that its early operationalisation would enhance cross-border trade and transit of goods and people, bringing greater opportunities for shared growth and development. Modi and Oli also witnessed the ground-breaking ceremony of the Motihari-Amlekhgunj cross-border petroleum pipeline at Motihari, Bihar.
Arun-3, a project that has attracted a great deal of environmental concern in both nations, was not present in the list of inaugurated projects, even though it had been extensively advertised earlier as an achievement.
The list of gains from the visit of Oli, who is expected to be in the saddle for the next five years, ending policy instability, is long. Modi and Oli signed a new partnership in agriculture and agreed to expand rail links, connecting Raxaul in India to Kathmandu in Nepal. They also agreed to create new avenues of inland waterway connectivity between India and Nepal.
Interestingly, it was both India and China that Oli mentioned as a way of sweetening economic deals for Indian investors. Addressing businessmen at Ficci, Oli said, “Investors always look for markets. Look at Nepal’s position. For us, market is not a problem. Production is a problem. Nepal lies between the two vibrant economic powers of the world, India and China, which assures you of a promising market of over 2.5 billion population.”
“We are committed to a liberal economic policy with private sector as a key partner. We have no intention to reverse trends. Rest assured, we cannot go against global trends,” he added.
Oli’s visit is being seen as highly successful, especially as the two leaders held one-on-one meetings without aides before delegation-level talks began.