The Indian government has announced to open its inland waterways to its valued neighbour Nepal in addition to the construction of a vital rail link to its capital city Kathmandu. The rail line will be a vital railway project for the border area of Raxaul to Kathmandu. The announcement has come after a landmark visit by the Nepali Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli to India. This is Oli’s first foreign trip to India after assuming power.
In his last tenure, Oli had signed many agreements with China for making use of its transport infrastructure including ports and roads. This was aimed to cut dependence on India for transport and trade. Nepal has no railways on its southern side. The Indian move is seen as a response to the growing influence of China in Nepal as the Dragon has undertaken widespread infrastructure projects in the country.
The inland waterways will have a significant impact on Nepali trade as it will increase its access to the sea. Nepal is also in negotiations with China to develop the railway line from Nepal to Tibet under Chinese OBOR project. Nepal joined the One Belt and One Road Initiative in 2017. India will undertake the survey work needed for the project over the year.
Indo-Nepal relations: What went wrong?
Nepal and India share a 1,150-mile strategic open border as the citizens from both the nations travel across it without passports or any kind of visa. The two countries have enjoyed special relations since 1950 under the Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship and an agreement on trade. These agreements formed the foundation of “special relationship” between the two nations. There is no restriction on any Nepali national to travel or do work in India. Although Indians do not enjoy benefits of owning land in Nepal the latter has an advantage of being allowed to work in government jobs in India. However, despite the traditional links the relations have been hit since 2015 due to various political issues and border disputes which have given rise to a sharp anti-India feeling in the 30 million Nepali population. The change in attitude is said to be the result of infamous five-month blockade of the India-Nepal border which brought umpteen problems for the common people in Nepal. This served as a death blow to the trust Nepali population placed in India as the majority of the population was of the view that India was responsible for the blockade.
The Chinese government banked on the opportunity and made its way inwards to the Nepali society. There have many high level and other official visits from both the sides, especially after the blockade. The astronomical increase in Chinese influence in the country was also apparent when China government lobbied for the continuation of Oli as head of the government. Latter was a prominent departure from traditional Chinese stance. China also spurred its security cooperation and pushed ahead with cultural diplomacy.
Nepal on the other end to add to India’s disbelief hosted Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi early March 2018 where the two counterparts are stated to have agreed to revive the SAARC. India has been trying to isolate Pakistan on a world stage and this was chiefly the reason it had postponed the SAARC Summit in Islamabad for an indefinite period.
The new phase is showing positive headwinds as both the nations showing an obviously increased interest to rekindle ties. The visit of Nepali PM to India is a clear message of change. although the efforts are on and visible to the outside world yet it is still not sure if all on the ground is not a case of too less and too late.