Super-hit, or super-flop?

Prime Minister Dahal’s visit to India not received well in Nepal

Even before Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal returned from a four-day official trip to India on Saturday, commentators and the social web back home had given the visit an F in his report card.

Welcoming Dahal before their bilateral talks on Thursday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had already declared that Dahal’s visit would be a “super-hit”. And indeed, from an Indian perspective it was.

Nepal had a long wish-list of things to be sorted out during the visit, but India was not giving in on any of the really substantial ones, and most of the outcomes were cosmetic. 

Read also: Nepal PM to India to reboot ties, Chandra Kishore

The Nepali side has tried to highlight some of the positive achievements of the visit, but had to be satisfied with less than what it wanted. 

Nepal had demanded a 25-year energy cooperation deal with India, but Modi only verbally announced that India would procure up to 10,000MW of power from Nepal in the next ten years.

The agreement on exporting only 40MW of power to Bangladesh via India was largely symbolic. The MoUs were signed in the presence of Dahal and Modi for the Lower Arun and Phukot Karnali hydropower projects (pictured below) had already got the green light in March.

Prachanda New Delhi

There is criticism from commentators in Nepal that those river project agreements, the Butwal-Gorakhpur transmission line as well as the ground breaking of two more petroleum pipelines in Nepal would disproportionately benefit India. Even the building of a new integrated checkpoints in Nepalganj and Dodhara Shandani would facilitate Indian exports to Nepal. 

Building petroleum infrastructure at a time when Nepal should be focussed on meeting its 2045 net-zero decarbonisation goals appeared incongruous to many.

Nepal had insisted on two-way traffic on the L626 and B345 air routes west from Kathmandu that would shorten travel time and make inbound flights to Pokhara and Bhairawa airports more attractive to international operators.

But India grudgingly agreed only to lower flight level traffic eastbound on L626 below 15,000ft. This would only benefit short-haul turboprops into Nepal, and not international flights from Delhi, the Gulf or Europe.

India also agreed to provide access to its air space for ILS landings at the new Bhairawa airport, but said that inbound flights on B345 could not be allowed because of security concerns of its nearby air force base in Gorakhpur.

Instead of air routes, Nepal got a promise to allow the use of India’s inland waterways for transportation. And while the agreement for cross-border digital payments would make it convenient for citizens of both countries, there are misgivings about privacy issues of personal data of Nepalis.

Prachanda New Delhi
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal was welcomed with a classical dance performance in Delhi. Photo: RSS

India appears to have flatly refused to even discuss the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) report which has suggested a revision of the 1950 India-Nepal treaty that Nepalis have regarded as being asymmetric. There was also no progress on the Lipu Lek-Kalapni border dispute.

However, Dahal in a meeting with Nepali editors on Friday said that he had raised Kalapani with Modi and both had agreed to find a resolution through negotiations. But he floated the controversial idea that Kalapani could be swapped with India for a road corridor across 26km of Indian territory to Bangladesh from southeast Nepal.

He did not seem to know that Nepal had already secured an agreement with India’s I K Gujral government 30 years ago that allowed this corridor, which was never implemented. The Kalapani swap proposal is bound to raise nationalism hackles in Nepal.

Dahal’s Delhi visit had other photo-ops that did not sit very well back in Nepal. The photograph of his daughter-private secretary Ganga Dahal sitting in during the prime minister’s meeting with India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra (and not Nepal’s foreign secretary) has been much criticised in Nepali social media.

Prachanda and Ganga Dahal in Delhi
Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra and Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval with visit Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and his daughter Ganga Dahal in New Delhi on 31 May. Photo: RSS

Members of the Nepali delegation, who are not government officials but friends of ministers, taking selfies during solemn occasions like the wreath-laying at the Mahatma Gandhi memorial has also been lampooned in Nepal. 

But the most glaring contradiction was the sight of a Maoist prime minister of Nepal clad in saffron and holy thread, offering prayers at a Shiva temple in Indore (pictured below). Another photograph showed three senior Nepali cabinet ministers also in the same attire offering prayers.

Prachanda New Delhi
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal offering prayers at Shiva temple in Indore. Photo: BABURAM BHATTARAI/TWITTER

Commentators pointed out the contrasting irony of this with the Maoists assassinating Hindu priests and desecrating temples during their armed struggle in 1996-2006, and being the most aggressive proponents of making Nepal a secular republic after the peace accord.

Many have said the transformation of Prachanda to Pushpa Kamal Dahal is now complete, and it is only a question of time before the Maoist Centre drops the ‘Maoist’ label from its party name.

  • Most read