Red carpet for a red leader

It has been an accepted practice that any Nepali leader makes a symbolic visit south to India after assuming office. But Prime Minister Oli's India visit this week is quite different although it looks like he is just following the tradition.

The reason has a lot more to do with New Delhi’s past behaviour towards Nepal. It has now realised its policy was counter-productive and is laying down the red carpet for the leader of a Red coalition.

After its failure to get a constitution that suited its interest in 2015, New Delhi imposed a five-month Blockade on Nepal. Oli became prime minister just as the Blockade started to bite on a country still reeling from the aftermath of the April 2015 earthquake, and took a strong stand against India. Standing up to India became Oli’s successful electoral platform, and it propelled him back to power in partnership with the Maoists two months ago. In fact, the more New Delhi tried to pressure Oli, the more he bounced back like a rubber ball.

In India itself there has been growing criticism from the opposition about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s failure to stop Chinese inroads in the neighbourhood, including in Nepal. The Indian media analysts have been paranoid about Kathmandu tilting towards the Chinese axis.

Prime Minister Modi has spoken to Oli several times after his election, and dispatched Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj to Kathmandu on a fence-mending mission. New Delhi knows that it will not gain anything by weakening a prime minister who is probably Nepal’s most powerful elected leader in history.

But the Oli visit is also an opportunity for Nepal to set relations with India on a more even keel. It is time to reboot bilateral relations and put the past behind us. Prime Minister Oli need not sign any new agreements, he just has to make sure past agreements are implemented, and try to resolve the growing trade imbalance. That itself will be an important gauge of the success of this mission.

Shekhar Kharel is a freelance journalist.

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