As Kathmandu and New Delhi begin to repair diplomatic ties strained by the recently-lifted blockade, Prime Minister KP Oli is preparing to go on an official India visit beginning 19 February.
A cabinet meeting that lasted till late Thursday night finalised the PM’s India visit date. On Friday, Oli called a meeting of top party leaders to discuss the agendas of his visit.
Finance Minister Bishnu Poudel, one of Oli’s confidantes, was in New Delhi this week to prepare the PM’s visit. Oli had repeatedly stated that he would visit Beijing instead of New Delhi if India did not lift the blockade.
India lifted its five-month-long blockade against Nepal when the locals burnt down the barricade set up by Madhesi parties on the Birganj-Raxaul checkpoint during Poudel’s New Delhi visit. Shorty after Poudel’s return, the cabinet asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to arrange the PM’s visit.
In September last year, India had cut off the supply of fuel and other essential commodities to the landlocked Himalayan nation expressing its displeasure over the constitution passed by Nepal’s elected assembly. Two days later, India hinted that there would be obstructions and Madhesi parties decided to stage sit-ins at all the border points, enabling New Delhi to deny any involvement in blockading Nepal.
After the blockade began, PM Oli publicly said that Nepal-India relations were not ‘in good terms’. He also accused India of “treating Nepal as if the two countries were at war”.
New Delhi had repeatedly asked Kathmandu to address Madhesi demands by amending the constitution. In the first week of December, Foreign Affairs Minister Kamal Thapa reached New Delhi and proposed a three-point non-paper to address Madhesi demands. New Delhi took it positively, but Madhesi parties rejected it.
The Big Three parties wanted to resolve the dispute over the demarcation of federal provinces by forming an all-party mechanism. But the Madhesi Front sought a written commitment from the Big Three that the mechanism would create just two Madhes provinces encompassing the whole Tarai region.
The Front did not show any flexibility and New Delhi decided to patch things up with Kathmandu, even though Madhesi parties were still agitated. But India is still asking the Oli government to reach an agreement with Madhesi parties to ensure broader inclusion in the constitution.
Ahead of his India visit, PM Oli has resumed negotiations with Madhes parties, hoping to reach an agreement with them on the formation of the mechanism before meeting his Indian counterpart. Defense Minister Bhim Rawal told journalists on Thursday that Madhesi parties are now not as rigid as they were before.