The Indian prime minister’s visit to Nepal sparks hope, dismay and speculation
As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi transits Kathmandu between two political pilgrimages to Janakpur and Muktinath this weekend, there is hope, dismay and even confusion in Nepal.
In Janakpur, where Modi will worship at Sita’s birthplace and be felicitated, there is unprecedented excitement. Not since Jawaharlal Nehru inaugurated the Kosi Barrage in 1961 has an Indian leader visited Nepal’s Tarai. The citizens of Province 2 hope that Modi’s decision to take a direct flight from New Delhi to Janakpur on Friday will be a big boost to the Madhesi demand for amendments to the Constitution.
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In Kathmandu, where Modi will spend two nights and meet political figures, many are dismayed that their mayor is felicitating an Indian leader who blockaded Nepal for five months in 2015. Angry posts on Nepali social networks have demanded that Modi apologise for what they call a ‘crime against humanity’.
People are widely circulating an appeal on Twitter and Facebook to observe a 10-minute blackout in Kathmandu on Friday evening, as a symbolic protest to remind citizens of the dark days of the Blockade two years ago.
And, there is confusion about whether the Modi visit reflects a course correction in India’s policy towards Nepal. Some think New Delhi realised it went too far, pushed Nepal closer to China, and it is now trying to reset bilateral ties.
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But others argue that Modi either doesn’t know about the level of anger in Nepal, or doesn’t care. He is more interested in using his pilgrimage to Hindu shrines in Nepal just ahead of Karnataka elections as a photo opportunity during the silent period before voting on Sunday in the staunchly-Hindu south Indian state.
MP Radheshyam Adhikari believes Modi’s visit indicates New Delhi’s realisation that the Blockade was a blunder. But analyst Shreekrishna Aniruddh Gautam thinks otherwise, and that a Modi apology is highly unlikely.
Gautam says: “Modi’s visit is less about resetting diplomatic ties with Nepal and more about his own domestic electorate politics, and geopolitics.”
MP Anil Jha of the Madhes-based RJP-N asks sardonically: “There was no course in Indian policy towards Nepal, so how can there be a correction? Still, the visit has symbolic significance.”