Stability after being in turmoil


As close neighbours, India and Nepal share a unique relationship of friendship and cooperation characterized by open borders and deep-rooted people-to-people contacts of kinship and culture. There has been a long tradition of free movement of people across the borders. Nepal has an area of 147,181 Sq. Kms. It shares a border of over 1850 Kms in the east, south and west with five Indian States - Sikkim, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand - and in the north with the Tibet Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China. Under PM Sher Bahadur Deuba, who took charge in July last year, Nepal is witnessing a spell of political stability after being in turmoil for several months due to a fierce power tussle. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's day-long visit to Lord Buddha's birthplace Lumbini in Nepal on the occasion of Buddha Purnima not only made for good optics but also reinforced the millennia-old cultural and spiritual bonds between the neighbours. Spurred by the favourable conditions, the two nations signed MoUs on cooperation in the sectors of culture and education on Monday, even as Modi and Deuba laid the foundation stone for the India International Centre for Buddhist Culture and Heritage, which is expected to attract pilgrims and tourists from across the world. An agreement was signed between Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam and the Nepal Electricity Authority for the development of a hydroelectric power project. It's not possible to keep China out of the equation. Beijing has been helping Kathmandu set up mega infrastructure projects through financial as well as technical assistance. Modi's visit coincided with the inauguration of the $76-million Gautam Buddha International Airport by his Nepalese counterpart.
The airport, located barely 20 km from Lumbini, has been built by China's Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group. Notably, the PM reached Lumbini on a special IAF helicopter from Kushinagar (Uttar Pradesh), bypassing the new airport that bears the Chinese stamp. While his predecessor KP Oli was a China-friendly ruler with a knack for provoking India, Deuba has been shrewd in his dealings with Beijing as well as Delhi.
Nepal has been forthright in expressing its apprehensions regarding projects planned or executed under China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. Such assertiveness gives Delhi leeway to step up investments in the Himalayan nation in order to catch up with the Chinese. The onus is on India to reduce the old ally's dependence on China through stronger partnerships in fields such as trade, energy, infrastructure development, arts and culture, and education.

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