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Nepalese Prime Minister’s visit to India

Issue 38, September 21, 2008

By Siddhi B. Ranjitkar

My son studying at grade 10 asked me, “Why the Nepalese Prime Minister has to visit India and China after becoming a Prime Minister but the Indian and Chinese Prime Ministers do not have to do so?” I have never thought about it before; we take it granted or a tradition set by our former Prime Ministers. However, the question is valid one and we need to answer it.

Apparently, our Prime Minister does not need to invite either the Indian Prime Minister or the Chinese as soon as they become Prime Ministers to please either of them or both. However, both the Prime Ministers of India and China do need to keep the Nepalese Prime Minister on his or her side as soon as s/he becomes the Prime Minister of Nepal. This is the most rational answer I could give my son.

When the newly elected Prime Minister Prachanda visited China on August 23, 2008 to attend the concluding ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Game of 2008 on August 24, 2008, Nepalese and Indian press alerted the Indian Government that the Nepalese Prime Minster broke the tradition of visiting India first. In fact, in his congratulatory message sent within a half hour of the election to the Prime Minister on August 18, 2008 to the newly elected Prime Minister Prachanda, Indian Prime Minister Dr. Man Mohan Singh had invited Prachanda to visit India at his first convenient time. However, Prime Minister Prachanda explained to the reporters that circumstances have forced him to visit China first but his real first political visit would be to India. However, he had political meetings with the President and the Prime Minister of China and other high officials while he was in China.

Both India and China have been regional rivals, recently even international rivals. They started competing with each other in business not only in Nepal but other Asian, African and Latin American countries. However, Nepal is the strategic country for both India and China, as it lies between the two great countries; so they give so much importance to Nepal.

India and China did not trust each other; the attempts on reconciliation between the two countries have not succeeded, yet. China attacked India in 1962 causing a great embarrassment to then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru: promoter of the non-aligned movement at the time when the world was divided between the pro-western democratic countries and pro-eastern socialist countries. Both India and China have an unsettled border dispute. China did not want to accept the northeastern border between China and India set by the colonial British Government whereas India sticks to it. The mistrust between the two countries would continue until they settle the border dispute.

In such a regional environment, both China and India want to keep Nepal on their side. So, both the countries want Nepalese Prime Minister visit their country first to make fast acquaintance of the newly elected Nepalese Prime Minister and his/her attitude toward their countries.

If we take a look at the history of our relations with India after 1950, certainly the then-Indian leaders wanted to keep Nepal under their umbrella. Then-Indian President Dr. Rajendra Prasad said, “Any threat to the peace and security of Nepal is as much a threat to the peace and security of India. Your friends are our friends and our friends yours.” [1]. Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said, “From time immemorial the Himalayas have provided us with a magnificent frontier. Of course, they are no longer as impassable as they used to be; but they are fairly effective. The Himalayas lie mostly on the northern border of Nepal. We cannot allow that barrier to be penetrated for it is also the principal barrier to India. Much as we stand for the independence of Nepal, we cannot allow anything to go wrong in Nepal or permit that barrier to be crossed or weakened because that would be a risk to our own security.” [2]. Both of these statements provoked strong reactions and protests from the Nepalese people at that time.

If both Nepal and India take the Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950 seriously both countries have to consult each other to go to a war with a third country, Nepalese Prime Minister has to report to the Indian Prime Minister on the visit to the third country, Nepal cannot import arms and ammunition from the third countries through the Indian territory; Nepal has to allow the Indian nationals to buy property in Nepal. Once Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had forced then-Nepalese Prime Minister Kritinidhi Bista to report on his China visit to her.

The benefit of the Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950 to Nepal is the open border with India. However, if any Indian Prime Minister wants to close it s/he could do it even if ineffectively. For example, in the mid 1980s, then-Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi closed 21 entries out of 22 to Nepal from India. However, he could not stop the trade between the two countries. In fact, both the Nepalis and Indians did not pay high prices for the goods imported or exported, as the traders running the business needed not to pay custom duties, as they were passing through the unauthorized entries to each country. So, closing the border between Nepal and India might not be in the interest of both the countries but scrapping the Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950 would be in the interest of both the countries. Both the countries need to have a new treaty of peace and friendship in the new political environment in Nepal and India, too.

Nepal has benefited from the friendship with both India and China. India had built for Nepal a first road linking Kathmandu with the southern Nepal called terai and then the border with India in the late 1950s, then Trishuli Hydropower station, about 400 km of eastern portion of the East-West Highway and many other industrial and infrastructures projects in Nepal. Similarly, China also built a road linking Nepal border with Tibet and a trolleybus line in Kathmandu, Sunkoshi Hydropower stations and so on. Thus, both the countries wanted to do something for Nepal.

The Government headed by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Finance Minister Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat in early 1990s sold off most of the Chinese-built industries and destroyed the Chinese-built trolleybus line in Kathmandu. These things must have happened by coincidence rather than by a design as these two guys were determined to destroy everything the State had owned including the then-Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation.

Then-King Mahendra took the benefits of the political situation and the uneasy relations between India and China in 1960s. Then-Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sent Shriman Narayan as an envoy to Nepal to cancel the contract Nepal had signed with China for constructing eastern portion of the East-West Highway at any cost. Mahendra got India constructed the eastern portion of the East-West Highway and suppressed the political activities along the Nepalese territory bordering India. [3]

At that time, Mahendra behaved as a concubine of both Indian and Chinese Prime Ministers. Both of them tried to please Mahendra as much as possible. He enjoyed it very much. However, at times, he attempted to set each one of them against another to extract as much benefits as possible for him. Some reporters called it a China card.

After the return of Prime Minister Prachanda from China on August 27, 2008, the Government of Nepal changed its attitude to the Tibetan exiles living in Nepal. The government took actions to stop Tibetan exiles from protesting the Chinese administration in Tibet at the Chinese embassy in Kathmandu. Tibetans were asking nothing more than self-rule in their homeland. The religious ruler Dalai Lama even wanted only autonomy to his country: Tibet. However, the same Chinese rulers that gave the self-rule to Hong Kong saying one China two political systems could not give autonomy to Tibet. They could have made Tibet an autonomous region saying one China three systems. The Nepalese rulers needed to think of it and let the Tibetan exiles fight for their fundamental rights to governance.

Before going to India for an official political visit from September 14 to 18, Prime Minister Prachanda consulted former Prime Minister and President of Nepali Congress (NC) Girija Prasad Koirala and General Secretary of Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist and Leninist (CPN-UML) Jahalanath Khanal. NC is sitting on the opposition bench on the Constituent Assembly (CA): legislature whereas General Secretary Khanal is the partner in governance.

The Indian leaders have heartily welcomed the Nepalese Prime Minister. He met with the President and Vice-president of India, opposition leader Lal Krishna Advani and the ruling party leader Sonia Gandhi, and had a one-and-a-half hour one-on-one meeting with Dr. Man Mohan Singh on September 15, 2008, and attended the banquet hosted by Indian Prime Minister Dr. Man Mohan Singh in the evening.

On Monday, September 15, 2008, addressing the business leaders at Taj Hotel in New Delhi, India, one-time guerrilla leader, now Nepalese Prime Minister Prachanda looked like a capitalist attempting to attract Indian businesspersons to make investment in huge hydropower projects in Nepal. The former guerilla leader looked and sounded very much like a pro-business politician, wearing suit and tie, while calling for massive external investment in the Nepal's hydroelectric sector. "I am thinking that today I am in the discussion with the leadership here in India that big projects should be undertaken, not petty and small projects, in the hydro sector," he said. In response to a question on building ties with China, the Maoist leader said the Indo-Nepali relationship would not suffer as Kathmandu builds ties with the Communist government in Beijing. "The relation with India is crucial and vital although we also want to develop the relation with China. But it cannot be compared right now. There is no question of comparison," said Mr. Dahal (Prachanda). [4]

On Monday, September 15, 2008, speaking at the banquet hosted in his honor by Indian Prime Minister Dr Man Mohan Singh of India in New Delhi, India, Prime Minister Prachanda said, "We are determined to do whatever we can to further enrich and strengthen the ties of cooperative relationship between our two countries so that we enhance them to a new height of mutual trust, goodwill, understanding and confidence on both sides". "We are looking forward to a comprehensive engagement that ensures a win-win situation for us in all our mutual endeavors.” Prime Minister Prachanda said that it was time for Nepal and India to inject new dynamism and vision in their relationships consistent with the new realities and hopes and aspirations of people of both nations. "Nepal remains fully sensitive to the legitimate interests of its immediate neighbors", Prime Minister Prachanda said while affirming Nepal’s consistent policy of not allowing the Nepali soil to be used against her neighbors and the confidence in receiving similar assurances in return. [5]

On Monday, September 15, 2008, addressing the luncheon hosted by Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and Association of Chambers of Commerce (ASSOCHAM) at Taj Hotel, New Delhi, India, Prime Minister Prachanda said, "Investment policies will be reformed consistent with the changing times and requirements. The private sector will be encouraged for the development of trade and industries in the country." He said the market system would be properly nurtured in order to make the private sector competitive and efficient. "I am ready to hold discussions with the authorities here for the simplification of regulatory regimes and removal of administrative barriers prejudicial to the promotion of foreign investment in Nepal," said Prachanda. "Similarly, we look forward to more trade facilitation measures to give a push to the bilateral trade between our two countries." He pointed out agriculture, tourism, hydropower and infrastructure are the main areas of investment that can accelerate economic growth in Nepal and benefit both the peoples. [6]

On Monday, September 16, 2008, Nepalese Prime Minister Prachanda said that his country’s relationship with India was “unassailable” and could not be compared with any other country. “Nepal is in a very delicate and sensitive transition period. I have full confidence that we can create very favorable conditions in a very short span of time,” said the Nepal’s Prime Minister. “Due to our specific history, geography, cultural ties and tradition of economic interdependence, our relationship with India is crucial. Although we wish to develop ties with China, there is no question of comparison,” he said at a luncheon hosted by India’s three leading chambers of commerce and industry. [7]

On Tuesday morning, September 16, 2008, talking to the reporters in New Delhi, India, Prime Minister Prachanda said that India was ready for reviewing the Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950; the two countries would soon set up a joint taskforce to study the review of the treaty so that it would be consistent with current needs and in the interest of both the countries. Prime Minister Prachanda revealed that this understanding was reached between the two Prime Ministers during his talks with Indian Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh on Monday, September 15, 2008. He said that his meeting with Indian Prime Minister has pushed the relation between the two countries to a new height ending suspicions. He said the treaty of 1950 was signed under special circumstances; both the countries have realized that time has come to review many aspects of the treaty. “The treaty was signed during the Rana regime. We have entered into the 21st century. A new understanding is needed on the treaty to address the desires of the people in line with the times,” he said. He added that he has continued consultation with Indian leaders and intellectuals to clear doubts if they had any. [8]

The visit of Nepalese Prime Minister Prachanda to India has been beneficial to both the countries. Indian leaders have clear view of what sorts of administration would be in Nepal in the years to come. Nepal has benefited much more, too. Nepal would be able to get rid of the Nepal-India Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1950, and replaced it with a new one that would keep both Nepal and India on equal footing. In addition, Nepal would benefit from the financial support India promised to meet its immediate and long-term needs.


[1] Contemporary South Asia edited by M.D. Dharamdasani and published 1985, P 102

[2] Contemporary South Asia edited by M.D. Dharamdasani and published 1985, P 85

[3] India and Nepal: An Exercise in Open Diplomacy by Shriman Narayan, Orient Paperbacks, 1971, p 122-124

[4], Nepal's Maoist Prime Minister Makes Historic Visit to India, September 15, 2008

[5] The Rising Nepal, September 16, 2008, 'Time for adding new dynamism in Nepal- India relations'

[6] The Rising Nepal, September 16, 2008, PM invites Indian business community

[7] The Hindu, Prachanda: Nepal’s ties with India unassailable, September 16, 2008

[8] ia Sep 16 08, PM Dahal says India ready for review of 1950 treaty; The Himalayan Times, September 16, 2008, India Ready to Review 1950 Treaty: Prachanda

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