Internal politics, bilateral relations and religion is a vicious cocktail with a dark potential for conflict of many hues. The Pashupatinath temple episode is wrought with just such an implication where assault on the Indian priests allegedly by Maoists in Nepal has raised tempers in both countries. The Maoists claim that the assault on the Bhattas or the two priests from Southern India was launched by radicals forming part of the people’s movement for replacing Indian priests with Nepali ones. Ironically the issue has also created a deep cleavage between the Maoists and other parties in Nepal. This has sadly placed Indo Nepal relations which were showing some signs of improvement in jeopardy.
The progress in Indo Nepal relations was evident during the first visit of the Nepal Prime Minister and UPN CML leader Mr. M K Nepal to New Delhi from 18 to 22 August. This was also Mr. Nepal’s first visit outside the country on taking over. His predecessor, the Unified CPN M or Maoist leader Pushpa Kumar Dahal or Prachanda had visited China first though he succeeded in covering it up as for Beijing Olympics rather than an official visit. The visit by the Prime Minister Mr. Nepal was not universally supported in Nepal, the opposition; Unified CPN M termed it as a surrender and sell out to India, while his own Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala refused to accompany him as allegedly she was not made the Deputy Prime Minister before the visit. While a new trade treaty was agreed upon, its implementation would remain to be seen.
The principal achievement was signing of the Treaty of Trade and Agreement of Cooperation to Control Unauthorized Trade. The new agreement will replace the existing arrangements since 1991, which was extended from time to time. The trade treaty, which has been negotiated for the last two years, aims at enlarging the scope of the existing institutional framework. As per the treaty India gives duty-free access to its market to goods manufactured in Nepal. The bilateral trade takes place generally in Indian currency.
On the river waters issue, Indian side agreed to send a technical team to Nepal to study the Bagmati Civilization Project, satisfaction was expressed over timely completion of the technically challenging task of the closure of the breach of Kosi embankment. To accelerate the implementation of Pancheshwar Multi-purpose Project, the Joint Ministerial Commission on Water Resources and Joint Committee on Water Resources will expedite finalization of Terms of Reference for Pancheshwar Development Authority and the Detailed Project Report of the Pancheshwar Project. Progress on the Sapta Koshi High Dam and Sunkoshi Diversion Project and the Naumure Project as per bilateral discussions is to be expedited.
On the security front, the Bilateral Consultative Group on Security Issues and the Home Secretaries of the two countries will meet within two months to enhance bilateral cooperation to effectively address all issues concerning security, including cross-border crime. One of the major concerns India has with Nepal is the flow of fake Indian currency to India through Nepal. The other two concerns are Nepal being used for terrorist activities directed at India and the use of madrasas for anti-India activities. According to estimates, four out of every thousand Indian Rs. 1,000 denomination notes are fake and Nepal is a major conduit for them.
Nepal-India Joint Technical Committee (JTC) is also preparing and finalizing the boundary strip maps. For border management, construction of two Integrated Check Posts (ICPs) at Birgunj-Raxaul and Biratnagar-Jogbani at an estimated cost of Indian Rs.200 crores will commence soon. India is also providing assistance at the proposed National Police Academy at Panauti, Kavre in Nepal at an estimated cost of Indian Rs.320 crores.
The Joint Statement issued on the occasion of the current visit of the Prime Minister is seen to be more comprehensive and addresses a number of key issues such as trade and development, transit as well as the major Indo Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950 which is to be reviewed in detail later. The Prime Minister of Nepal was very emphatic about provision of safe and secure atmosphere for trade and industry from India in the country. However ground conditions are not very conducive for such a purpose as the Maoists have been on a war path and for them India is a soft target that can be swayed by their deliberate political antics to get closer to China. Thus unless there is a political consensus there would be many hurdles in implementing the projections made in the Joint statement.
Thus the story of Indo Nepal relations is peculiar of love and hate. While both countries know that they cannot live without each other, there are many subterranean influences which have been acting against a smooth relationship, the trade treaty is important for Nepal and so is investment of the private sector from India. But how much would the Nepali security and political situation permit a smooth inflow remains to be seen, for it is observed that the current government in case of any dispute within the political landscape over a treaty would have to face opposition in the Parliament as well as on the streets by the Maoists. And any successful conclusion of the trade treaty would depend on the attitude of the Maoists as much as the government signing the same.
Was the Pashupatinath episode a conspiracy by the Maoists to continue with the political vacuum in the country and subvert the improving Indo Nepal relations, only time will tell?