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Resetting India-Nepal Relations

Event Report

Brookings India hosted a private roundtable discussion on “Resetting India-Nepal Relations” featuring Ambassador Shyam Saran, former foreign secretary and envoy to Nepal, and Prashant Jha of the Hindustan Times. The discussion was moderated by Dhruva Jaishankar, Fellow for foreign policy at Brookings India.  The discussion revolved around the details of the tumultuous political landscape in Nepal over past year or two as well as the developments in the India-Nepal relationship in that course of time.

One part of the discussion focused on the internal dynamics of Nepali politics and the events that influenced the India-Nepal relationship in the last year or so, starting with the April 2015 earthquake. This was followed by increasing differences over the Constitution, India’s support for the Madhesis, compromise in December/January, Indian reservations about Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli and finally Prachanda’s succession to Prime Ministership and his recent visit to India. With the India-Nepal relationship waxing and waning over the last one year, the two countries are now at a stage of gradually accommodating each other’s concerns.

Another aspect of the discussion revolved around the impact of these development on the India-Nepal relationship and the future of Indo-Nepal relations in the years to come. There was also some discussion on the growing Chinese influence in Nepal and how that can affect the India-Nepal relationship. Until a few years ago, the Chinese had very little direct involvement in local Nepali politics, and their interests were limited to their concerns about Tibet. However, observers claim that the Chinese attitude in Nepal has now undergone a significant change. China seems willing to play a more direct role in domestic Nepali politics, as was evident from their strong support for Oli as Prime Minister. There were also reports that the Chinese leadership was unhappy with the change in government in Nepal and Prachanda’s consequent visit to India in September.

Nevertheless, many discussants were of the opinion that the Indian government need not be overly worried about China’s role in Nepal. India and Nepal have enjoyed strong cultural, political and economic ties for decades. People to people ties form an important link between the two countries with about six to eight million Nepalis living in India as well as Nepalis being recruited into the Indian Army. These factors should instil a confidence in our own relationship with Nepal, but at the same time should not be taken for granted. According to some discussants, we have failed to take adequate advantage of our strong cultural links and translate them into a strong political relationship.

India has legitimate interests in the political and economic stability of Nepal due to security and strategic concerns. India should therefore step up its engagement with the Nepali leadership so as to mitigate all forms of threat and handle crises more effectively. Going forward, its constitutional process will be the biggest challenge for Nepal, with political stability dependent on reforming and implementing a constitution acceptable to all groups within Nepal.

Like other products of the Brookings Institution India Center, this article is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues. The views are of the author(s) and discussants(s). Brookings India does not have any institutional views.

Event Announcement
The visit of Nepal Prime Minister Prachanda to New Delhi brings to an end a turbulent year in India-Nepal relations. After a successful visit by Prime Minister Modi and Indian aid in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake, a constitutional crisis in Nepal led to agitation by Madhesis and sharp differences between Kathmandu and New Delhi. The departure of Prime Minister K.P. Oli and his succession by Prachanda offer an opportunity to turn over a new leaf in bilateral relations. What lessons do the past year hold, and what can be done to solidify India-Nepal relations in the long-run?

At a Brookings India private discussion on the future of India-Nepal relations, the discussants were Shyam Saran, former foreign secretary and envoy to Nepal, and Prashant Jha of the Hindustan Times, who is author of Battles of the New Republic. This discussion was under the Chatham House Rules.

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