‘BJP’s UP victory won’t change Nepal policy’
By Kamal Dev Bhattarai
14 March 2017

NEW DELHI (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) - Observers say Modi, who looks well-placed for 2019 re-election, will try to improve ties with neighbours.

A surprise and thumping win by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh can be a bellwether of India’s internal politics, but it is unlikely to trigger any major change in Delhi’s Nepal policy, observers said on Monday. Modi, however, is likely to put more efforts in improving relations with neighbouring countries including Nepal, they added.Uttar Pradesh, home to 220 million people, shares a 600km long border with Nepal.

Modi, who is halfway into his first term, has often been criticised in India for failing to handle relations with neighbouring countries, particularly Nepal and Pakistan.

Internally, the immediate gains of BJP’s victory in India’ biggest state will be seen in the election of President in July and the party’s positioning in Rajya Sabha.

“I don’t think there will be any major changes in Nepal policy,” said Mahendra P Lama, a member of the Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG) from the Indian said. “However I am sure that Indian policy makers will try to consolidate the progress and development in India - Nepal relations.”

The EPG is a mechanism formed to review Nepal-India ties and both the countries have four members each.

Modi, who had invited South Asian leaders to New Delhi during his inauguration in 2014, had received a thunderous welcome in Nepal during his visit in August the same year.

But India’s terse response to the promulgation of the constitution in Nepal, an event Delhi said it had “noted”, and subsequent border blockade—that continued for five long months—led to a souring of ties between the two countries.

Of late, the Modi government, however, seems to have paid special attention to Nepal-India ties, say observers, hinting at two high profile visits of Indian ministers to Kathmandu in as many months.

Indian Minister for Railways Suresh Prabhu was in Kathmandu to attend the Nepal Infrastructure Summit in February while Finance Minister Arun Jaitley early this month participated in the Nepal Investment Summit. Both the ministers pledged support to Nepal’s infrastructure development.

BC Upreti, another member of the EPG, said UP results though won’t make much of a difference when it comes to Modi’s Nepal policy, he will certainly try to strengthen relations with all neighbours including Nepal.

Observers are of the view that after UP results, Modi looks well-placed for his re-election in 2019 and hence would try to put more efforts to mend soured ties with neighbours.

Nihar R Nayak, a Nepal-India expert associated with the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis, a think-tank close to the Indian establishment, echoed Lama and Upreti.

“Nepal issues were not on the agenda during the campaign. Foreign policy has never been a major election issue in the last 70 years in India,” said Nayak, ruling out any shift in foreign policy, or Nepal policy for that matter, after the BJP’s unprecedented win in Uttar Pradesh.

Observers say cancellation of Modi’s scheduled visit to Janakpur and Lumbini during Saarc Summit in November 2014 was the point from where political relations started to dip and Delhi bureaucracy took charge of Nepal-related issues.

While the BJP won an absolute majority in Uttar Pradesh, it also won a majority in Uttarakhand, a state in northern India that also shares border with the far-western region of Nepal. Despite coming second, it will form governments in Goa and Manipur, the latter a remote eastern state where the Hindu nationalist party held zero seats before polling day.

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