PM’s Delhi visit
The upcoming state visit of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba to India will be considered a success only if he comes back with solid Indian assurance on prompt implementation of long-delayed projects like Pancheswor and Arun III. More than this, with nearly the entire Tarai-Madhes belt now submerged, thanks in no small part to unilateral road and dam construction activities of India, PM Deuba should also ask his counterpart, Narendra Modi, to pull down illegal constructions that are inundating Nepal. Since every monsoon there is widespread flooding in both India and Nepal, there is no alternative to the two sides sitting down and working out a mutually-agreeable solution. As those illegal dams and roads on the Indian side are a perennial source of anti-India sentiment in Nepal, it is also in India’s interest to amicably settle the issue. But does our prime minister have the confidence and statesmanship to raise the issue of flooding with clarity and firmness it calls for? If this issue is strongly raised at the highest level, India will be forced to listen.
PM Deuba should also clearly ask India why vital projects like Pancheswor and Arun that it has taken up are delayed for years, sometimes even for decades. One reason Nepali planners have of late been forced to look to China is that they believe the northern neighbor is more reliable with big projects. It is true that even some Chinese projects in Nepal have been delayed. But these days, in the aftermath of the 2015-16 border blockade, and inundation of Nepali territories every year by India’s border infrastructure, giving projects to China has become a politically correct thing to do. The Indians tend to be greatly worried about China’s growing influence in Nepal. But besides raising alarms about China making ‘inroads’ into Nepal, India has not been able to do anything substantive to create a more favorable public image in Nepal and thereby to increase its footprint. The goodwill of Nepali people towards India will drastically increase if it showed genuine interest in mitigating flood risks in Nepal and was serious about honoring its pledges on big projects.
Besides these bilateral issues, another one that is bound to crop up during PM Deuba’s Delhi visit concerns the India-China standoff over Doklam. Directly or indirectly India could seek some kind of reassurance from Nepal that it, in principle, backs India’s position over this disputed tri-junction with Bhutan. PM Deuba should refuse to be pulled into this debate and be mindful that nothing that can be construed as even remotely anti-China appears in the joint declaration issued at the end of his Delhi visit. Nepal’s position of strict neutrality is the right one and PM Deuba should not deviate from it. The prime minister is visiting India when nearly a third of his country is under water and at least 18,000 families have been displaced from their homes. He also goes in the middle of the all-important election cycle. If it turns out to be just another ritualistic visit, that would be a cruel joke on flood victims. They will be expecting something concrete in terms of flood control so that they can safely put behind the days of being terrorized by flood waters.