--- Manoj Saxena
Nepal PM Sushil Koirala receives Narendra Modi at Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu on August 3, 2014 (Image: Wikimedia Commons).
The Nepal visit by Narendra Modi was the first by an Indian Prime Minister after a gap of 17 years. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala of Nepal reaffirmed his desire for friendly relations between the two neighbors by breaking protocol and receiving the Indian leader himself at the Tribhuvan International Airport, where Modi inspected a guard of honor. After hectic meetings with the men and women in power in the Himalayan Kingdom the Indian leader made history by being the first foreign dignitary to address the Constituent Assembly of Nepal.
The speech itself clearly spelled out the Indian vision for bilateral relations between the two countries. Modi showed respect to the people present by beginning his speech in fluent Nepalese. This was met with a warm applause from lawmakers and dignitaries. Switching effortlessly to Hindi the Indian PM then reminded the ones assembled that India values the deep and time-tested ties between the two countries as being as old and important as 'the Himalayas and the Ganges'. Modi's affinity for civilizational ties was apparent from the onset as he recalled Nepal as being the land of the Buddha, the Pashupatinath Temple, and the venue of several pilgrimage sites.
Being a business oriented leader Modi reminded the Nepalese leadership of the immense potential the country enjoys as a hub for adventure tourism. He emphasized that outbound tourism from India can greatly benefit the economy in Nepal. The Indian leader pointed out that Nepal was a potential global market leader in terms of organic farming and herbal medicine. Modi also offered Indian assistance in both these fields.
Nepal is one of the few countries to have ended a full scale insurgency which began in 2001 by successfully bringing armed Maoist dissidents into negotiations and incorporating their leadership into meaningful decision making by 2006. The Indian PM complimented the Nepalese people for this achievement and pointed out that giving up bullets in favor of ballot boxes does not happen routinely around the world, and the people of Nepal should be proud of this achievement. He further hoped that the Nepalese lawmakers finish the task of drafting a constitution acceptable to all with due diligence. Without impinging upon Nepal's sovereignty he offered India's help in assisting with the 'direction of the democratic process'. Modi was clear that India will not interfere in Nepal's domestic affairs but may be willing to advice in constitution making given its lengthy experience with democratic institutions. This was, once again, received with warmth by the members of the constituent assembly, many of whom have viewed India as being intrusive in their domestic affairs.
Speaking on bilateral cooperation the Indian leader outlined a host of opportunities between the two countries. The first was equitable water sharing. Modi pointed out that Nepal had enough resources for it to sell more hydroelectricity to India and earn massive revenue by doing so. He proposed that the two countries should be linked by bridges and pipelines. He further emphasized that the two friendly countries should encourage cross-border migration and announced an increase in the number of scholarships offered to Nepalese students for higher education in Indian universities. Modi also outlined the need for a joint research group on the Himalayan ecosystem in which scholars and officials from both countries could participate.
In terms of exchange of technology Modi reaffirmed his desire that India must launch a SAARC satellite so that India's advances in space technology become of use to all SAARC member countries, including Nepal. During the concluding minutes of his speech Modi announced that India will grant one billion US Dollars worth of credit to Nepal for its infrastructure requirements. This line of credit will be independent of previous aid schemes announced by the Indian government and will bring in fresh finances for developmental purposes.
In conclusion, this visit by Prime Minister Modi sought to reaffirm his commitment towards establishing friendly ties with not only distant countries but also those in India's immediate neighborhood. Modi spoke without reading from papers drafted by the Indian Foreign Office, a welcome departure from a rather awkward tradition established by several high level leaders under the previous UPA government in India. The Indian leader also visited the Pashupatinath temple and this further highlighted the civilizational ties between the two South Asian countries. One hopes that India will follow through with the many promises that have been made during this visit and will play a constructive role in ensuring rapid development of its Himalayan neighbor. Because at the end of the day actions speak louder than words.