The new government in Nepal is starting out with making all the right moves vis a vis India. Soon after coming to power, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda sent his special emissary and Deputy Prime Minister Bimalendra Nidhi to call on India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The two day trip was to reemphasise the strong cultural and social ties between the two countries. Now, Prachanda himself will visit India on September 15.
The significance of these visits is not lost on anyone. Former prime minister K.P. Oli took his time making his first foreign trip. As a matter of tradition, the Nepal prime minister's first foreign trip after taking over office is to India. However, as relations soured between India and Nepal over the issue of Nepal's new constitution, Oli kept delaying his trip. Oli, said to have strong pro-China leanings, was even touted to make his visit to Beijing before New Delhi.
Ultimately, tradition prevailed, and Oli came to Delhi to clear the air on the constitution, which India felt was not giving equal rights to Madhesis of Terai, who have close familial and cultural ties with Indians.
Prachanda's decision to choose Delhi over Beijing is even more significant given that during his first term as prime minister in 2008, the Maoist leader chose Beijing as his first port of call.
Clearly, Nepal has become keenly aware of the repercussions of rubbing India the wrong way. India had objections with the Nepali constitution, and had dispatched foreign secretary S. Jaishankar to give a talking to Kathmandu on it. Subsequently, trouble broke out along the border, with supply routes blocked. Given that the bulk of Nepal commodities enter through the Indian border, Nepal found itself facing a bleak winter, with scarcity of essentials and fuel. New Delhi, however, maintained it had nothing to do with the blockade, which it said was being orchestrated by Nepali Madhesis.
Whatever be the reason, the result was that Nepal suffered. The tenuous land connectivity with China through Himalayan heights on the northern side was clearly not enough to replenish diminishing stocks. Nepal's leaders subsequently went public by declaring that the country would have to depend on Indo-Nepal routes, even when Sino-Nepal routes are fully developed. Those lines can never replace the existing ones, in terms of speed, efficiency and cost effectiveness.