India Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla will be visiting Nepal on November 26 and 27—his first visit to the country after he assumed office this January.
“The visit is in keeping with the tradition of regular high-level exchanges between the two countries and the priority India attaches to its relations with Nepal,” said a statement from the Ministry of external affairs (MEA). “Shringla will meet his counterpart and other Nepalese dignitaries to discuss the wide ranging bilateral cooperation between the countries.”
The MEA has not confirmed whether Shringla will meet with Prime Minister K.P.S. Oli. This is interesting, given that during his visit to Bangladesh a few months ago, Shringla had met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Last month, on his visit to Myanmar, he met state councillor Aung San Suu Kyi. The political scenario within Kathmandu is pretty much in turmoil at present, with the split between the two factions—Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda—again wide open, and the prime minister’s political future itself under a cloud. In fact, a few days ago, there were questions about whether Shringla would actually head to Kathmandu in this climate.
The visit is a crucial one, as it puts Nepal sharply into India’s diplomatic focus after a hiatus that extended over several months. The last foreign secretary visit was when Shringla’s predecessor Vijay Gokhale visited in March 2019. Relations have become strained over the last year following India’s publication of a new map of its internal boundaries last November to which Nepal protested. Nepal subsequently changed its own map, claiming a swathe of Indian territory in the Kalapani region of Pithoragarh as its own. Against this backdrop, Nepali leaders made a string of derogatory comments against India, even putting a question mark over the people-to-people ties between the two nations.
With two recent high level visits—Research and Analysis WIng (RAW) Samanta Kumar Goel in October and Army chief General M.M. Naravane earlier this month, Nepal is back on focus. “In recent years, bilateral cooperation has strengthened, with several major infrastructure and cross border connectivity projects completed with India’s assistance. The visit will be an opportunity to further advance our bilateral ties,” the MEA statement said.
Nepal is an important country for India for a number of reasons. With a nearly 1,800km-long shared border, Nepal is a vital buffer state from China. As tensions with China over disputed border issues remain unresolved, India can ill afford to have Kathmandu also going into a sulk. Indeed, unofficial reports say that soon after Shringla’s visit, China’s Defence Minister Wei Fenghe is also likely to make a whistle stop tour of the Himalayan capital. In light of its tensions with India, China, too, is busy wooing Nepal. The political turmoil within the Nepal Congress Party is of concern to China, which would like to see Beijing-friendly Oli at the helm for the rest of the government’s term.