Himalayan frontiers are meant to be walls, guarding India against cold northern winds. The frontier states —the erstwhile monarchy of Nepal and the constitutional monarchy of Bhutan — have often been considered buffers, safeguarding India from China.
The phenomenal rise of China is changing century-old norms. Indian approaches for the Himalayan frontier are also witnessing transformations. As in the case with landlocked countries, Nepal and Bhutan, too, adopt smart strategies to gain access to seafronts.
While for decades, India was the sole option for both countries, China’s rise and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have provided options to several south Asian countries. As sovereign nations, Nepal and Bhutan have full rights to expand partnerships with both India and China. Bhutan, learning from its experience in Tibet and, more recently, at Dokalam, is less keen to widen its ties with Beijing. Unlike Nepal, Bhutan maximised its potential after 1947 with India’s support for its power projects.
Nepal experienced a rollercoaster ride over the last 30 years, settling for parliamentary democracy with a federal character in the last election, with its leaders in Kathmandu looking for options in Beijing. With the UPA government playing its part to bring the Maoists into Nepal’s political mainstream, a prime ministerial visit to Kathmandu had to be on the cards. In 2014, the NDA government brought in the Neighbourhood First Policy, with Kathmandu among the first three destinations of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visits, even as the idea of a blockade in 2015 achieved little.
But with much water having flowed under the bridge, there have been many high-level India-Nepal meetings since 2016, culminating in the recent back-to-back prime ministerial trips that have given fresh impetus to practical areas of cooperation. The shortness of five weeks between the last two visits underline the urgency to deliver projects. Meanwhile, the bureaucracy needs to shed its mindset, and meet expectations generated by these bilateral visits.
India’s business community doesn’t usually prioritise its growing middle class and expanding markets in these countries. Indian trade with Nepal is not insignificant, but the potential for expansion is immense. There are similar opportunities for investments in infrastructure, an area where Chinese firms have already made progress. Nepal, on its part, wants to have a balanced economic relationshipwith both India and China. It needs to fully utilise the opportunities being offered by India.
It was to Prime Minister K P Oli’s credit that, notwithstanding election rhetoric, he felt that confrontation over China would serve no purpose. He rightly chose to visit India first after taking over. It was to also to GoI’s credit that after 2015, it felt the need for immediate measures to be taken for mutual benefit.
Gone are days of exclusive rights and privileges for one country in another. As a sovereign nation, Nepal (or any other country, for that matter) is free to seek partnership with another country, including China. It is up to India to sweeten the deal and build on its advantages and leverages to secure its national interests.
Source: Bing News ले छापेको छ ।