Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday expressed India’s commitment and assistance to Nepal’s development and promising to take the two countries’ relations to a new height.
“India is committed to the economic development of Nepal,” said Prime Minister Modi in powerful 45-minute speech to Nepali lawmakers, the first time a guest has been invited to address a joint session of the Constituent Assembly and Parliament in Kathmandu. “I am eager to take the relations between India and Nepal to a new height during my tenure as Prime Minister.”
In a speech high on rhetoric and colourful phrases, Mr. Modi referred to the Nepal-India relationship as “older than the Himalayas and the Ganga,” even as he announced a $1 billion Line of Credit for Nepal’s infrastructure development. Mr. Modi also promised to help Nepal in the field of hydropower, infrastructure, space technology and agriculture.
He assured that the work on Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project would begin in a year. After years of negotiations, work on this joint venture project has not begun. Nepal could prosper by selling electricity to India, he added.
He was all praise for Nepal for entering the path of peace by shunning violence, saying it could be a model all over the world once the Constitution is written. Mr. Modi suggested that the exercise needed foresight and with it Nepal could have a statute lasting a 100 years. Interestingly, Mr. Modi presented speaker Subhash Nembang with copies of the Rajya Sabha Television serial made by director Shyam Benegal, “Samvidhan” on the making of the Indian constitution.
During his talks with Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, Modi was all assurance and cordiality.
“My visit is focussed on development and a new beginning between the two countries,” he told Koirala at the latter’s office in Singh Durbar in the presence of Indian and Nepali government figures and officials, according to Koirala’s Foreign Policy Advisor, Dinesh Bhattarai. Earlier in the morning, PM Koirala had personally greeted him at the airport, a break from protocol.
The Indian Prime Minister assured Mr. Koirala that the ongoing peace process in Nepal was entirely a Nepali matter and should be concluded as per Nepal’s requirements. This is a sensitive subject in Nepal, with parties, cutting across party lines, feeling that India has interfered way too much in politics here.
In the presence of the two Prime Ministers, the officials signed three memorandum of understanding (MoU) – tourism development in Nepal, Goitre Control Programme in Nepal, and co-operation between the state-controlled television channels – Doordarshan and Nepal Television (NTV). They also exchanged terms of reference (ToR) on Pancheshwar Development Authority.
Mr. Modi would offer prayers at the Pahuspati Temple on Monday before heading to the President’s Office to meet President Dr Ram Baran Yadav. Later in the day, he would meet leaders of political parties and business community.
Modi gestures surprises many
In a repeat from his Bhutan visit, Mr. Modi alighted from his convoy on four occasions to meet with ordinary Nepalis waiting along the sidewalsk on his way to the outside parliament. Security has been very heavy in Kathmandu, and Mr. Modi even travelled in the Prime Ministerial BMW that was driven in from Delhi.
However, much to the delight of the crowds, and obvious worries of accompanying soldiers of the Nepal Army, he walked around, greeting people. “We have had bad elations for many years because of political instability and political interference,” said Rameshwar Thapa, one of the people cheering the PM’s convoy. “We hope Mr. Modi will change that.”
Mr. Modi’s speech inside parliament began with a paragraph spoken in Nepali, to cheers from the lawmakers gathered. “I am a friend your beautiful country, and always wanted to come back again,” he said, referring to his visits decades ago to Nepal as a “wanderer, pilgrim and traveller.”
In a remark that is going to sound like music to many a Nepali ear, he emphatically said that Gautam Buddha was born in Nepal.