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Stage set for Nepal PM Oli's India visit

201 Days ago

Kathmandu: Lifting of the almost six-month-old blockade of the Nepal-India border by Madhesi protestors and high-level bilateral visits have paved the way for a much-awaited visit to India by Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli later this month, officials here say.

Oli had raised a question-mark over his visit to New Delhi -- his first foreign trip after assuming office on October 11 last year -- when he told senior editors here on January 26 that it will not be appropriate for him to visit India as long as a blockade of the border continued.

Events transpiring earlier this month, however, indicated that the fences were being mended and the freeze in bilateral relations finally thawing.

A visit to New Delhi by Nepal Finance Minister Bishnu Poudel on February 7-8 and the customary conferment of the rank of honorary General of the Indian Army upon Nepal Army's chief General Rajendra Chhetri earlier in the month were signs of bilateral relations coming back on track.

The Madhesi protestors, too, on February 8 called off their almost six-month-old anti-Constitution agitation that had resulted in blockading of cross-border transit points and subsequent scarcity of essentials in the land-locked Himalayan nation.

And with Oli's major objection to an India visit taken care of, decks were finally cleared for Nepal and India to get down to resumption of bilateral meetings that had been put on the back-burner for the past almost six months.

Earlier, under pressure following more than five months of unrelenting agitation in the country's southern region by Madhesi protestors, the government allies and the main opposition Nepali Congress on January 23 approved two amendments to the barely four-month-old Constitution relating to proportionate representation and allocation of seats in parliament on the basis of population.

The constitutional amendments aimed at addressing the grievances of the agitating Madhesis -- who also share sentimental, cultural, geographical and linguistic attachment and proximity with India -- were the first step in the thawing of Nepal-India relations.

And the opening of the key Nepal-India border point at Raxaul-Birgunj -- which sees over 70 percent of total bilateral trade -- further paved the way for Oli's India visit.

The visit by Finance Minister Poudel, a close aide of Oli, signifies that the Nepal PM's upcoming visit to India will be focused on economic cooperation and mending of ruffled ties.

Nepal's finance minister Poudel, who concluded his India visit on Tuesday told reporters in Kathmandu that Nepal-India relations have reached in a new height and misunderstanding between the two countries has subsequently diminished.

A daylong visit to Kathmandu by India's External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on February 9 to offer homage to former prime minister and president of Nepali Congress Sushil Koirala and her meeting with PM Oli contributed greatly to the thaw, officials here said.

According to Gopal Khanal, foreign relations advisor to PM Oli, the two sides discussed the upcoming India visit of PM Oli later this month. "We are eager to welcome you in India and preparation of your India visit is underway," Sushma reportedly told Oli during the meeting.

Though the two sides are yet to announce the dates of Oli's visit, officials here said that mending of fences at the political level, clearing the misunderstandings between the leaderships of Nepal and India and modality of future bilateral cooperation were among key points on Oli's agenda for the upcoming visit.

Also figuring prominently during bilateral discussions would be defining projects under the $1 billion line of credit announced by India, finalising the modality and projects under another $1 billion credit line announced by India for Nepal's reconstruction following last year's devastating earthquake and implementation of past accords and understanding, the officials said.

(Anil Giri can be contacted at girianil@gmail. (IANS)

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