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PM Modi to visit Nepal, skip airport built by China: Cementing ties with Kathmandu and a message to Beijing?

Source : Times Now

PM Modi to visit Nepal, skip airport built by China: Cementing ties with Kathmandu and a message to Beijing?
New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Nepalese counterpart Sher Bahadur Deuba remotely inaugurate a railway line between Jaynagar in India to Kurthal in Nepal, in New Delhi, India, Saturday, April 2, 2022.



On Buddha Purnima, May 16, PM Modi will travel from Kushinagar in India, where Gautama Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana to Lumbini in Nepal, his birthplace, connecting the two major pilgrimage sites on the Buddhist circuit. The flight route is designed to draw focus to India and Nepal’s historic cultural ties and more firmly assert India’s Buddhist legacy at a time that the so-called atheist Communist regime in China is pursuing ‘soft-Buddhism’ to grow its influence in the region.

On the same day that PM Modi arrives in Nepal, a large Chinese delegation is likely to be at the new Gautam Buddha International Airport, about 19 km off Lumbini, to inaugurate the airport that has been built by China’s Northwest Civil Aviation Airport Construction Group.

Incidentally, PM Modi will bypass the airport and fly directly to Lumbini, where a helipad has been constructed at the UNESCO world heritage site for his arrival. According to local Nepali media reports, Kathmandu had suggested that PM Modi fly to the Gautam Buddha International Airport and then take the road to Lumbini while greeting people on the way, but was told that the PM will fly by chopper, and so, skip the airport entirely. This is being viewed as a deliberate snub to China.

Analysts say India is making it clear that it does not want to be part of infrastructure projects developed by China in Nepal.

Nepal-India projectsA month before PM Modi’s visit to Nepal, his counterpart was in India on a 3-day visit, his first official visit overseas after taking charge as Prime Minister in July 2021. That was significant as it gave a fresh boost to ties that had turned chilly over the past few years, especially after 2015 when there was widespread resentment against India for allegedly interfering in the constitution drafting process. Former PM KP Sharma Oli’s new map in 2020 that included Indian territories was condemned by India as a “unilateral measure”.Both sides are now making efforts to repair the complex ties that have been on a low-ebb.During his April visit, PM Deuba forged several energy and connectivity links with India.

Energy cooperation

Nepal became an energy surplus country after the rains in July 2021. A huge destination for its power export is India and both have recognised the “unprecedented opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation in the energy sector”.

Deuba and PM Modi signed a Joint Vision Statement on Power Sector cooperation in power generation, transmission and trade. Both Prime Ministers jointly inaugurated the 90 km long 132 KVDC Solu Corridor Transmission line and substation built under the Line of Credit extended by India.

Most importantly, the early finalisation of the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project figured in talks, and this is likely to be revived again. “Since India is reluctant to purchase energy produced by Chinese companies in Nepal, we will talk with Modi for the engagement of Indian developers for this project,” Deuba had said.

In April, PM Deuba invited greater participation of Indian companies in Nepal’s hydropower development projects, according to the Ministry of External Affairs statement. The progress made in 900 MW Arun-III hydro-electric project in Nepal was also noted, it said.

Meanwhile, India shared that under ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ celebrations, India will inaugurate 75 development projects in Nepal this year.

Improved connectivity

Having one of the fastest growing economies in the neighbourhood has its advantages for Nepal. However, one of the key areas where cooperation can be improved is air connectivity. Nepal has requested India to provide three additional entry routes and had, during the last visit, also requested an agreement on near-border operation for the Gautam Buddha International Airport.In April, both leaders had virtually inaugurated the India financed Kurtha-Jayanagar passenger railway. The railway is to be extended to Dhalkebar in Nepal.

China’s growing role

India has sought to refresh ties with Nepal at a time when China has overtaken India as the largest source of foreign direct investment for the Himalayan nation. Under ormer PM Oli, Nepal grew closer to China, with a visit by him to Beijing in 2016, followed by the first ever visit of a Chinese defence minister to Nepal in 2017. A month after that Nepal and China held military exercises together and a military grant of $32 million was also announced.

According to an observer research foundation report, China hiked its annual development assistance to $120 million. Besides, it is involved in airport expansion projects at Pokhara and, ofcourse, at Lumbini.

Buddhist legacy

This brings us back to China’s diplomacy around Buddhism, with which it also aims to keep a check on Tibet, a region the Chinese Army invaded and occupied in 1950. The Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of the Tibetan people, fled to India and has been given refuge here ever since. Tightening its iron grip over the region, China now seeks to have the final say in choosing the next Dalai Lama.

The Chinese Communist Party even hosts the so-called World Buddhist Forum every three years, in an attempt to shift the Buddhist axis toward itself. But China cannot alter history. India is unarguably the center of Buddhist philosophy and heritage, and the home of exiled persecuted Tibetans.

On his visit to Nepal, PM Modi will speak at the Buddha Memorial Ceremony organised by the Lumbini Development Trust and also lay the foundation stone for a Buddhist monastery, to be built with India’s support. Besides cultural and historic ties, India and Nepal have shared democratic values. With China circling Nepal, it is time India stepped up and reinforce its neighbourhood first policy.

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