Friendly ties with Nepal and Bhutan are a central pillar of India’s Himalayan frontier policy. So it has been a matter of satisfaction for this country to host this month Nepal’s recently-elected Maoist Prime Minister, Dr Baburam Bhattarai, and the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk, who is in India on a nine-day state visit that includes his honeymoon with Queen Jetsun Pema, shortly after their royal wedding just a fortnight ago.
AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi was, incidentally, one of the select Indian guests invited to that fairytale ceremony. And Dr Bhattarai, whose party has had somewhat difficult ties with this country, decided to make India the first foreign country he visited on becoming PM.
Both are positive pointers. They also cast on this country the responsibility of nudging relations along and supporting the establishment in both Thimphu and Kathmandu, even if in Nepal’s case there are occasional hiccups. China’s annexation of Tibet shortly after the Communists’ 1949 triumph in that country made matters urgent for India and its Himalayan neighbours.
With Bhutan, India’s ties have been in a state of progressive harmony for several decades. On development and security, the two countries appear to work on the principle that they shall be mutual beneficiaries if they stick together.
This has regrettably not been the case with Nepal at all times. The texture of India’s ties with these two neighbours can sometimes be a study in contrast.
There are, of course, some good reasons. Nepal has considerable domestic geographical, cultural, and political diversity for a poor country and doesn’t always find it easy to balance its inner contradictions, which frequently show up in an anti-New Delhi stance to underline the nationalist credentials of those in power. Dr Bhattarai has had the intellectual and political acumen to rise above such a consideration.
During his recent visit, he signed a bilateral investment promotion and protection agreement with India. New Delhi also agreed to provide $250 million in easy credit, many times more than sought.
For this the Nepal leader has been attacked by reckless elements in his own party and some others, although not by the Nepali Congress.
The balance of probabilities here does give a thumbs-up to Indo-Nepal relations. But probably New Delhi will have to continue assisting with the constitution-making exercise and smoothing the peace process by helping Nepal’s parties to reach mutual accommodation.
Happily, the leaders of Nepal and Bhutan came on the eve of the 17th Saarc summit in the Maldives where regional, rather than bilateral, aspirations will be aired.
It might just be some use if the leaders of Nepal and Bhutan also sat down to exchange notes on their interaction with their bigger neighbour.