The competition between India and China for strategic control in the Himalayas has intensified, with the authorities in Nepal agreeing to fast-track rail links from their capital Kathmandu to the Indian mainland. The decision follows China’s energetic effort to connect the capital of Nepal to Tibet.
Analysts say India’s initiative has clear security connotations. By linking Nepal with India through tracks of a different scale, New Delhi has prevented China from taking its railway and in the worst case scenario, its troops and equipment close to the Indian border. Chinese rail tracks meet the standard gauge, which is 1,435 mm wide. By comparison, the Indian wide-gauge tracks have a width of 1,676 mm.
After striking a rough patch that included a territorial dispute and a cartographic clash, India-Nepal relations were re-launched after a series of high-profile visits, including an Indian spy Chief Samant Goel’s trip to Kathmandu in October. The Chief of the Indian Army, Manoj Mukund Naravane and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, followed on Goel’s journey. Nepalese Foreign Minister Pradip Gyawali is now on his way to New Delhi to add tangible substance to the re-energized relationship.
The Nepalese authorities have allowed India’s Konkan Railway Corporation Limited to carry out a comprehensive project report (DPR) to connect Kathmandu with Raxaul, according to the Nepalese website
Raxaul on the border between India and Nepal is the only Indian city on the border between Nepal and Birjung. Raxaul is Nepal’s gateway to India, as it connects New Delhi and Kolkata by rail, providing a large hinterland.
The website quoted Rabindranath Shrestha, Secretary of the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transportation in Nepal, as saying that last August, India had sought formal permission from the Government of Nepal to proceed with the construction of the railway. According to Secretary Shrestha, the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport has already sent a letter to India to approve the DPR and the construction work, along with its opinion.
The overall length of the rail line is projected to be 136 kilometres, of which 42 kilometres will pass through the tunnel. It is estimated to cost around three trillion Nepalese rupees.
Nepal and India signed an agreement to carry out a feasibility analysis of the Kathmandu-Rexaul rail connection during the 4th BIMSTEC summit in Kathmandu in 2018.
BIMSTEC is a vehicle to underpin India’s East Policy Act, which basically aims to rehabilitate New Delhi’s historic relations in the Indo-Pacific region, with the 10-nation Association of South East Asian Nations and the Pacific Island Territories, with a large Indian diaspora community, at its core.
Captured in the Great Game for geopolitical control between India and China, Nepal even travelled a considerable distance to forge connectivity with China via Tibet.
While the desire to construct a railroad to Kathmandu dates back to the era of Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), it has taken a new life under the Communist government of Nepal.
The idea of expanding the railway from Kyirong to Kathmandu in Tibet was discussed in 2008 when Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” visited Beijing as Prime Minister of Nepal. The Indian blockade of Nepal in 2015 added urgency to the undertaking. The Trans-Himalayan project is estimated to have cost $2.75 billion. The undertaking falls within the overall context of the Trans-Himalayan Multi-Dimensional Communication Network.

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