A few things need to be taken into consideration for India-Nepal relations as Nepal PM Prachanda just concluded his official visit to India, his first overseas trip since the start of his most current term as PM last December. First, Nepal is beginning to emerge as a geopolitical flashpoint between China, the West, and India. After the start of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine last year, this competition has become even more intense. Given that it is geographically trapped between two militarily and economically powerful Asian nations, Kathmandu is really quite concerned about an Asian Ukraine breaking out in the Himalayas.
Because of this, Nepal will do all in its power to maintain good ties with both of its neighbors. In spite of this, there are strong linkages between India and Nepal on the economic, cultural, and interpersonal fronts. The open border between the two nations should be included. As a result, New Delhi has distinct advantages over Beijing in its interactions with Kathmandu. The dynamic between Kathmandu and New Delhi really has a problem with overabundance. This makes it easier for New Delhi to sometimes micromanage relations while inflating expectations on the side of Kathmandu. That has sometimes resulted in detrimental effects, such as the unfortunate blockade in 2015 that seriously damaged bilateral relations. Finding a win-win middle ground via a mix of deft diplomacy and better negotiations would be the challenge for New Delhi. In reality, New Delhi has to appropriately adjust its policy toward Nepal and other neighboring nations. And the simple explanation for this is that the development of an aggressive China has fundamentally altered the situation in our neighborhood today.
Beijing is now not just far more interested in South Asia, but it also has the financial means to forward its goals. India cannot continue with its conventional neighborhood strategy given Chinese wealth. If it does, it will just incite hostility among the neighbors, which China may then take advantage of. Therefore, India must acknowledge that China will continue to play a role in South Asia for the foreseeable future, whether it be in the form of Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, or Bhutan. Yes, historically, India has had influence on these nations. They may not, however, always coincide with India’s interests. The most New Delhi can do is diversify its interactions with these nations and avoid being seen as supporting a certain party or faction.
In this new situation, we also need to be much more considerate of our neighbors’ sensitivities. Avoid controversies like the one surrounding a painting in the new Parliamentary building that shows specific locations in Nepal as part of the “Akhand Bharat” frame. Similar to this, calling Bangladeshis “intruders” in political speeches may provoke negative responses from residents of a friendly neighboring country. Additionally, nothing positive can result from impeding another neighbor’s regular interactions with Beijing.
Once again, the goal is to maintain our influence in the new situation while not losing it in the neighborhood. Greater coordination between our internal politics and neighborhood policies is necessary for this. As an example, the Agnipath recruiting program directly affects the selection of Nepali Gurkha soldiers for the Indian army. The hiring of Nepalese nationals also creates a strong strategic link between the two nations. But why wasn’t Kathmandu’s best interests taken into account when Agnipath was announced? At the very least, there ought to have been greater dialogue between the two parties in this.
Similar to this, our neighbors, where Indian money has long been accepted alongside local currency, would be impacted by the GoI’s recent decision to progressively eliminate the Rs 2000 currency note. Before establishing significant currency rules, shouldn’t GoI take this element of Indian currency impact in our neighborhood into account?
Overall, India should use its advantages in the region, engage with all societal groups there, and concentrate on completing development projects there on schedule. Influence-based competition with China won’t be simple or uncomplicated. However, there are certain inherent physical, cultural, and historical advantages for India. To effectively actualize a “Neighborhood First” strategy, we need to improve our diplomatic outreach and the alignment of our domestic and international policies.