New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Nepal’s new Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba held their first bilateral meeting in Glasgow, UK, on the sidelines of the COP26 summit Tuesday, vowing to “further strengthen” ties between New Delhi and Kathmandu.
The meeting is being seen as a significant push to India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, and thawing of ties between the neighbours who had been sparring for some years.
The meeting also comes amid indications from Kathmandu that the Deuba administration wants to push for a review of the 1950 Friendship Treaty between the countries, as the Himalayan nation believes it might have been “good in the past”, but needs to be updated for today’s time.
Sources in the Nepal government said the Glasgow meeting is likely to result in high-level visits between the two sides, as bilateral issues pile up.
Two meetings in Glasgow
Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), tweeted about the prime ministers’ meeting in Glasgow Tuesday.
“PM @narendramodi met PM of Nepal @SherBDeuba today. In their first engagement since PM Deuba assumed office, the two leaders discussed ways to further strengthen our close bilateral ties. Also discussed climate, Covid-19 & resolved to work together toward post pandemic recovery,” Bagchi wrote.
Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs added in a tweet: “Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Sher B. Deuba had cordial bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of India Hon. Shri Narendra Modi this morning on the sidelines of COP 26 in Glasgow. The two leaders discussed matters of bilateral relations and cooperation.”
An MEA statement released after the meeting said: “The two leaders noted the excellent cooperation between India and Nepal during the pandemic particularly through the supply of vaccines, medicines and medical equipment from India to Nepal as well as by ensuring the free flow of goods across the borders.”
The leaders had also briefly met Monday, and in that meeting, they discussed the “future of our shared Himalayan region, which is particularly vulnerable”, PM Deuba had said. Modi, meanwhile, had said: “It is important we keep working together for sustainable development. He rightly highlighted the threat of climate change to the Himalayan region.”
Smoothening ties after upheaval under Oli
This is the fifth time Deuba is serving as the prime minister of the Himalayan nation, coming to power at a time when the country is going through a major political crisis.
Deuba had come to power in July 2021, overthrowing the tumultuous regime of prime minister K.P. Sharma Oli, who was shown the door by the country’s Supreme Court.
Under Oli, bilateral ties between India and Nepal witnessed a major upheaval. But after Deuba assumed office, he had a telephone conversation with Modi. The expectation is that Deuba will bring India and Nepal closer again, compared to 2020, when ties plummeted significantly under Oli as Kathmandu issued a new political map which included disputed territories with India.
Review of 1950 treaty
The new government of Nepal also wants India to act on some pressing issues, sources in the Nepal government said.
The sources said the Deuba administration believes that it is high time India accepts the Eminent Persons’ Group report on giving a new dimension to the bilateral ties, which was finalised in July 2018.
The EPG was initiated to review and upgrade the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship and make it “more contemporary”, sources said, adding that according to Nepal, the treaty was “good in the past but not for today’s time”.
Sources added that Nepal, most importantly, wants provisions that deal with foreign policy and defence, including the unsettled boundary matter, to be reviewed.
Nepal had also raised this issue during the India-Nepal Joint Commission meeting that was held in January 2021. While the decision to have the EPG report make recommendations was taken during Modi’s first visit to that country in 2014, it was never adopted by India.
Map row remains an issue
In May 2020, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated a motorable road to the Lipulekh pass through the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand, for the use of Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrims. He said the road is “within the territory of India”.
Nepal then objected to the road, claiming Lipulekh as part of its own territory. Subsequently, it upped the ante by releasing a new political map, showing 335 sq km of territory in the disputed Kalapani-Lipulekh-Limpiyadhura region as part of its own territory. New Delhi rejected this claim.
Sources said Nepal is looking forward to the adoption of the EPG report in which the Kalapani border dispute issue has also been dealt with. Besides, Nepal expects India will also convene the foreign secretary-level talks, tasked with negotiating on this issue.
Last December, Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla’s visit to Nepal was seen as the first step towards “taking the ties forward” post the map row.
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)