25-31 August 2017 #873

Deuba, Delhi and Doklam

Om Astha Rai in New Delhi

Ministry Of External Affairs, India

In diplomacy, some things are better left unspoken, and that is exactly what India’s PM Narendra Modi did at a joint press meet with visiting Nepal PM Sher Bahadur Deuba in New Delhi on Thursday. Last year, when Pushpa Kamal Dahal visited, Modi advised him to ‘take all sections of the society on board for effective implementation of the Constitution.’ Earlier that year, during KP Oli’s visit, the two countries failed to issue a joint statement owing to differences over Nepal’s new Constitution, which India had rejected. 

But this time, Nepal’s prime minister was warmly congratulated for successfully holding two phases of local elections, and in his teleprompted statement, Modi did not utter a word about the Constitution under which those polls were held. 

Parliament voted down an amendment bill registered by the ruling NC-Maoist coalition the day before Deuba left for New Delhi, but in Delhi he promised to continue trying to get Madhesi parties to own the Constitution. 

Some analysts here say India realised it may have pushed Nepal too far with the blockade, right into the arms of China, and is therefore trying a different tack.

“India’s strategic priorities have clearly changed after Doklam, it can no longer keep pushing for an amendment,” says Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN) MP Abhishek Pratap Shah, who is on Deuba’s entourage in New Delhi. “India now needs Nepal’s support and goodwill more than ever,” he adds.  

This could be why Modi invited Deuba for an unscheduled tête-à-tête Wednesday evening, even greeting Deuba at the doorstep of his residence, ahead of Thursday’s official meetings. 

When Deuba gulped while reading out his speech at the press conference, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj rose from her chair to offer him a glass of water. 

Modi and Swaraj went out of their way to be gracious to Deuba with  friendly gestures. Could this new bonhomie be due to the India-China row over the disputed territory of Doklam in Bhutan?

B C Upreti, an Indian member of the Nepal-India Eminent Persons Group, downplayed Doklam, but admitted there had been a shift in India’s policy towards Nepal. 

Read also:

GRASSROOTS DEMOCRACY, Nepali Times

Amendment Bill Rejected, E-special

Squeezed in the Himalaya, Sean Shoemaker

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