In September 2008, the theme of every speech that Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal made during his first official visit to India after being elected was: “Trust me.” The message is the same during his second state visit this week as well.
Eight years ago, Dahal was given a rousing welcome in New Delhi despite having miffed some quarters by visiting China first. Everyone wanted to shake the hand of the man who had gone from being a guerrilla commander to an elected Prime Minister. The Indian media couldn’t get enough of him.
However, there was some skepticism of his commitment to parliamentary democracy and free market. Dahal tried hard to convince Indian investors that he was a man they could do business with. But it was his step-by-step attempt to grab absolute power when he returned that soured his relations with India and ultimately led to his resignation in 2009.
It has taken him eight years to be accepted enough to make another visit to New Delhi, and regain that displaced trust. In the next few days,Dahal will be trying to convince India’s top leaders that he has learnt his lessons, and will not dabble in political adventurism.
Nepal’s former ambassador to India, LokrajBaral, says Dahal needs to talk less and work more to show that he has matured. He needs to try to reconstruct Nepal-India relations from its post-blockade low.
“India has its own interests, but the current trust deficit between Kathmandu and New Delhi is the result of our failure to put our own house in order,” Baral said. “He will gain India’s trust if he addresses Madhesi grievances by amending the Constitution.”
Dahal justified his party’s defection from the UML coalition by blaming the KP Oli government for not solving the Madhes crisis. But he failed to register a constitution amendment bill in the Parliament ahead of his India visit, and Madhesi parties are now angry and suspicious.
Dahal needs the support of the UML to meet Madhesi demands on the amendment, and needs to balance relations with India and China. He already seems to have annoyed Beijing by inviting Indian President Pranab Mukherjee to Kathmandu before the official visit of the Chinese President Xi Jinping to Nepal, and by his indifference towards implementing the trade and transit treaty.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has denied that Xi’s visit is cancelled, but it has not confirmed it either.
During his four-day India visit, Dahal will meet Indian Prime Minister NarendraModi on Friday. He is then scheduled to fly to Himachal Pradesh on a helicopter on Sunday to inspect a 1500 MW hydropower project. Dahal briefed his party on Wednesday that his ‘goodwill’ visit will focus on implementing the past pacts on earthquake reconstruction, Tarai Feeder Roads and power trade.
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