10-16 July 2015 #766

“India wants to start afresh in Nepal”

Interview with Deep Kumar Upadhyay, Nepal’s ambassador to India

Nepali Times: What initiatives have you taken after being appointed Nepal’s ambassador to India?

Deep Kumar Upadhyay: The earthquake struck just 12 days after I arrived in New Delhi, and I had to immediately start coordinating relief supplies even before submitting my letter of credence. Our embassy was turned into a relief collection centre. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called me immediately after the quake and assured full support. The assistance pledged by India’s Foreign Affairs Minister in Kathmandu was on behalf of the Indian government, but more aid came from state governments, the private sector and the Indian people. The Indian parliament, for instance, decided to provide one month’s salaries of all MPs to support rebuilding of Nepal.

They say you have a good personal rapport with the Indian establishment. Does that make your job easier?

It does. In India, every government official receives a month’s paid leave to go on vacation. Nepal has now been added to the list of places where they can go on holiday. We also have a new agreement that allows Indians to visit Nepal using their own vehicles for one month and vice versa. It will boost Nepal’s tourism. A new plan is being designed to build six-lane roads connecting the East-West Highway to India’s border. We can end our power outage by importing cheap electricity from India after the construction of the Dhalkebar-Muzzafarpur transmission line is completed. Unfortunately, we have not been able to use the loan provided by India for our energy development. It took us years to decide the project’s name, and we still do not know when it will start. Other countries that took loans from India along with us have already completed 40 per cent of their projects.

The Indian bureaucracy and intelligence agencies have been blamed for hurting Nepal-India relations. Is that changing?

I feel India’s new political leadership wants to start afresh and right the wrongs of the past, open a new chapter in Nepal-India diplomacy. Indian Prime Minister Modi has taken the initiative to create a fund from the private sector to support Nepal’s post-earthquake reconstruction. That will further consolidate our relations.

So, Nepal-India diplomacy will now be guided from the political level?

India willingly or unwillingly micromanaged Nepal’s affairs in the past, but its new political leadership seems to have realised that was a mistake and should not be repeated.

Do you really believe that?

It’s evident in India’s actions so far. Instead of always making a mountain out of a molehill, we should acknowledge the change and work towards strengthening our relations. We have assured India that anti-India activities will not take place in, through, or from Nepal. We have also explained our concerns. As a result, several agreements that got stuck for years have now been inked. So there is hope.

Was that change possible because a political person like you was sent to New Delhi as ambassador?

Change is possible only with our own initiative. India is a vast country, and it would be difficult to fix appointments with Indian political leaders even for our top leaders. So, we should maintain our protocol. We should be sensitive about whom we can meet and whom we should avoid meeting. We should not hurt our nationalism by meeting anyone against protocol. I think many of our leaders have a problem following protocol.

Is it true that a section of the Indian establishment is against the draft of Nepal’s new constitution?

India’s official policy is to endorse whatever decision Nepal takes. India is not against the draft, but some of its agencies might be. But they don’t really matter. If they did, we would not have arrived at this point.

How does India’s political leadership see Nepal’s constitution drafting process?

They think consensus should be forged among a majority of parties if an all-party consensus is elusive. They see the constitution drafting process as being in relation with Nepal’s peace and prosperity.

There is a growing protest against the India-China deal on using Lipu Lekh as a new trade hub. Have you raised that concern?

I have yet to fully understand the nitty-gritty of the Lipu Lekh deal. I was too busy with earthquake-relief effort but I am now studying all agreements signed after the Sugauli Treaty. The Lipu Lekh issue will be solved diplomatically.

What about other border issues?

A team from the Department of Survey has just finished inspecting border pillars along the Nepal-India border. We are also trying to sort out disputes related to Susta and Kalapani at the higher level.

Do you have any programs planned to ensure protection of Nepalis living in India?

The data about Nepalis living in India is not convincing. Nepalis have been living in India since the Sugauli Treaty and the estimated number of Nepalis in India varies from 3-7 million. We are now collecting the real data of Nepalis in India.

Nepal could not send an ambassador to India for four years. Has that created problems?

India is an important country not just because it is huge and our closest neighbour but also because 82 countries see Nepal through the eyes of India. So, we should not have kept our embassy in New Delhi without ambassador for such a long time. We should give more importance to Nepal-India diplomacy.

Photo by Bikram Rai

Read also:

The trilateral path, Bihari K Shrestha

Modifiable relations, Damakant Jayshi

Raw deal, Anurag Acharya

Back to the dark age, Om Astha Rai

Sun to the rescue, Kishor Rimal