[14 May 2024] The Hindu Op-ed: Stabilising India-Nepal ties in changing times

PYQ Relevance:
Q How far are India’s internal security challenges linked with border management particularly in view of the long porous borders with most countries of South Asia and Myanmar? (UPSC IAS/2013)
Q Border management is a complex task due to difficult terrain and hostile relations with some countries. Elucidate the challenges and strategies for effective border management.  (UPSC IAS/2016)


Consider the following statements:  (UPSC IAS/2020)
1) The value of Indo-Sri Lanka trade has consistently increased in the last decade.
2) “Textile and textile articles” constitute an important item of trade between India and Bangladesh.
3) In the last five years, Nepal has been the largest trading partner of India in South Asia.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 2 only
(c) 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3


Prelims:  Political Theories; Secularism

Mains: Society; Secularism;

Mentor comment: Despite frequent changes in government and the emergence of leaders perceived as anti-India or pro-China, India has maintained a non-partisan approach focused on supporting inclusive economic development, interdependence, communication links, and people-to-people contacts with Nepal.  India’s deep historical, cultural, and economic ties with Nepal, as well as its ability to manage security concerns, have allowed it to navigate these challenges. There is the need for fresh thinking on a range of issues, including economic recovery, bilateral and regional cooperation, supply chain restructuring, energy cooperation, and development.

Let’s learn.

Why in the News?

Being a neighboring country of both – India and China, Nepal grapples with restlessness and uncertainty amid political and economic challenges. 

  • Questions arise on its rushed transition to democracy, identity, and governance amidst regional geopolitics.
About India-Nepal Bilateral Relations:

Strategic Relations:
Geopolitical Dynamics: India is actively countering China’s influence in Nepal through economic diplomacy and expanding cooperation in various sectors.
Energy Cooperation: Both countries have signed agreements to boost cooperation in the energy sector, with India involved in developing several hydropower projects for long-term power trade agreements. For example, the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project (PMP) is a bi-national Multi-Purpose Project, primarily aimed at energy production and augmenting irrigation.

Infrastructure Projects: Efforts are underway to work on infrastructure projects to improve connectivity, such as the unveiling of railway line sections and the inauguration of Integrated Checkposts. India is also undertaking three High Impact Community Development Projects (HICDPs) in Nepal.

Soft Relations:

Cultural and Religious Ties: Steps have been taken to strengthen cultural and religious ties between India and Nepal, including discussions on projects related to the Ramayana circuit, reflecting their shared cultural heritage.
Improvement in Relations: After a period of strain, relations between India and Nepal have been improving, especially with several high-level visits, indicating efforts to enhance cooperation and resolve contentious issues.

Border Disputes:

Recent Developments in Nepal under China’s Influence

  • Political Shifts: Recent coalition changes in Nepal have seen a shift towards leaders perceived as pro-China and anti-India, notably with K.P. Sharma Oli’s return to power. China has actively supported the left alliance in Nepal, pushing for closer ties and cooperation, including on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • Military Cooperation: High-level military visits and agreements indicate China’s intent to expand its influence in Nepal, potentially at India’s expense.
  • Nationalistic Trends: Rising ultra-nationalistic sentiments in Nepal, from far left to far right, pose challenges to India-Nepal relations.
  • Security Concerns: Historical instances of political instability in Nepal leading to security threats for India highlight the importance of stable relations between the two countries.
  • Geopolitical Dynamics: China’s increasing involvement in Nepal raises concerns for India, necessitating a strategic approach to counter potential challenges and maintain regional stability.
  • Regional and International Dynamics: While India has alliances like the QUAD (Australia, India, Japan, the United States) and other Indo-Pacific groupings, relying on them in case of a major crisis in Nepal would be risky.
    • The situation in Nepal could potentially lead to a new “Great Game” involving major regional and global powers.

What is India’s present stand?

  • Non-Interference policy: India has been keeping a low profile and avoiding involvement in Nepal’s internal affairs to prevent controversy.
  • Lending hand for development: India tries to always offer a new, holistic development roadmap aimed at improving the quality of lifestyle for Nepalese. This agenda includes transformative and sustainable development initiatives in sectors such as health, education, food and nutrition, child development, gender equality, and job creation.
  • High-Level Attention: By high-level attention and promoting cross-party political consensus on major projects India tries to ensure continuity and achieve its time-bound results despite political instability.
  • Fostering Inter-linkages and Equality: Developing new inter-linkages between industries of both countries, India addresses the demographic dividend and fosters a sense of equality and sovereign space in Nepal. 

Bone of Contention: Border Disputes

Way Forward:

  • Engage in Quiet Diplomacy: India can engage in quiet diplomacy, fostering dialogue with Nepal’s political stakeholders across the spectrum. This approach can help India understand Nepal’s internal dynamics better while also conveying India’s concerns and interests subtly.
    • India should be mindful of the “big brother-small brother” syndrome, understanding that the onus lies on India to overcome this dynamic. 
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