- PM Modi's visit to Nepal and the outcome are being closely monitored by China
- PM underlined need to boost connectivity in South Asia under his neighbourhood policy
- Modi has also embarked party-to-party engagements with neighbouring countries
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's one day visit to Nepal on the occasion of Buddha Purnima and his acknowledgment that Lumbini was Buddha's birthplace has been a "huge sentiment booster" in the Himalayan nation. This was Modi's fifth visit to Nepal. While Modi in his address to the Nepalese Parliament during his first trip to Kathmandu, acknowledged that Lumbini was the Buddha's birthplace, but the recent visit "during this 2566th birth anniversary of the Buddha has buried this ghost forever," the Himalayan Times said.
The visit and the outcome are being closely monitored by China. Beijing based news organisation Global Times said that Modi's visit to Nepal is aimed at exerting soft power. Modi has underlined the need to boost connectivity in South Asia under his Neighbourhood Policy. Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University told the newspaper that Modi in his second term has attached greater importance to building ties with neighbouring countries, "pushing forward India-Nepal relations to a new height." "China has never opposed India and Nepal establishing closer relations, and we hope that China and India, the two major powers neighbouring Nepal, can join hands and take the responsibility to help our neighbour in terms of infrastructure and disaster relief. China has always held a positive attitude on cooperating more with India on South Asia issues, and bringing the region's development on to a fast track," Global Times quoted Qian as saying.
Most foreign policy watchers have said that Modi's visit could be a game changer in India-Nepal relations. They also said that the visit will put Lumbini on the global map. Last month, Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba visited India just after Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi's visit to New Delhi and Kathmandu. Wang's Nepal visit failed to create any significant impact. Following Wang's visit, in the official statement the Nepalese foreign ministry did not mention anything on the much hyped Belt and Road Initiative even as Kathmandu and Beijing signed the pact in 2017. Though a host of agreements between Nepal and China were signed in the presence of Wang but according to analysts those were more "customary" in nature.
Interestingly, the Narendra Modi government has also embarked on party-to-party engagements with neighbouring countries. In October, a three-member delegation of the Nepali Congress led by head of party's international department Prakash Sharan Mahat visited India opening up an informal channel of engagements as well. "Going ahead, engagements between the two countries will be multipronged-not just official visits but also social and informal, something which is expected to iron out any kind of differences and issues if at all they come up," an insider told India Narrative.