Even as bilateral relations have deepened between Nepal and China in the recent past, Beijing will not be able to displace India from its pole position, said Udaya Shumsher Rana, former minister of state for finance and a member of Nepali Congress.
“Nepal needs Beijing and China has been a good neighbour to us but India will remain special, China cannot replace India,” he said.
Speaking exclusively to India Narrative, Rana said that India and Nepal have traditionally shared a close bond despite intermittent “hiccups” due to miscalculations by both sides.
Nepal, which is a landlocked nation, needs India for access to ports. Indian ports are closer and more accessible for Nepal compared to the Chinese.
The Economic Survey in 2018-19 pointed out that India accounts for 64 percent of Nepal’s overall trade volume. A chunk of Nepal’s trade—both imports and exports – are routed through the Haldia and Visakhapatnam ports. Nepal may also be granted access to the deep water Sittwe port which is being developed by India Myanmar’s northern Rakhine province, The port, at the mouth of the Kaladan river, being developed as part of the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project.
The Economic Times pointed out that India has also agreed to provide Nepal access to Dhamra port in Odisha and Mundra in Gujarat. The two countries have been negotiating to facilitate trade through inland waterways from Haldia to Nepal through rivers Koshi and Gandak.
The Chinese on their part have offered Nepal access to its ports at Tianjin, Shenzhen, Lianyungang and Zhanjiang, an earlier statement from Nepal’s Commerce Ministry said, according to a Reuters report.
But analysts say that the offer, right now, has been made out of political and not commercial considerations. “Visakhapatnam is located at about 1,300 km as against the location of Kolkata Port at around 550 km from Nepal border. Any cargo from China has to cross rough terrains of Himalayan area making it very expensive. Even the nearest railway point is located at Lhasa,” D.K. Sarma of the customs department was quoted as saying in The Hindu.
Rana said that India and Nepal have many commonalities in terms of geography, culture and religion besides heightened social interaction owing to open borders. “These factors and the interdependence on each other have helped bind the two countries despite several hiccups,” he said. “These intermittent hiccups typically take a bigger shape due to miscalculations and misunderstandings. Both countries need to be sensitive to each other and resolve issues amicably,” Rana added.
Supply of Covid 19 vaccines
The former minister also underlined the need for India to continue exports of the life-saving Covid 19 vaccines to neighbouring countries.
“We understand that you will have to first take care of your own people and especially as the brutal second wave disrupted life and livelihood but India needs to look at the issue more holistically and in relation to the region,” he said, adding that if Nepal or any other neighbouring country continues to be plagued by the pandemic, the region will suffer and open borders would lead to spread of the virus.
“I think India needs to resume supply of vaccines for the neighbouring countries,” Rana said.
“Nepal and India and even other countries in South Asia are politically divided but culturally they share the same contours,” he said.