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Will PM Modi’s Lumbini visit be a game changer in India-Nepal relations?

PM Modi first Indian prime minister to visit Lumbini

Will Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s one day visit to Lumbini in Nepal on the occasion of Buddha Purnima give a new thrust to the political and bilateral contours between New Delhi and Kathmandu? Analysts said that the visit has been crucial for Nepalese sentiment. Modi is the first Indian prime minister to visit Lumbini and his visit follows the successful conclusion of Nepal’s local elections, in which the Nepali Congress emerged as the biggest gainer.

Bhaskar Koirala, Director of the Nepal Institute of International and Strategic Studies told India Narrative that the timing of the Prime Minister’s visit is significant.

“Most importantly, by being present in Lumbini on the occasion of Buddha Purnima, PM Modi has acknowledged to not just a Nepalese audience but globally as well, that the birthplace of the Buddha was indeed Nepal. This is very important for Nepalese sentiment and should have positive spin off for the larger bilateral relationship,” Koirala told India Narrative.

Koirala added that the visit follows the conclusion of the local level elections in Nepal. “These elections have emerged out of the 12 point agreement,” he said.

Under the 12-point agreement, the political parties in Nepal pledged to uphold democracy, peace, prosperity and social advancement and ending autocratic monarchy.

The results of the local elections are expected to weigh in the forthcoming national elections.

Modi has maintained that Nepal, with which India shares an open border policy, is one of the main pillars of New Delhi’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.

The visit, while kickstarting the Buddhist Circuit, also showcases the joint heritage shared by the two neighbours. 

“The circuit attracts tourists, researchers and academicians from all over the world,” Navita Srikant, foreign policy expert said. “The visit on the occasion of Buddha Purnima reiterates Modi’s commitment towards deepening India-Nepal friendship and calibrating connectivity and jointly towards mutual prosperity of the people,” Srikant added.

India-Nepal relations had nosedived last year after Nepal’s former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli issued a new political map claiming the disputed areas in the Kalapani region as part of the Himalayan nation.

Amid global geopolitical shifts and challenges, India and Nepal along with other South Asian countries are looking to boost connectivity and expedite the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA). The BBIN project is being perceived as a game changer for economic growth in the region.

At present, a chunk of Nepal’s trade—both imports and exports – are routed through the Haldia and Vishakhapatnam ports. Sources added that India is expected to open up more ports for Nepal.

Nepal is dependent heavily on India for access to ports though Kathmandu has also been granted access to Chinese ports now.

India accounts for 64 per cent of Kathmandu’s overall trade volume.

Also read: PM Modi’s visit to Lumbini is part of India’s rise as a civilizational state

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