India is Nepal’s ‘foremost friend and development partner’: Foreign Secretary Shringla

Kathmandu: Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla Friday said India and Nepal are on the same page and share the same vision as he underlined that New Delhi sees itself as Nepal’s ‘foremost friend and development partner’ in this country’s quest for economic and social development.

Shringla is here on a two-day maiden visit to Nepal at the invitation of Foreign Secretary Bharat Raj Paudyal, amid a strain in bilateral ties following a bitter border row.

Delivering a talk hosted by the Asian Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs – a Kathmandu-based non-partisan foreign policy think-tank, Shringla said the relation between Nepal and India is ‘intricate’ and they share the same geography, civilisational heritage, culture and customs.

“India sees itself as Nepal’s foremost friend and development partner,” Shringla said in his nearly 25-minute long speech. “Our aspiration of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas’ and your goal of ‘Samriddh Nepal, Sukhi Nepali’ are entirely compatible.”

Noting that recent years have given the relationship a new momentum, the foreign secretary said, “For India, Nepal is fundamental to our ‘Neighbourhood First’ approach.”

“India’s development and modernisation are incomplete and intrinsically and symbiotically linked to the development and modernisation of neighbouring countries such as Nepal,” he said.

He said aside from the common civilisational inheritance, India’s relationship with Nepal rests on four pillars – development cooperation; stronger connectivity; expanded infrastructure and economic projects; easier and enhanced access to educational opportunities in India for the young people of Nepal. “We will work to Nepal’s priorities,” he said.

Shringla Thursday met Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli and held productive talks with his Nepalese counterpart on a wide range of issues, including the border problem. He also called on President Bidya Devi Bhandari and Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali.

“In my meetings here in Kathmandu, with the President and the Prime Minister of Nepal, the Foreign Minister, and my counterpart, the Foreign Secretary, and other dignitaries and officials, I have been left with no doubt that our countries are on the same page and share the same vision,” he said.

Shringla said that the year 2020 has brought with it the additional challenge in the form of COVID-19 pandemic and this has been the most globally disruptive event since the World War II.

“Through this period, Nepal and India have been together. We have suffered together and we have fought back together,” he said.

Shringla assured the people of Nepal that once India rolls out a vaccine against COVID-19, meeting their requirement will be a priority for New Delhi, amid a spike of the deadly disease in the Himalayan nation.

“Together we will recover from the pandemic and together we will protect our people.”

Recalling Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Nepal in August 2014, he said it was the first at that level in 17 years and it injected a fresh energy into the relationship.

Talking about the development projects, implemented in Nepal with India’s support, Shringla said these projects are tailored to the needs of the local community, create community assets, and promote socio-economic welfare at the grassroots level.

“Such development projects have been implemented in all 77 of Nepal’s districts and over a hundred of them have been completed since 2014,” he said, noting that they cover diverse sectors such as education, health, irrigation, drinking water, skill development, youth training, and agriculture.

He said enhancing cross-border connectivity and infrastructure projects are critical and cited the Motihari–Amlekhgunj petroleum pipeline, the 900 MW Arun III hydropower power project, the Jayanagar-Kurtha cross-border rail line and modern integrated check-posts at Birgunj and Biratnagar as some of the examples of the such projects between the two sides.

“As a neighbour and friend, India sees itself as Nepal’s natural and instinctive responder in times of crisis,” he said, citing an example of New Delhi’s quick response after the devastating earthquakes in Nepal in 2015.

“Seventy schools and 150 health facilities are coming up in 12 districts of Nepal with Indian support,” he said. “The outlay of Indian earthquake-related assistance is USD 1 billion but its true value is not in monetary terms. It lies in how it has helped communities on the ground. To cite an instance, 46,000 houses have been built in Gorkha and Nuwakot.”

He said the people-to-people linkages are so strong and so powerful that quite frankly “we in government only complement these.”

“We are dreaming of a new India, a new India as envisioned by our Prime Minister, an India with modern amenities for all our people, an India that is a middle income society…We would like our friends in Nepal to share our dreams and be a part of this journey,” he said. “We need each other.”

“India’s market is available to Nepal,” Shringla said in his speech during which he also spoke in Nepali langauge.

The ties between the two countries came under strain after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated an 80-km-long road connecting the Lipulekh pass with Dharchula in Uttarakhand in May.

Days later, Nepal came out with a new map showing Lipulekh, Kalapani, and Limpiyadhura as its territories.

India reacted sharply, calling it a ‘unilateral act’ and cautioning Nepal that such ‘artificial enlargement’ of territorial claims will not be acceptable to it.