By Dr D.N.S.Dhakal and Dr. S.Chandrasekharan
Nobody needs an explanation about the intricate relationship between India and Nepal. The two countries are tied together by culture, religion, common heritage and geography.
Nepal was the only Hindu country until recently. Lord Rama from Aaudhya (India) married Sita from Janakpur (Nepal); Lord Buddha was born in Lumbini (Nepal) but received enlightenment in Gaya (India); and Nepal contributes as much as 40% of the flows in the Ganges, which is sacred, and a lifeline to Indian civilization.
Politicians, diplomats and even intellectuals seem to have lost track about the vision of India-Nepal relationship. The relationship between India and Nepal is immortal; no politicians or policymakers have the capacity to shatter it.
Nepal insists upon the need to revise the Indo-Nepal treaty of 1950. On the contrary, India believes that the revision would hurt a common Nepalese who, under the treaty, enjoys the right to live, seek employment, conduct businesses or own properties in India. Economic benefits to the Nepalese would increase as India becomes richer.
What is needed now is to set aside any ticklish issues and focus on what is needed and deliverable. Nepal needs Indian assistance to complete the peace process, inputs for re-writing the constitution, and rebuilding the economy devastated by a decade long civil-war.
India is no more a poor country. Its gross domestic product is inching to USD 2 trillion; its foreign currency reserve has passed USD 700 billion. India is the world’s IT power house, and one-third of its plus billion people have per capita income of over USD 4,000. India has access to financial resources now which it did not have before.
The rise in economic and diplomatic influence is not matched by its initiative to reach out to its immediate neighbors. Having a strategic partnership with developed and developing countries elsewhere will not pay high dividends in the long-run if India continues to lose ground in its neighborhood. The shifting world’s economic and military power base to Asia is catching attention of Nepal, which shares a long border between the emerging economic and military superpowers: China and India.
Nepal needs investment to develop its infrastructures. The districts in the hills and mountains are not connected with roads. Millions of Nepalese today are deprived of access to medical facilities because they have to travel on foot for days, if not for weeks, to reach to a nearest hospital. Millions of Nepalese today reel under unprecedented power cuts when its fast flowing rivers have potential to generate over 240 billion kWh of electricity. Some 20 plus districts in the Far-West and Mid-West Nepal are declared severely food deficit districts when technology and resources are available in India to produce food surplus. The situation insults the modern achievements in science and technology in India, and exposes lack of visionary thinking in the political class.
India has an opportunity now to demonstrate its stewardship for growth and development in Nepal. Nepal needs comprehensive development plans: from agriculture to infrastructure, primary schools to primary care hospitals, and from hydropower to industries. No other regions in Nepal need immediate attention than Far-West and Mid-West regions. Water resource developments in these regions are enormous; economic developments of these regions are mutually beneficial given the proximity of India’s major consumption centers to north India.
Such a comprehensive development plan strategy would yield visible results. Visible results are necessary to manage trust deficits. A master plan with investment outlay of plus USD 20 billion would transform the western Nepal into a vibrant economic region, not only will transform the life of millions of poor Nepalese in the remote areas, but also give the north Indians access to sustainable supply of water, electricity, fruits, off-season vegetables and tourism resources.
India has the resources, and it is in its long-term interest to pursue this idea. What it needs to do is to establish a mechanism to manage the deepening trust deficit between Nepal and India, and take onboard Nepalese professionals and intellectuals in planning and implementation of such a massive, comprehensive development program. It requires the backing of the political class in India, a task force steered by development specialists and security experts, and networking in Kathmandu to market the idea across the political spectrum. It warrants a process with strategies and deadlines.
The emerging Asian political theatre requires creative thinking and receptive of new ideas. We all wish that India take comprehensive development initiative in Nepal, and keep away from the populist trend of distributing library books, ambulances and scholarships. India needs to revisit its Nepal policy; political, cultural and professional inputs are the need of the hour.
Dr Dhakal is a senior fellow at Duke Center for International Development, Duke University, USA