The Telegraph
Friday , June 13 , 2014
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Modi welcomes Nepal republican lobbyist

New Delhi, June 12: In his continuing engagement with the neighbourhood, Prime Minister Narendra Modi set aside protocol today to open his doors to a top Nepali republican lobbyist.

In a 20-minute meeting with Nepali Congress MP and key player in the Nepal peace process, Amresh Kumar Singh, the Prime Minister promised to visit Nepal soon, though without indicating a date. The last Indian Prime Minister to make a bilateral trip to Kathmandu was the late I.K. Gujral in 1997.

“It was a very warm and constructive meeting,” Amresh said, speaking exclusively to The Telegraph. “Modiji has promised to step up political engagement with Nepal and contribute more substantively to our development process.”

Amresh met Modi one-on-one at the latter’s 7 Race Course Road offices. The meeting was arranged at the political level, sources indicated. The ministry of external affairs was not involved.

“We feel encouraged by the Indian Prime Minister’s stress on economic development and aligning his foreign policy to economic concerns,” Amresh said. “I conveyed to him our hope that development will dominate relations between our two countries in the time to come. Nepal gets far less grants from India compared to Bhutan and Afghanistan. I requested Modiji that he correct this imbalance.”

Amresh has been in Delhi this past week to seek assurances from top officials and leaders of the new government that New Delhi will continue to back the “federal and republican aspirations” of Nepali people. Among those he has met are foreign secretary Sujatha Singh and commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who he has known since his student days at JNU.

Nepal formally abrogated monarchy following the 2008 elections, which the Maoists won. Since then, though, Nepal’s political parties have bickered and failed to give the nation a Constitution.

The second constituent assembly was elected last year but Prime Minister Sushil Koirala’s Nepali Congress-United Marxist-Leninist coalition has not been able to agree with Nepal’s Prachanda-Baburam Bhattrai-led Maoists on critical aspects of the new Constitution. The most prickly differences concern the nature of Nepali federalism and the role of Madhesis, the 31 per cent inhabitants of Nepal’s terai, in the future arrangement.

Meantime, there has been some concern in Nepali political circles that the assumption of power by a “rightwing” BJP-led government might “adversely impact” Nepal’s lumbering effort to formalise itself as a federal republic.

“We do not want a return either to monarchy or a Hindu kingdom,” a Nepali Congress leader accompanying Prime Minister Koirala for Modi’s inauguration last month, had told The Telegraph.

“There may be elements in the new government, or Hinduvaadi elements behind it who may lobby for a turn to the right. Our concern is that the Modi government should continue to fully back efforts for a federal and republican Constitution.”

There are political elements in Nepal, many of them close to the deposed monarch, Gyanendra — the last of the Shah dynasty to wear the crown — that feel encouraged by the arrival in power of an RSS-backed formation. The apprehension among many in Nepal’s constituent assembly is that they could push for “restoration” of monarchy as the “only unifying force” of the nation.

“There are voices in Nepal that sense the new Indian establishment could covertly encourage a return to some sort of Hindu kingdom,” the Nepali Congress leader had said last month. “But we shall seek assurances from New Delhi that it will not endorse any reversal of plural democracy in Nepal.”

Though today’s conversation between Prime Minister Modi and Amresh was focused on economic issues, Modi is believed to have queried the Nepali leader on whether the Maoists had given up violence altogether and committed themselves to mainstream politics. Amresh told the Prime Minister he was convinced the Maoists were firmly for multiparty democracy and would not return to arms. Modi also expressed his hope to Amresh that the process of a new constitution will be speedily concluded by the constituent assembly.

In an aside, Modi is learnt to have expressed the wish to visit and pray at Kathmandu’s iconic Pashupatinath Temple. Amresh told him Monday was the most auspicious day to visit the shrine.