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Nepal witnesses new govt, thaw in ties with India in 2016

By PTI Updated: Dec 27, 2016 8:57 pm

Kathmandu, Dec 27: Politically unstable Nepal saw a change in guard in 2016 with ‘Prachanda’ becoming the Prime Minister of the Himalayan nation, but the crisis persists over the new Constitution that sparked violence in Terai region bordering India with which Kathmandu’s ties improved steadily paving way for President Pranab Mukherjee’s maiden visit.
The year began on a turbulent note as the unrest spilled over from the previous year over the Madhesi demands for greater political control following promulgation of the new Constitution in September last year.
Over 50 people were killed during the months long violent agitation by Madhesis who blocked a key border trade points with India, resulting in shortage of essential supplies in Nepal and causing hardships to its people.
The unofficial border blockade was finally lifted on the southern frontier with India on January 5 with a brief clash between Indian traders and agitating Madhesis.
On January 23, the Nepalese Parliament endorsed bills for amending three clauses of the Constitution to incorporate the demands of the disgruntled Madhesi groups.
The amendment included provisions such as proportionate and inclusive representation of all marginalised communities including the Madhesis in all state mechanisms and allocation of seats in the Parliament on the basis of population.
Prime Minister K P Oli visited India in February. Prior to the visit the pro-China premier had said that he would only visit India if the unofficial blockade was lifted.
During Oli’s six-day India visit, he met President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and other important leaders. Two MoUs each worth USD 1 billion were signed between Nepal and India.
The first USD 1 billion line of credit assistance was announced during Modi’s visit to Nepal and the second USD 1 billion assistance was announced during Swaraj’s visit to Nepal for rebuilding after the quake.
Oli paid an official visit to China in third week of March, during which Nepal and China signed 10 agreements to boost economic cooperation that includes, an agreement to facilitate trade and transit between the two neighbours, concessional loan for constructing Pokhara Regional Airport and an economic and technical cooperation agreement.
President Vidya Bhandari’s proposed visit to India was cancelled in May as the cabinet did not endorse her travel plans and the government recalled its envoy to India Deep Kumar Upadhyaya, escalating tensions in bilateral ties.
India had witnessed a strain in bilateral ties after the adoption of a new Constitution by Nepal that divided the tiny nation into seven provincial units and marginalised Madhesis, who are largely of Indian-origin and inhabitants of the Terai.
The government officially invited Madhesi Front for a dialogue to settle the issue while deputy premier and Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa embarked for an official visit to India aimed at improving bilateral ties and met his counterpart Swaraj among other senior officials.
On August 3, CPN-Maoist Centre chairman Prachanda was again elected as Prime Minister with the support from Nepali Congress, the largest party in the parliament, as the agitating Madhesi Front also backed the move, hoping to receive support for their demands.
He vowed to develop friendly relations with both India and China and for implementing past agreements to expedite post-quake reconstruction works through consensus.
Prachanda, who was prime minister from 2008 to 2009 and quit following the controversial sacking of then Nepal Army Chief Rukmangad Katuwal, was not at good terms with India during his first stint that lasted for 280 days.
He is the only communist leader to become the Prime Minister of Nepal twice. With his elevation, all the top three executive posts — President, Vice-President and Prime Minister — in Nepal are now held by communists.
After assuming office, one of the first decisions by the Prachanda government was to grant Rs 1 million each to families of those killed during the Madhesis’ protests, fulfilling one of the key demands of the agitating groups.
The government also sent special envoys to India and China to improve relations with neighbours as Home Minister Bimalendra Nidhi toured India, while Finance Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara visited China.
Prachanda paid a four-day visit to India in September for improving strained ties between the two neighbours. A 25 point joint communique was issued at the end of his visit during which he met the top Indian leadership including Modi.
He claimed his visit had taken Nepal-India ties to a new high.
In a high-profile visit, President Mukherjee travelled to Nepal in November first week on a three-day visit to the country and met his counterpart President Bhandari, Prime Minister Prachanda and other top leaders.
Mukherjee welcomed efforts to implement the Constitution.
Army chief General Dalbir Singh also visited Nepal in November at the invitation of his Nepalese counterpart.
India’s decision to demonetise higher denomination currency notes severely hit the Nepalese economy and premier Prachanda even called up Modi who assured him of efforts to address the problem.
On November 30, the Nepal government registered another bill in Parliament for constitutional amendment to address the demands of the Madhesi parties. The proposed bill aims to redemarcate the provincial boundary.
The bill also seeks to address three other key issues citizenship, representation in the Upper House and recognition of languages spoken in various parts of the country.
However, the agitating Madhesis said the bill was not satisfactory as it did not fully address their demands, while the main opposition CPN-UML also opposed it.
The prime minister unveiled USD 8 billion post-disaster reconstruction plans for next five years in May.

By PTI Updated: Dec 27, 2016 8:57:27 pm