New Nepal PM to visit India Aug 18


Kathmandu : Almost three months after he was sworn in as republican Nepal’s second prime minister, veteran communist leader Madhav Kumar Nepal will begin his much-awaited visit to India on Aug 18, his foreign affairs advisor said Saturday.

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The 56-year-old, whose childhood was spent in the Indian border town Sitamarhi, will meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, president of the ruling Congress party Sonia Gandhi and other Indian ministers and senior officials.

However, Rajan Bhattarai, the Nepali prime minister’s foreign affairs adviser, said that the itinerary and agenda of the visit are yet to be finalised.

“There are several matters of bilateral interest which would feature during the visit,” Bhattarai said.

The nearly 1,800 km open border between the two countries remains a contentious issue as well as water-sharing and are expected to be discussed between the two premiers.

While the Indian government is keen to expedite mega power and irrigation projects that require building high dams, there is stiff resistance to that by some Nepali organisations.

Nepal would also have to grapple with the anger and suspicion of the largest party, the Maoists, who blame the fall of their eight-month-old government on “Indian intervention”. The Maoists have also accused the Nepal government of trying to break the peace pact signed with them by trying to buy lethal arms from India.

Though the prime minister has rejected the accusation in parliament, the former guerrillas are likely to bring up the issue again in a bid to put pressure on Nepal’s coalition government.

The India visit would also carry substantial diplomatic importance as Madhav Kumar Nepal has chosen to follow the tradition of Nepali PMs visiting India first after assuming office.

Last year, Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda broke away from the tradition and decided to visit Nepal’s northern neighbour China first, ostensibly to attend the conclusion of the 2008 Olympic Games.

However, the visit created a furore after it was interpreted as Prachanda, whose party follows the ideology of Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, trying to snub New Delhi and cultivate better ties with Beijing.

After his resignation in May, Prachanda said his China visit had angered India which engineered the fall of his government.

The new Nepali prime minister’s visit to India would be preceded by a visit by Nepali Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala.

Koirala will arrive in New Delhi, possibly on a three-day visit, Aug 11.