Kathmandu-Delhi, rework-in-progress

Narendra Modi’s day-long visit to Nepal, which included talks with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and marking the 2,566th birth anniversary of Gautam Buddha at Lumbini, is part of the rework-in-progress in India-Nepal ties. Changing geopolitical contexts, Nepal’s domestic political dynamics, global challenges such as climate change and energy transitions – all these require the India-Nepal relationship to evolve from ‘traditional cultural ties’ to fit the needs of the 21st century. Modi’s visit to Nepal, just like Deuba’s India visit earlier in April, is laying out the elements of this being-updated relationship.

The bilateral relationship hit a low post-2016. Anti-Indianism emerged as an expression of Nepali nationalism. Some political parties, in particular the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), exploited this to their advantage. Building on these dynamics, during 2018-21, Beijing’s influence in Nepal grew. By 2019, China had replaced India as the largest foreign investor in Nepal. Deuba’s appointment as PM in July 2021 provided an opportunity to rework the bilateral relationship. His April visit focused on energy and infrastructure. His counterpart’s current visit looks at leveraging historical ties to drive economic growth for both countries.

As Kathmandu and New Delhi work towards their net-zero emissions targets, Nepal and India have the opportunity to leverage their relationship to push for economic growth. Increased energy partnerships and improved rail connectivity, along with strengthening infrastructure and logistics for religious tourism, are bulwarks of this model. Partnering to build a Buddhist centre at Lumbini as a net-zero-emissions building underlines that this is not a reset, but an update for the times.


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