Nepal, India ice break

Editorial

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli dialled Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday to wish India on its 74th Independence Day, the first direct contact between the two leaders in four months. PM Oli’s ice-breaking phone call was quickly followed by tweets from Nepal’s former prime ministers, Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and Madhav Nepal of the ruling Nepal Communist Party, and Sher Bahadur Deuba, president of the opposition Nepali Congress.

PM Oli had set up a row over an 80-km road built by the Border Roads Organisation in April this year and issued a new map the next month that depicts Indian territories, Kalapani and Lipulekh as part of Nepalese territory. A statement by the external affairs ministry said PM Oli greeted the government and people of India on the occasion of its 74th Independence Day. He also conveyed congratulations for India’s recent election as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Prime Minister Modi offered India’s continued support to Nepal to deal with the pandemic and “recalled the civilizational and cultural links that India and Nepal share”.

The two prime ministers had last spoken on April 10, a conversation that had focussed on the Covid-induced lockdown and the problems being faced by people on both sides of the border.

PM Oli’s tweet, and then the phone call, was followed up by more tweets from across Nepal’s political spectrum.

PM Oli’s phone call comes days ahead of the meeting of the India-Nepal body overseeing the implementation of development projects funded by New Delhi that is scheduled to meet in Kathmandu next week.

This meeting between Indian ambassador Vinay Mohan Kwatra and Nepal’s foreign secretary Shanker Das Bairagi is also the first between the two sides after the row over Nepal’s new map took relations to a new low.

The talks between Oli and Modi come on the heels of repeated attempts from both Kathmandu and New Delhi to end the protracted standoff. This is indeed a positive gesture, and this should have been initiated long ago. Failure to hold talks for so long meant failure of both countries that share historical and cultural ties. Like any other neighbourly countries, Nepal and India too may have some irritants but they should be resolved amicably. We hurriedly published the map and launched a blame-game raising various issues. India, too, must realize that it is not good for its own image if it allows tensions to escalate with Nepal. The telephone talk is a good start. Both sides should soon resume talks at diplomatic level to address the boundary issues so that other differences can also be sorted out gradually. The Oli-Modi dialogue comes also amid Nepal’s preparations to send the new map to the United Nations and other international organisations. Since the prime ministers of both the countries have now taken the initiative, their agencies now should pick it up from here and start communication.

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