India-Nepal ties are back in the spotlight with the visit of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) chief, Samant Goel, to Kathmandu last week. Mr Goel met the Nepali Prime Minister, KP Sharma Oli, who has espoused belligerent anti-Indian nationalism for domestic political ends. His visit has drawn up the predictable response in Nepal — of Indian interference in internal affairs — and has also led to criticism of Mr Oli, who is being accused by his critics of now softening up to India.
Two things are noteworthy here. One, R&AW has had a substantial role in the neighbourhood in general and Nepal in particular. It not only ensures that the Indian system is on top of information and changing dynamics, but has been an instrument for action — as is the role of any intelligence agency. Nepal’s politicians criticise it publicly, while seeking to cosy up to it privately. The visit and Mr Oli’s willingness to meet Mr Goel confirms this.
More broadly however, the visit has led to speculation of India-Nepal ties going back to normal, especially since the Indian Army chief is scheduled to visit Nepal next. India has to do business with whichever elected government is in power in Nepal. But at the same time, New Delhi must be careful that “normalcy” in ties should not come at the cost of narrowing down its interests in Nepal. Only a stable, inclusive, democratic Nepal — led by a regime which knows the value of special ties with India and engages with China within certain boundaries — can help keep the regional security environment balanced. Mr Oli has not given signs of doing this. Delhi can remain tactically prudent, but should not lose sight of this long-term goal.