External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s recent visit to Kathmandu is in line with prime minister Narendra Modi’s neighbour-first foreign policy. Modi himself chose Bhutan for his first foreign visit as prime minister. Swaraj had also chosen a neighbouring country—Bangladesh—for her first visit. One of the main purposes of her Nepal visit was to pave the way for Modi’s visit to the Himalayan Republic in early August. Nepalese prime minister Sushil Koirala’s statement welcoming Modi’s election could have only warmed the cockles of his heart. Swaraj’s visit has helped revive the India-Nepal Joint Commission, which has been dormant for 23 years.
During this period, a lot has happened in India-Nepal relations that shouldn’t have. Suspicion and mistrust had replaced friendliness and mutual understanding. All this happened despite the two nations sharing cultural, historic, religious and social traditions. As vast swathes of Nepalese territory came under the influence of Maoists, countries inimical to India began to fish in troubled waters. True, Indian diplomacy also failed to arrest the worsening trend so much so that the two nations appeared headed in opposite directions. The saner sections in Nepal would have recalled then prime minister I K Gujral’s visit to Kathmandu when he made the Nepalese feel comfortable with his words and gestures. Alas, he was a political weakling who left the scene as soon as he came.
Unlike many of his predecessors, Modi is guided by his belief that India should take along all the neighbours in its relentless march to progress. That is precisely why he wanted the ISRO scientists to develop a satellite that will provide navigational facilities to the SAARC nations. His policy of regionalism is bound to succeed as it is rooted in pragmatism rather than vague South Asian brotherhood. He wants to harp on the fact that strengthening economic ties between India and its neighbours is in their mutual interest. Nations which do good business with one another are bound to remain friendly.