India beyond Modi

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    BISHAL THAPA

    bishal-thapaLong before the first vote had been cast and the last vote counted, Narenda Modi had come to mean different things to different people, not just in India but across the world. In South Asia the Modi phenomenon was being dissected for its possibilities even before the invitation for his swearing-in had been sent to regional state heads. 

    In Nepal, first there was confusion about who should be in the Prime Minister’s delegation to the swearing-in. That confusion turned into a mini-crisis of sorts. Nepal did finally get over that and made it there just in time. 

    Prime Minister Modi promised a return visit. He arrived, as promised, in Kathmandu on Sunday. Long before he arrived, Nepal had already built up layers of expectation—everyone, it seemed, had something that Modi could do for Nepal. 

    Monarchists and Hindu idealists see Modi and his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as a force that could enable a return to the old monarchy-based Hindu state in Nepal. These hopefuls believe that deep down Modi and the BJP have a mission to re-establish Hinduism. The BJP, they argue, holds a soft corner for Nepal as the only Hindu state. Many will read the prayers that Modi offered at Pashupatinath as symbolic of that intent. 

    These hopefuls may be disappointed. Modi and the BJP may have a deep sense of loyalty to their core Hindu constituency. But they are also busy building a contemporary India around economic growth and development, rather than symbolism of core Hindu values.

    A second group of Nepalis has been dismayed by the failure of New Delhi to remain entrenched in Nepal over the years. They see in Modi a force that can bring India back into Nepal. India, they argue, has allowed China to cut into Indian influence on the ground. These hopefuls believe that India’s reengagement will be a counterweight to the growing Chinese influence in economic, social and political spheres. 

    These hopefuls may be disappointed too. It is unclear that India needs anything from Nepal beyond a stable neighbor. Although India under Modi appears to be building a tighter network of more favorable neighbors, it is unlikely that India will see Nepal, or for the matter any other South Asian neighbor, as a battleground for Chinese’s influence. 

    There are many other such hopefuls who believe Modi will make this or that happen. The list of expectations is long. As a Prime Minister with a historic and unprecedented mandate, Modi could perhaps make many things happen for Nepal. He is the first Indian PM to visit Nepal on an official trip in 17 years, that too within a few weeks of taking office. 

    Modi’s speech in Parliament was unequivocal in his support for Nepal. He extended a new line of credit of US $1 billion; promised to help build Nepal’s infrastructure; start work on the Pancheshwor Multipurpose Project within a year and buy all electricity Nepal can produce. 

    Whether all of this can materialize is unknown. But the mere fact that Modi has pledged is sufficient—the door has been opened. The question is how Nepal will capitalize on what has been offered. To profit from Modi’s new beginning, Nepal needs to be smarter about what to seek from India and where to hitch her tugboat for sustained economic growth.

    Nepal’s engagement with India is still draped around the understanding from the 60’s and 70’s—the Indian license raj where business, economic growth and prosperity were made possible only by government largess. Nepal’s policy remains seemingly unaware of the transformations that have swept through the country. 
    Today’s India is different. The private sector has been enabled, the middle class unshackled and the biggest drivers of India’s growth is outside government. Yet Nepal’s engagement with India begins and ends with South Block, set firmly in the belief that if the Indian government waves its magic wand everything will be all right.

    Take the proposed power trade agreement (PTA). The agreement would allow the two countries to develop mechani

    bishal_thapa@hotmail.com

    Source : Republica