It is water not China that has ruined Nepal’s relations with India


Two thirds of Nepal’s total trade are with India only. Not only that, more than 90 percent of landlocked Nepal’s exports and imports transit through its large southern neighbor.

Khadga Prasad Oli, after assuming the office of the Prime Minister of Nepal in February, has come to India on his first foreign visit. This three-day visit with a 53 member delegation has started from 6 April 2018. Narendra Modi government is rolling out the red carpet for the Commrade Oli, who is also the Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and ideologically and politically close to China. In spite of his return to power after his left coalitions’ decisive victory over pro-India parties in the last election, Oli has decided to respect the tradition and select India for his first visit abroad. However, the relations between India and its smaller but strategically critical neighbor Nepal is not the same as it used to be in the past.

Large number of people move across the border regularly for jobs and other economic opportunities. Over and above, both the countries are Hindu majority countries. However, contrary to expectation, the relationship between these two countries have become openly conflictual and even hostile in recent years. Strong anti-India sentiment among Nepalese population is not new. The anti-India constituency in Nepal has been growing for decades, but what is new is due to China’s emergence as a global power has emboldened the political elites of Nepal to openly challenge India. A number of Nepalese political leaders are regularly using anti-India tirade to strengthen their political base. India is not in a position anymore to take Nepal for granted.

It is true that China has provided the strength to the political elites of Nepal to not to always listen to India anymore. But, the question one needs to ask that why Nepalese Hindu electorates, instead of being pro-India are mostly cheering for anti-India tirade of pro-China politicians. The anti-India popular sentiments in Bangladesh has been usually blamed by Indian analysts as the manifestation of religious divide between two countries. If that is so, there should not have been any anti-India sentiment in a predominantly Hindu country like Nepal. India and Nepal have disagreement over the issues of trade and transit and also on areas of security concerns. In recent years, India support for Madhesis has also become a major irritant. However, if one looks closely the bilateral relationship between India and Nepal, the most consistent and highly emotional reason of Nepalese anger has been India’s perceived exploitation of Nepal’s rich water resources for its own agricultural and energy needs.

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