By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal
In the most important and busiest day of his four-day maiden visit to India, President Ram Baran Yadav on Tuesday (today) met several top Indian leaders including counterpart Prativa Patil, Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh and Indian National Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Gandhi, unarguably the most important leader of present day India, went to the Taj Palace hotel to meet the visiting president in the evening.
Before Gandhi, several key cabinet ministers and vice president Hamid Ansari called on the Nepali leader in the hotel. Foreign minister SM Krishna, Finance minister Pranab Mukharjee, Home minister P Chidambaram met the president separately. A new appointment was added in the schedule in which India’s new national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon paid a courtesy call on the president. Commerce minister Anand Sharma and chief of the Congress party’s international department Dr. Karan Singh accompanied Gandhi.
In all of the meetings, UWB has learned, the Indian leaders expressed their concerns on the progress being made in drafting a new constitution in Nepal. They asked whether the constitution writing process would be completed on time, according to President Yadav’s press adviser Rajendra Dahal. Likewise the Indian leaders also keenly inquired about other aspects of the peace process including the governing alliance’s efforts in bringing the UCPN Maoist into confidence. The President is learned to have said that all 22 political parties who supported his controversial move to revoke the then PM’s decision to sack the then Army chief are still undivided and all the political parties in the CA including the Maoists might come together in future as the agenda of change belongs to them. [The Indian side, as it happens in all such occasions, tried to seek assurances from the Nepali side that Nepali land would not be used for anti-India activities.]
Indian media may have ignored the Nepali presidential visit but the warm and high-level welcome that the President got from the Indian political leadership was noteworthy. Some may interpret it as India’s strong approval of the President’s anti-Maoist stand back home.
Prior to the marathon meetings in the hotel the Indian president formally welcomed the Nepali guest in a ceremony in the presidential palace with a 21-gun salute. National anthems of both countries were played during the colorful ceremony. Later in the day, the Prime Minister had lunch with President Yadav in Hyderabad House that is near to the Prime Minister’s office. All key members of the Indian cabinet were present. Nepal and India signed on a new air service agreement and three memorandums of understanding related to development of railway infrastructure in five bordering points and construction of polytechnic institute in Hetauda and a city hall in Birganj. None of the issues are new though.
The Indian press, busy in covering the aftermath of Pune blast, the Maoist attack in West Bengal and impending India-Pakistan talks, didn’t care much about the Nepali presidential visit but the warm and high-level welcome that the president got from the Indian political leadership was noteworthy. This will be interpreted in some quarters in Nepal as India’s strong support to the new Republic in Nepal especially in the context of recent visit by ex-king Gyanendra during which he met some top leaders including Sonia Gandhi. Or, in some other quarters, it could be interpreted as India’s strong approval of the President’s first year in office in which he angered the UCPN Maoist, the largest party in the constituent assembly, that resulting in the former rebel’s exit from the government and the political chaos that exists in Nepal now.
Meanwhile, the President seemed to portray his visit as one far from controversy and one of the regular trips that every Head of State of Nepal is supposed to make. “Nepal-India relations are confluence of political, economic, and unique ties at people-to-people level,” said the president while addressing the dinner party hosted by his Indian counterpart. “It cannot be defined by only one element, let alone be confined to one dimension. These multifaceted and multidimensional relations have been nurtured by frequent contacts and interactions at various levels. I am confident that my first visit to India as the head of state of a new Republic of Nepal will contribute to further consolidating our mutually beneficial close relations.”