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Indian Newspapers' Editorial Commentaries on Bhattarai Visit

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A sample of Indian newspapers' editorials regarding PM Bhattarai's India visit.

Here is a sample of five editorials from India's major English-language newspapers. A common thread in these editorials: India needs to be generous toward Nepal, and it must be supportive to its peace process:

Friendship upgrade
A "special" relationship rarely entails standoffs. Yet that's precisely what's characterised the India-Nepal relationship for much of the time since Nepal's transition to a republic, especially during Maoist chief Prachanda's premiership. It is, therefore, as much in the fitness of things as in mutual interest that India is engaging Nepal again. Nepal Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai's visit sought to realign the two countries along old and new paths of cooperation, observing their historic neighbourly ties while recasting them in the current context. India's concern with the Maoists -- Nepal's largest parliamentary bloc -- had been their attitude to the still unresolved peace process. Bhattarai has signalled a positive change in the UCPN-M's commitment to it. Delhi and Kathmandu agreed to move ahead, although the internal dynamic of the peace process will determine the speed and smoothness of Nepal's transition to a healthy democracy.

Economic development and bilateral trade lead Bhattarai's Indian agenda. While he has assured steps to promote "an investor-friendly and enabling business environment" for Indian investments in Nepal, Nepal's growing trade deficit with India will be looked into among other trade and transit issues. Nevertheless, Delhi could be more pro-active in cutting that trade imbalance; and Kathmandu can only benefit from depoliticising its economic ties with India. Bhattarai also addressed a key Indian concern of security, saying Nepal's territory would not be allowed to be used for anti-India activities. There remain several outstanding issues to be sorted out, and operationalising the current agreements will be a challenge. However, Bhattarai's pragmatism should get its share of credit.

An important aspect of the relationship that needs to be revised is the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship. Bhattarai may have mitigated the essential Maoist hostility for this treaty, but in order to modernise India-Nepal relations, this relic of another era must be updated. The Eminent Persons Group proposed to look holistically into ties and the proposal to revitalise bilateral mechanisms are actually centred around this task. For its part, India has shown it is prepared to work with a Maoist-led government. Now it remains to be seen if Bhattarai, battling rebellion within his party, is able to convince his Maoist colleagues.

The Indian Express, October 25, 2011


An opening with Nepal
The most significant outcome of Nepali Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai's visit to India is the growing trust between the two countries, and between the Indian establishment and his own party, the Unified Communist Part of Nepal (Maoist). The stagnation that marked the bilateral relationship is now broken. New Delhi's policy of trying to keep the Maoists -- the legitimately elected biggest party in parliament -- out of the power structure over the past two years was counter-productive. It only prolonged the stalemate over constitutional issues, deepened the instability, and generated resentment against India. But there has been a policy course-correction in the last few months. India did well not to try and block the election of Mr. Bhattarai as Prime Minister by using its leverage with the Madhesi parties. The immediate invitation extended to the new leader, the low-key efforts by the new Indian Ambassador in Kathmandu encouraging all sides to be flexible, the new support for the integration of a certain number of Maoist combatants into the Nepal Army, and the atmospherics of the prime ministerial visit show a renewed Indian commitment to playing a constructive role. With a section of the Indian establishment remaining uncomfortable with the emerging rapprochement, Nepal's opposition parties seem to have lobbied with senior members of the Indian cabinet to slow down the engagement with Maoists. Fortunately, this didn't work.

Nepal appears to be on the verge of achieving a breakthrough in its peace and constitutional process. Its political parties are close to an agreement on the issue of the integration of Maoist fighters, which is at the core of the peace process. There is also a power-sharing proposal on the table, with the Maoists saying the Nepali Congress president, Sushil Koirala, can be the next Prime Minister who will lead the country into elections after promulgation of the new constitution. India must play a supportive role, as it did in 2005 when the 12-point agreement was forged. It should continue supporting the present government in its quest to wrap up the political transition, use its leverage with the Nepali Congress to get it to cooperate on the peace process, and nudge the Maoists to implement past commitments. Prime Minister Bhattarai and the Maoists took a political risk in signing the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement -- his rivals back home have dubbed it an 'anti-national' deal -- because they want to tell India that they can deliver on contentious issues, including the security of Indian investment. It is vital that India recognises these changing political realities in Nepal, and plays the role of a constructive facilitator once again.

The Hindu, October 25, 2011


India must more than reciprocate Nepal Prime Minister Bhattarai's overtures
New Delhi has often been seen as being involved in machinations against the Nepali Maoists, and as displaying a big brotherly attitude towards Kathmandu.

The ongoing visit of Nepalese Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai can go a long way in correcting that by connecting with the largest political party in Nepal, even as the hardline factions within the party remain somewhat wary and hostile towards India. The political deadlock in Nepal was broken by the appointment of Bhattarai as Prime Minister, and the political class now needs to get on with the crucial task of writing the Constitution through the Constituent Assembly.

Helping Nepal achieve that goal, without being seen to be partisan vis a vis Nepal's complex internal dynamics should be New Delhi's guiding principle.

Mr Bhattarai, who arrived on a four-day visit to India on Thursday, comes with quite a reputation. Not only is he seen to have been one of the key architects of the Maoist insurgency, but also of the remarkable transition to democratic politics of his party, which radically altered Nepal's political landscape. Having been sworn in as PM after a long period of squabbling between political parties, he is also seen as a statesman best suited to guide Nepal out of instability.
His welcome remarks on reducing the trust deficit with India, the stress on seeking to expand mutual trade, while underlining that his country has the closest economic ties with India, are in keeping with his reputation as a pragmatist and a moderate in his party who has often argued that bringing on board all political parties and Nepal's neighbours is the way forward for Nepal. New Delhi should go the extra mile in reciprocation.

As the much larger country and trading partner, India needs to be generous while framing economic agreements. One major area of cooperation, as Mr Bhattarai pointed out, is in power. With its huge hydropower potential, Nepal can be a big exporter to India, but is yet power-deficient. This, and other issues of infrastructure-building, may yet take time to finalise, but it is clear that this visit can be a transformative one on rebuilding mutual trust and the spirit of regional cooperation.

The Economic Times, October 22, 2011


Bhattarai's visit
Nepal Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai is a Maoist like Prachanda but he leans more towards moderation. He is on a visit to India which is his first foreign visit. He has thus made amends for the departure from traditional practice when Prachanda first went to China in 2008. Prachanda however explained it away saying that he had gone to see the Beijing Olympics. Bhattarai's visit is primarily aimed at seeking Indian support for the political transition in his country. His government is still fragile. New Delhi regards his views with some suspicion but is prepared to strengthen its ties with the Maoist Prime Minister. Bhattarai will have talks with Manmohan Singh whom he has met before and other Indian dignitaries.

Nepal and India share a special relationship. It is hoped that Nepal would be sensitive to various concerns of India. Admittedly, the ruling Maoists in Nepal have asked their Prime Minister to avoid such potential irritants as the signing of an extradition pact and review of the 1950 Friendship Treaty. The first priority goes to security related issues. No major pacts are in sight but both sides are expected to step up cooperation especially in the power sector. Nepal can derive immense economic benefits from ties with India. It is unfortunate that some Indian joint venture companies in Nepal have been under attack. Such attacks keep away entrepreneurs and impair business relations. New Delhi is keen to sign a Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement. Bhattarai should welcome these moves as an understanding with India will help him set his house in order. What he needs is completion of the peace process in Nepal hampered mainly by the inability to rehabilitate 19,000 former Maoist guerrillas.

The Shillong Times, October 20th, 2011


Attend thy neighbour
Baburam Bhattarai's maiden visit to India as Nepal's prime minister presents a historic opportunity for both countries. Nepal is in the throes of political transition and only recently achieved a semblance of stability following Bhattarai's election. Before that a succession of prime ministers had given the impression of musical chairs. Nepal needs India to boost development and put its economy on a high growth trajectory. On the other hand, India is presented with an opportunity to renew ties with a key regional player. It is beyond doubt that the Maoists constitute a significant force in Nepal's political landscape. Bhattarai may, therefore, be able to lead Nepal out of its unstable phase. Both New Delhi and Kathmandu need to accept the benefits inherent in enhanced bilateral relations.

Despite close historical and cultural links, recent times have brought much turbulence in the India-Nepal relationship. On the ground, Indian companies in Nepal have come under attack. Given that two-thirds of Nepal's economic activities are with India, this is hardly constructive. Bhattarai has promised a strong economic and development partnership and vowed to protect Indian investment. For the two sides to follow through on this objective, it is imperative that the Bilateral Investment Protection Agreement is inked at the earliest. Similarly, the other two agreements on the anvil - the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement and the $250 million line of credit to Kathmandu - should boost economic relations.

Just as care needs to be taken to ensure India-Nepal ties move forward on the basis of mutual trust and respect, India's relationship with Bangladesh deserves due attention as well. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's recent visit to Teen Bigha was a public relations disaster with no senior Indian government minister, other than the lightweight Ghulam Nabi Azad, present to receive Bangladesh's head of state. Not even a meeting between Sheikh Hasina and Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee could be organised. Coming after the Teesta water agreement fiasco, such a lacklustre attitude hasn't gone down well with Dhaka.

If India is to reap the benefits of friendly relations with its neighbours, it must start taking its neighbourhood seriously. And this doesn't mean an exclusive focus on Pakistan or China. Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives cannot and should not be taken for granted. They deserve as much of our foreign policy attention as the US or Europe. Only sustained ties based on equality can strengthen India's profile in the region and aid its rise at the international arena.

The Times of India, October 20, 2011



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