Indian flag with Nepali flag on a tree stump isolated. Image: iStock
Indian flag with Nepali flag on a tree stump isolated. Image: iStock

I am an atheist, but my family members are practitioners of the Hindu faith, albeit with a secular outlook. The Sodashi Sanskar (Sixteen Sacraments) are to be followed throughout a Hindu’s life, from conception to death. Nowadays, however, Hindu people generally follow only five to six of the 16 sacraments. This year, I attended two such rituals in my extended family.

The first was the Upanayan (Vedic literature says Hindus are twice-born people, the first being their biological birth and the second their cultural birth, in which a Yagnopavit, the sacred thread, is worn after a Vedic ritual from the age of eight to 12 years) of the son of  one of my nephews in April. The second was the Annaprasanna (the first cereal feeding takes place with a Vedic ritual once a child reaches six months of age) of the daughter of another nephew last week.  

Readers might be wondering why the author is mentioning family stuff in a geopolitical opinion column. Hang on, the above-specified two events bring something hidden in India-Nepal relations into the light. They also shed light on the fact that the outcry in the Indian foreign-policy realm that Nepal has tilted more toward China in recent times is a far cry from reality.

The second ritual I attended was the Annaprasanna of a little girl whose father had been born on the same day that Nepal and India signed the Mahakali Treaty, on February 12, 1996. That boy grew up, graduated, got married, and after having a beautiful baby girl, he celebrated Annaprasanna when his daughter reached six months of age. Almost 23 years have passed since the treaty’s signing, and the Detailed Project Report (DRP) has not been prepared for the Pancheswar Multi-Proposed Project of the 3,400-megawatt electricity and irrigation scheme yet.

The story does not end here. The first meeting of the India-Nepal Technical Standing Committee under the treaty was held after 12 years, in 2008. The project is not likely to be completed by the time my nephew is a grandfather and attending the Annaprasanna rituals of his grandchildren.

Wait, the next story tells an even more glum picture. The father of the boy whose Upanayana ritual I attended was born a few weeks after the foundation stone was laid for the reconstruction of the Hulaki Rajmarg (Postal Highway) in 1991 with aid granted by the government of India. According to the Investment Board of Nepal, only 67 kilometers of the planned 1,792km road has been completed to date.

My nephew was born, was brought up, got married, had a boy and his son’s Upanayana ritual was conducted at the age of eight years. However, after more than a quarter-century has passed, the road has not been completed yet. There is no certainty of its completion after another quarter-century.

These two projects are only representative examples. Most of the Indian aid projects have the same destiny in Nepal.

India makes promises but fails to put its words into action. Now, Nepali people think that India makes hollow pledges beyond its real capacity. The hidden aim of Indian pledges is to prevent Nepal from developing much-needed infrastructure and making socioeconomic advances to escape from the vicious circle of poverty by using other countries’ resources. As a result, India can continue meddling in Nepal’s internal affairs and Nepal cannot escape from the Indian sphere of influence.

Nepal has not been tilting toward China; however, India itself has been pushing Nepal toward China day by day. For instance, Nepal hosted the Nepal Investment Summit in 2017.  Twenty-six countries participated in the summit and vowed private- and public-sector investment in Nepal. India was the least among them to pledge in terms of the bulk of investment whereas China was top. The amount China promised to invest was 23.5 times as high as India’s pledge.

Similarly, after the 7.9-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal on April 27, 2015, Nepal organized a reconstruction summit. India committed the highest amount of loans and grants. However, China provided more than three times as much in actual grants than India.

Many Chinese companies have been winning contracts for Nepal’s infrastructure development projects because their bids are lower than those of India. Besides, Chinese companies complete projects on time more than Indian firms do.

Additionally, Kantipur, a Nepalese-language daily, reported on September 30 that the number of flights between Kathmandu and Chinese cities surpassed the number of flights between Kathmandu and Indian cities. On the other hand, Nepali people want to avoid transit through Indian cities to circumvent the unnecessary annoyances created by Indian airport authorities while flying via Indian routes. Besides, India has not been very forthcoming in granting more air-connectivity routes to Nepal.

Similarly, India has not implemented its 2015 decision to include Nepal in the Leave Travel Allowance (LTA) scheme for Indian government employees vacationing in Nepal. Because of this, the number of Indian tourists visiting Nepal has not increased. In contrast, the numbers of Chinese tourists traveling to Nepal are rising significantly. The number of Chinese tourists entering through the Rasuwagadhi entry point in the first three quarters of 2018 was 600% higher than the same period in 2016.

Besides, India did not improve the quality of the optical fiber network to Nepal, whereas China happily offered Chinese cyber connectivity facilities to Nepal, and thus Nepal linked with China, ending the Indian monopoly in bandwidth connectivity.

When India imposed its economic blockade on Nepal in 2015, China provided 1.3 million liters of fuel. The petroleum products entering through Rasuwaghadhi were the harbinger for the inking of the China-Nepal Trade and Transit Treaty in 2016, and its Protocol in 2018, formally ending the Indian monopoly on Nepal’s access to maritime routes. It seems that Indian diplomats are unfamiliar with the maxim “If a cat is cornered it dares to jump over an elephant.”

If India wants to stop Nepal looking more toward China, it needs to offer something more significant than what Beijing has been offering

Although Chinese seaports are far from Nepal as compared with India’s, they are still significant. A study by South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE) a few years back pointed out that para-tariffs such as countervailing duties, special additional duties, and their non-transparent applications to Nepalese goods were creating hurdles to exports to India.

The study also advised that sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures were critical non-tariff barriers to Nepalese products. These barriers make up 80-85% of the non-tariff barriers to Nepalese exports to India due to which the trade deficit has reached about 1 trillion Nepalese rupees (US$8.5 billion) and two-thirds of it was with India in the last fiscal year.

Such unfair treatment runs counter to the provisions in the bilateral trade and transit treaty, the regional SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area) agreement, and multilateral World Trade Organization agreement. Unfair Indian treatment accounts for 500 billion Nepalese rupees, or two-thirds, of Nepal’s total trade deficit with India in the last fiscal year.

India has thus been sustaining what amounts to a permanent economic blockade on Nepal. Therefore, Nepal signed a trade and transit treaty with China as the “measure of the last resort.”

If India wanted to avert Nepal’s gaze at China, it would stop hindering Nepal’s exports to India and third countries. Therefore, if India wants to stop Nepal looking more toward China, it needs to offer something more significant than what Beijing has been offering.

It should provide unilateral concessions to Nepalese goods entering India as much as China has been providing. China has been giving unilateral concessions of duty-free entry for 8,547 Nepalese products under an agreement on duty-free treatment for least-developed countries (LDCs).

India has been committing one mistake after another in pushing Nepal toward China. However, Indian politicians, diplomats, foreign-policy scholars, strategic analysts, military commanders, and journalists do not bother to demonstrate a bit of modesty when they write on the India-Nepal relationship in Indian newspapers. They demand that Nepal must bow to India and insist it has no alternative to escape from the Indian sphere of influence.

They demand Nepal’s obligation toward India as an immediate neighbor in areas such as terrorism, security, counterfeit currency and possible security threats from China. However, they overlook the fact that Nepal has been fulfilling its obligation and is mindful of the security concerns of China and India, and retired Indian intelligence officials have admitted that publicly.

Significantly, the Indian foreign-policy realm plays down the fact that altruism has no place in international relations; it is all about give and take. Thus, India is obligated to fully reciprocate. India’s allegation that Nepal has tilted toward China can be best expressed by George Orwell’s avowal, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

In his book Has the West Lost It?, Kishore Mahbubani rightly wrote that “self-realization and self-reflection are the most challenging tasks, and when associated with a powerful country, it would be more difficult.” In the same way, it is tremendously uncomfortable for Indian foreign-policy elites to accept the rapidly developing economic cooperation and more cordial China-Nepal relationship since 2015.

Recent developments in China-Nepal relations are the upshot of Indian idiocy and dilly-dallying. The Indian foreign-policy establishment and journalists want to hold Nepal liable to Indian national interests. They absurdly think that Nepal must not accept Chinese cooperation and investment and should remain poor, backward, timid, undeveloped and vulnerable for the sake of Indian national security.

They seem either extremely stupid or very naive to think that Nepal won’t engage with China amid Indian diplomatic pressure.

Bhim Bhurtel

Bhim Bhurtel teaches Development Economics and Global Political Economy in the Master's program at Nepal Open University. He was the executive director of the Nepal South Asia Center (2009-14), a Kathmandu-based South Asian development think-tank. Bhurtel can be reached at

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