Of Delhi & Kathmandu
“The time has come for us to solve the real problems of South Asia. For this, India and Nepal have to unite because our destinies are the same,” Baburam Bhattarai said as he arrived here for his first visit to India as prime minister of Nepal. Delivering an emotional speech, Bhattarai recalled his days as a revolutionary Maoist, saying in a spirit of candour, “We Marxists tend to be dogmatic. We read about Marxism and revolutions in all parts of the world. But the ground reality, we forget to assimilate and learn.” However, reaffirming his commitment to his ideology, Bhattarai told his audience, “We have to turn the state into an instrument for liberation of the people”. As India-educated Bhattarai begins his first summit with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday, India will be signalling that it will be “business as usual” with Kathmandu once again, something that hasn’t happened over the past few years. As the second Maoist PM in Kathmandu, Bhattarai is not nearly as allergic to India as his predecessor Prachanda, and by making India his first port of call after becoming the PM, he is also signalling a new chapter that may be welcome to India. The agreements to be signed during the visit may be modest: an existing credit line of $250 million, agreement with Exim Bank for soft loans in infrastructure sectors in Nepal etc, and a possible investment protection agreement. Primarily, India will want to listen to Bhattarai’s own plans on the peace process and reintegration of Maoist People’s Liberation Army cadre. Bhattarai has very little time in hand, but sources said he may be close to presenting a full package on the peace process. In recent weeks, the Maoists have made some conciliatory gestures. Though Bhattarai has a tough job, this time he apparently has the backing of Prachanda, who has appeared to have mellowed his anti-India rhetoric. Bhattarai’s primary interest will be to get power for the Himalayan nation that is reeling under severe shortages. Nepal could become a superpower in hydro-electricity, if only it could get foreign companies to carry out their investments, most of which are stalled due to Maoist activities and government inaction. Bhattarai wants to change that. Nepal wants to conclude a power trade pact with India, which, the Nepal government believes, will open the door to power investors. Bhattarai is also expected to ask India for an additional 200MW of electricity. While India is agreeable to the demand, there is a shortage of transmission lines that can transport the power.