Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Nepal Friday for a two-day visit aiming to reset strained relations between India and its small northern neighbour.
Modi landed in the southern city of Janakpur where he will offer prayers at a famed Hindu temple.
He will later travel to Kathmandu to inaugurate the construction of an India-funded hydropower plant with his Nepali counterpart K.P. Sharma Oli.
The visit is the latest in a series of goodwill gestures by New Delhi, which has been alarmed by China’s growing influence in Nepal.
In 2017, Chinese firms pledged investments of more than $8.3 billion, dwarfing Indian commitments of $317 million, and in May last year Nepal signed up to Beijing’s ambitious One Belt, One Road initiative.
companies, to begin construction.
Analysts say India wants to show it can also deliver on its promises.
“Historically India-funded projects, while they seem generous, have struggled to show progress, while the Chinese do it quicker and gain on public opinion,” said Kathmandu-based analyst George Varughese.
The five hydropower plants have been in the works for over a decade and would be a game-changer for Nepal.
The Himalayan nation has enough water to be a hydro powerhouse but it has so far harnessed less than two percent of its hydro potential, according to estimates.
Ties with New Delhi nose-dived in 2015 when Kathmandu passed a controversial new constitution that sparked deadly protests in southern Nepal, triggering a months-long border blockade.
Kathmandu blamed New Delhi for imposing the blockade that caused a crippling shortage of fuel and essential goods just as the country was struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake earlier that year.
Oli, then serving his first term as prime minister, won huge public support as he stoked nationalistic sentiment against the blockade, a platform he used again during his successful reelection campaign last year.
Many in Nepal remain suspicious of India’s ‘big brother’ attitude, and the hashtags ModiNotWelcomeInNepal and #BlockadeWasACrimeMrModi trended on Twitter as the Indian premier touched down.
Oli, who needs India — Nepal’s largest trading partner — to realise his ambitious plans to kickstart economic growth, has opted for a more pragmatic approach to relations since his second elevation however.
In April he travelled to New Delhi for his first trip abroad since being elected for the second time.
In a statement Modi said the visit was part of his government’s “neighbourhood first” policy and “reflects the high priority, India, and personally I, attach to our age-old, close and friendly ties with Nepal”.
The inauguration of the $1.4 billion India-backed Arun Three hydropower plant will mark a major diplomatic win for India.
It is the first of five long-mooted mega hydropower projects, two of which are backed by Chines