Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official visit
to Lumbini, Nepal, on 16 May 2022 on the occasion of Buddha Purnima, held a propitious bilateral congregation for greater liaison
on connectivity. On the heels of Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s India visit on 2 April 2022, this meeting not only undertook several new Memorandums of Agreement (MoUs) but also reflected the bonus partnership through a prism of multilateral institutions such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), insinuated through the nature of negotiations undertaken.
As a single geostrategic space, South Asia has been often identified
as devoid of an unremitting course of regional integration, adversely affecting economic and security cooperation, despite its approximately 1.9 billion population. Not only does this figure comprise the largest population of the world but also the largest youth, thereby exhibiting greater avenues of opportunities. This requires the identification of areas of mutual interest followed closely by substantial focus and action. Consequently
, what this probable zone of convergence requires is an evolved geopolitical interaction and international agreements between like-minded countries within close geographical proximity, to renew and facilitate better engagements for an evolved regional progress. Both India and Nepal are continuously attempting to undertake this act by scheduling exchanges within a short period.
The prime ministers also inaugurated the ‘Shilanyas’ ceremony for the construction of the India International Centre for Buddhist Culture and Heritage at a plot in Lumbini belonging to the International Buddhist Confederation (IBC) based in New Delhi.
Sealing the deal
The two South Asian neighbours have been regularly interacting with each other in the recent past. This communication is primarily to get through the two recent cold patches, the encounter over the Kalapani-Lipulekh map row
in 2019 and the very neoteric misunderstanding
over the dissemination of vaccines, which India had failed to provide given its own shortage of supply and a subsequent crisis. Synonymously, what is being witnessed now is progress in the relationship through connectivity efforts. The agreements signed include
six MoUs: An MoU between the Indian Council on Cultural Relations (ICCR) and the Lumbini Buddhist University on the establishment of Dr Ambedkar Chair for Buddhist Studies; an MoU between ICCR and CNAS, Tribhuvan University on the establishment of ICCR Chair of Indian Studies; an MoU between ICCR and Kathmandu University (KU) on the establishment of the ICCR Chair of Indian Studies; an MoU in collaboration between KU, Nepal and Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM), India; Letter of Agreement (LoA) between KU, Nepal and IITM for Joint degree programme at Master’s level and Agreement between SJVN Ltd and Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) for Development and implementation of Arun 4 Project. Additionally, the prime ministers also inaugurated the ‘Shilanyas’ ceremony for the construction of the India International Centre for Buddhist Culture and Heritage at a plot in Lumbini belonging to the International Buddhist Confederation (IBC) based in New Delhi.
All these projects and areas of cooperation may be associated with the mandate that both the countries upheld through the BIMSTEC Master Plan on Connectivity
, recently published by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 2022. This is primarily because the master plan includes both physical roads and railways for connectivity and the capacity building and access agreements which can be utilised through the cross-border infrastructures built with time and multilateral commitment. Nepal, as an individual country within the BIMSTEC, has been entrusted with the pillar of people to people contact, comprising culture and tourism, cutting across the recent agreements which encompass academic exchanges as well as the pre-existing Buddhist circuit, often forwarded
as Buddhist diplomacy
or simply put a soft power strategy between countries.
Hinduism is one of the largest and most popular religions in Nepal and for people travelling on a religious ‘yatra’, it can be extremely attractive.
When successful, these engagements simply comply with the Master Plan which promotes road-based religious tourism circuits, intra-BIMSTEC tourism and cultural exchanges, analogous to the commitments of Nepal to expedite associations like BIMSTEC Network of Policy Think Tanks (BNPTT), young parliamentarians, universities, and research institutions. So, at various levels, these agreements would inevitably coincide with the greater multilateral framework of deepened collaborative efforts in line with leveraging the BIMSTEC as well as a peaceful bilateral partnership for years ahead. For example
, the master plan talks about the Ayodhya (India)–Chitrakoot (India)–Varanasi (India)–Buxar (India)–Patna (India)–Darbhanga (India)–Sitamarhi (India)–Janakpur (Nepal)–Colombo (Sri Lanka)–Negombo (Sri Lanka)–Chilaw (Sri Lanka)–Matale (Sri Lanka)–Kotuwa (Sri Lanka)–Nuwara Eliya (Sri Lanka)–Bandarawela (Sri Lanka)–Kataragama (Sri Lanka)–Ussangoda (Sri Lanka)–Colombo (Sri Lanka) and the Kathmandu (Nepal)–Pokhara (Nepal)–Butwal (Nepal)–Tanakpur (India)Jageshwar Dham (India)–Haridwar (India)–Rishikesh (India)–Char Dham (India) (Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath, Badrinath) road maps for religious circuit connectivity. Hinduism is one of the largest and most popular religions in Nepal and for people travelling on a religious ‘yatra’, it can be extremely attractive. Synonymously, the academic institutions in these specific areas can also benefit from travellers all across the stakeholder countries of the multilateral setup, furthering better VISA prospects, which have been on the BIMSTEC negotiating table for far too long.
In conclusion, South Asia and particularly the Bay of Bengal region is opening up a hub of opportunities to the countries around it. Immediate implementation of these projects is required so that the practitioners of policy can uphold these as examples for future subregional collaborations in the region and further eastward.
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