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India need not worry about Nepal-China transit agreement

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Kathmandu, Nepal: With the signing of the Transit and Transportation Agreement between Nepal and China in Beijing, there is a sense of anxiety, worry and concern in Indian strategic circles about Nepal tilting towards China. Many have commented that this has ended India’s long monopoly in Nepal in doing third country business through Indian ports and, overnight, Nepal will do business, import fuel from China and so on.

As a landlocked country, seeking transit rights is Nepal’s fundamental right and, as of now, India and Bangladesh have provided such facilities to Nepal.

Realizing that Nepal will turn to China for transit and trade rights, India, during the visit of Nepalese Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli last month, had agreed to provide Visakhapatnam port for Nepal’s use. As of now, Nepal is using only Haldia in Kolkata for third-country trade but it is smaller than Visakhapatnam. During the visit, India also allowed Nepal land transit via Bangladesh, implicit being that India was already aware that Nepal would turn to China.

It is being said that had India allowed Nepal this when it was proposed over a decade ago, Nepal would not have gone with China. Second, if India had not imposed an unofficial blockade, privileging one community and group’s demand, Nepal would not have tilted towards China.

After signing the Transit Agreement with China, it is widely anticipated that Nepal will do business through Chinese ports and end its dependency on India. Such interpretations, particularly in Indian strategic circles, are beyond the ground realities and one should understand that a transit treaty does not necessarily measure up to implementation.

The poor infrastructure on the Nepali side, the difficult geographical terrain on both sides and without a rail link up to the Nepali border in Kerung (Gyirong in Chinese side), Nepal cannot immediately begin third country business through Chinese ports. Physical infrastructure on either side of the border is important for the full use of transit rights and, on the Nepali side, it will take years to upgrade Kerung, the only transit, transportation and trade route between Nepal and China.

Second, the nearest Chinese port is Tainjin which is 3,000 km from the Nepali border and the nearest Indian port is Haldia which is just 1,000 km away. This per se makes a huge difference in doing business in terms of costs, said Nepal’s former commerce secretary Purusottam Oja.

If Nepal needs to do business through Tianjin port to Kerung, it is almost impossible to import goods via trucks or containers. The only option is to rail and Chinese officials say this will happen only by 2020.

“Of course, a further extension from Gyirong is an even longer-term plan. It’s up to geographic and technical conditions and financing ability. We believe that far in the future the two countries will be connected by rail,” Hou Yanqi, deputy head of the Chinese foreign ministry’s Asia division, said in Beijing after the meeting between Oli and Premier Li Keqiang.

“Strategically it is going to be a good deal but due to distance per se, it is going to be a very costly affair for us until there is rail service from Tianjin to the Nepal border,” said Oja. “It also depends on the status of infrastructure on both sides…and paperwork. Hassle free paperwork for customs and other purposes are key in transit rights,” said Oja.

Another Nepal-China trading point, Tatopani, is shut down since April 25, 2015, earthquake and there is no official confirmation whether the Chinese side will open it up or not. In case China opens it, Nepali traders have to use trucks, containers and other light vehicles to import and export goods from Tianjin, again very costly for traders.

“I am not going to use and do business through Tianjin that is going to be three-fold expensive for us,” said Indian trader Ravi Singh, who is engaged in third-country business.

“Without stressing on connectivity, the transit agreement will not be productive,” said noted economist Bishamber Pyakurel.

“Neither it is a historic pact nor is it a non-workable one. Though it is a welcome move, its success lies in implementation,” he said in an interaction with journalists.

It should also be remembered that Nepal is doing business with India through 24 small and big trading points whereas Nepal is doing business with China only through one trading point.

Then, India has also proposed to build five rail corridors with Nepal and one is proposed to connect Uttar Pradesh and Kathmandu.

The ground realities more than make clear that the ‘China card’ remains more of an illusion but Kathmandu has finally made the strategic move that New Delhi is bound to have taken note of. (IANS)

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Spiritual Ideas Sore At The World Hindu Congress

A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new -- when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.

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At its best, speeches at the recently concluded World Hindu Congress echoed the soaring spiritual ideals evoked by Swami Vivekananda in Chicago 125 years ago.

Even Mohan Bhagwat, Sarsangchanalak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), focused essentially on the need for unity and patience among Hindus while fighting obstacles, of which, he said, there would be many. The burden of excavating implied accusations in Bhagwat’s speech fell to his critics.

At the plenary session, the moderator requested speakers to address issues of conflict without naming the speakers or their organisations in the interest of harmony. Other speakers sought to unite the followers of all the great religions that took birth in India — Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism.

Some of the speakers from Bhagwat to Swami Swaroopananda of the Chinmaya Mission, framed the issues before Hinduism in a moral paradigm. Ashwin Adhin, the Vice President of the Republic of Suriname, began his speech in chaste Hindi, later quoting cognitive scientist George Lakoff: “Facts matter immensely. But to be meaningful they have to be framed in terms of their moral importance.”

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Buddhism relates sins to the characteristics one adopts. Pixabay

The dissonances, between the spiritual and the mundane, were to emerge later on the fringes of the seminars which were part of the Congress. Many of the delegates appropriated to themselves the mantle of a culture besieged by proselytising faiths. There were speakers who urged Hindus to have more children to combat their ‘dwindling population’. Posters warned Hindus of the dangers from ‘love jihad’ (Muslim men ‘enticing’ Hindu women).

In one of the sessions on the media, filmmaker Amit Khanna noted that religion had always played a prominent part in Indian cinema, starting with the earliest mythologicals. “Raja Harishchandra”, the first silent film, he said, was made by Dadasaheb Phalke in 1913. He sought to reassure the audience on the future of Hinduism. “Over 80 percent of Indians are Hindus,” he said adding: “Hinduism has survived many upheavals for thousands of years. Hinduism has never been endangered.”

Other speakers, lacking spiritual and academic pedigrees, drew on an arsenal of simulated anguish and simmering indignation.

The nuances of history pass lightly over the ferociously devout and it took little effort to pander to an aggravated sense of historical aggrievement.

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Swami Vivekananda used to stress upon the universal brotherhood and self-awakening. Wikimedia Commons

At one of the debates, the mere mention of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, elicited sniggers and boos. The speaker hinted at ‘Nehruvian socialism’ which had made the Indian economy a non-starter. He concluded with a coup de grace, to a standing ovation: “Nehru did not like anything Indian.”

The poet Rabindranath Tagore, who composed the Indian national anthem, had spoken of his vision of a country where the “clear stream of reason had not lost its way”. At some of the discussions, even the most indulgent observer would have been hard put to discern the stream of reason.

The image of a once great civilisation suppressed by a century of British rule and repeated plunder by invaders captured the imagination of many in the audience. Hanging above it all, like a disembodied spirit, was the so-called malfeasance of Nehru, the leader who had won the trust of Hindus only to betray them in the vilest manner.

These tortured souls would have been well advised to adopt a more holistic approach to Hinduism, and history, looking no further than Swami Vivekananda, who once said: “The singleness of attachment (Nishtha) to a loved object, without which no genuine love can grow, is very often also the cause of denunciation of everything else.”

Hinduism
The Hindu population in Pakistan is about 1.8% according to the 2018 census, 0.2% more than that of the 1998 and the 1951 figures.

Historians have informed us that Nehru preferred his father’s intellect over his mother’s tradition but he was never contemptuous of religion. While he undoubtedly felt that organised religion had its flaws, he opined that it supplied a deeply felt inner need of human nature while also giving a set of values to human life.

In private conversations some delegates spoke of how their America-born children had helped persuade them to drop their pathological aversion to gays and lesbians. Despite their acute wariness of perceived cultural subjugation, the irony was obviously lost on them that Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code,(which criminalises gay sex) recently overturned by the Indian Supreme Court, is a hangover from the Victorian British era-embodied in the Buggery Act of 1533.

In the face of the upcoming elections in the US, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi’s decision to speak at the conference was a political risk. With a newly energised political Left, even the perception of being linked with “fascist” or sectarian forces could be political suicide in the critical November elections. Despite vociferous appeals to disassociate himself from the Congress, Krishnamoorthi chose to attend.

“I decided I had to be here because I wanted to reaffirm the highest and only form of Hinduism that I have ever known and been taught — namely one that welcomes all people, embraces all people, and accepts all people, regardless of their faith. I reject all other forms. In short, I reaffirm the teaching of Swami Vivekananda,” Krishnamoorthi said.

Given the almost pervasive abhorrence of anything remotely Nehruvian among a section of the delegates, it was a revelation to hear the opinion of Dattatrey Hosable, the joint general secretary and second-in-command in the RSS hierarchy. Speaking on the promise of a newly-resurgent India, Hosable said in an interview to Mayank Chhaya, a local journalist-author-filmmaker: “A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new — when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”

Also Read: Triple Talaq Now Banned in India

The quote is from Nehru’s famous Tryst with Destiny speech delivered to the Indian Constituent Assembly on the midnight of August 14, 1947 — proof, if any is needed, that the force of Nehru’s ideas can transcend one’s disdain of him. (IANS)