The main focus of the visit will be faith diplomacy

As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi begins his two-day visit to Nepal Friday, a lot will be at stake. This will be the Indian prime minister's third visit to the country. First after taking charge, then for the SAARC summit, and now this third visit. What is more important is that PM Modi’s visit happens just one month after Nepal’s PM visited India. As a tradition, India is the first destination of any Nepali PM after taking charge.

Faith Diplomacy

The main focus of the visit will be faith diplomacy. The Indian PM will be visiting three cities will be visiting a temple in all three. In Janakpur he will be visiting the Janki Devi temple, the birthplace of Devi Sita. In Kathmandu he will visit Pashupatinath and in Muktinath he will visit a Shiv temple.

At the Janki Devi, PM Modi along with Nepal’s PM will flag off the Janakpur-Ayodhya bus service. It has an important symbolism since the birth place of goddess Sita will be connected with Lord Ram’s birth place.

As Indian Ambassador to Nepal told WION, "Janakpur has an abiding link with India".

This will be PM Modi's second visit to Pashupatinath. He first visited the temple during his first visit to Nepal. Muktinath in north Nepal holds significance for both Hindus and Buddhists.

All these temples see a lot of Indian pilgrims visiting and offering prayers. Clearly, the Indian PM is leveraging diplomacy with faith. His mission neighbourhood is taking a new hue.

Ahead of the visit, in an exclusive conversation with WION, Nepal’s foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali said that the visit is a manifestation of how broad the India Nepal relationship is and the government of Nepal has high hopes from the visit. On the blockade, he said that past is past and past cannot overshadow the future. On the growing Chinese influence in Nepal he said it’s a perception and Nepal wants to pursue an "independent" foreign policy.

The Chinese Worry

China remains a worry for New Delhi. And China has been expanding its influence in Nepal. It has announced a number of connectivity projects. Nepal is a part of China's one belt one road initiative.

So is India's influence in Kathmandu. No, says Constantino Xavier, a fellow at Carnegie India. He told WION that Nepal has a certain special relation with India and Nepal’s PM Oli knows about that. Calling Indian PM Modi’s visit symbolic, he said Nepal is India’s most important bilateral.

But walk on the streets of Thamel in Kathmandu. It’s the main business area of the Nepal capital and all the sign boards are either in English or Chinese. Sometimes no English, only Chinese. We spoke to many people on the street. They confirmed what was evident. China is here to stay. With more than 200 Chinese shops and hotels, China not only has presence but a growing presence.

Eminent Nepali Journalist Yubaraj Ghimire said since India pushed a radical agenda, Nepali people lost trust. On the contrary China and Nepal have no misunderstanding and China has been able to give the impression that it operates in the national sovereignty system of Nepal.

India’s ties with Nepal suffered a blow after India failed to welcome Nepal’s constitution since it did not give much rights to Indian-origin Madhesi people. A Madhesi journalist Gopal Jha said the Madhesi issue was the internal issue of Nepal. Expressing confidence on India Nepal ties, he added that PM Modi’s 3rd visit to Nepal shows India is giving value to the relationship.

A Railway To Kathmandu

But India is fast understanding, it's time to understand the needs of Nepal. It has been focusing on infrastructure and connectivity. The Indian and Nepali prime ministers will jointly, through video conferencing, inaugurate the ARUN 3 hydroelectric power project, the biggest in Nepal. On the connectivity front, India is going to build a railway line from Kathmandu to Raxaul. This will connect the Kathmandu valley to the Indian railway network. So, one day one can travel from Delhi to Kathmandu on train and it is expected to be an engineering marvel. India and Nepal will sign an agreement on waterways navigation on Kosi and both will soon announce the first meeting of India and Nepal agriculture ministers. But it is connectivity vs connectivity. China has its own connectivity plans with Nepal. No longer do the mighty Himalayas pose a geographical barrier between Nepal and China which is ready to pass right through the mighty mountains to build connecting bridges with Nepal. Beijing even suggested a China, India and Nepal connectivity plan but New Delhi wasn't enthusiastic about it. India is suspicious and rightly so. A China, India and Nepal connectivity plan can flood Indian markets with Chinese products.

Kathmandu Ready To Welcome PM Modi

Excitement is palpable in Kathmandu. Security has been beefed up. Nepal’s PM had a special meeting with former prime ministers of Nepal, all coming to this conclusion that national interest should be kept first.The streets of Kathmandu have already been lined up with Indian and Nepali flags. The Nepali media is all full of the Indian PM’s visit. Some lauding it, some asking to remain cautious but everyone is covering it. Delhi, Kathmandu ties might have seen many ups and down, it’s the people to people contact that are sustaining Indo-Nepal ties. But this visit is all about focusing on the specialness in this special relationship. The 3 Cs — Connectivity, Culture and Cooperation.