External affairs minister S Jaishankar co-chaired the 6th India-Nepal Joint Commission meeting with Nepal foreign minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali

NEW DELHI: India is unlikely to hold boundary talks with Nepal until Nepal amends the unilateral step by the Oli government of changing its map to include areas which India claims as its own. This was a message given to Nepalese foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali during his meetings with the Indian government this week.

"Nepal wants the bilateral relationship to go on as if nothing has happened. That cannot happen," said government sources.

India would engage Nepal on development, connectivity, trade and other issues, but it would not be business as usual, they said. However, Gyawali’s visit was an indication that the bilateral relationship was back on track after last year’s turmoil. India took a much more accommodative stance on Covid vaccines, promising to send the first lot in a matter of weeks.

Unusually, Gyawali left without a call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, though defence minister Rajnath Singh met him on Saturday. While the official reason given was PM Modi’s preoccupation with the vaccine rollout, the Indian leadership did not want to be seen taking sides at a time of political uncertainty and internal dissensions in Nepal, which could have the unfortunate effect of drawing India into their domestic situation.

The Indian snub is important because Nepalese Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli had made the boundary talks the prime reason for the Gyawali visit.

Gyawali stressed the importance of resolving the boundary issue twice — in a public address and in a breakfast interaction with journalists. Refuting the charge of unilateralism, he said the Nepal action came after India issued its political map in November 2019.

The Indian side has also steered clear of the ongoing political crisis in Nepal. "The Chinese are doing what India used to do in earlier years," said sources here. Despite Gyawali’s assertion about not allowing foreign interference, there is no explanation for the fact that a high level Chinese political delegation had been in Kathmandu for over three days last month to persuade the feuding Communist leadership to come back together.

Sources here said India would let the political crisis play itself out in Nepal, without expressing preferences for how it turns out. "We don’t want to be a factor in the domestic politics," sources said, despite Prachanda’s latest outburst blaming an Oli-India nexus for the current political problems.

Sources in Kathmandu said the protests against the dissolution could increase as the winter eases. The Prachanda faction, as well as opposition parties like Nepali Congress, continue to insist on a rollback of the dissolution decision, as well as insisting that the party would not be able to get back together.