Several bilateral meetings will precede the sojourn that will take place in late February or early March

Government officials have started preparations for Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s visit to India in the near future with the prime minister saying on Saturday that he would make New Delhi his first port of call after taking up the executive job in December-end.

Speaking with some editors and journalists at Baluwatar, Dahal said the Nepali Embassy in New Delhi was coordinating with relevant offices and officials in New Delhi on the visit.

In 2008, after being elected prime minister for the first time, Dahal went off the beaten track to visit Beijing for the Olympics inaugural ceremony without first travelling to India, as Nepali prime ministers have traditionally done. Dahal later tried to control the damage and upon his return from Beijing, said his first ‘official’ visit would still be to New Delhi.

Having thus caused deep suspicions in the officialdom in New Delhi, Dahal, in his second stint as prime minister, first went to India on a state visit in September, 2016.

In July last year, Dahal visited India at the invitation of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) national president JP Nadda. Dahal had at the time met External Affairs Minister of India S Jaishankar, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and the BJP president.

Multiple sources in Kathmandu and New Delhi told the Post that Dahal could visit New Delhi at the end of February or in March.

Dahal’s visit will happen only after the election of the new President, two leaders of the CPN (Maoist Centre) who are familiar with the developments said. “However, if the Indian side insists on the visit before the new President is elected, the trip may even take place earlier,” one of them said.

The presidential vote is due in February as the term of President Bidya Devi Bhandari expires in March-end. As per the constitution, the election is held a month prior to the expiry of the incumbent’s term.

Foreign Secretary of India Vinay Mohan Kwatra will visit Kathmandu to extend an invitation to the prime minister, probably after January 26, India’s Republic Day, sources in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Nepali Embassy in Delhi said. The two sides would then discuss the visit and fix the exact date. A series of bilateral mechanisms that are due to meet soon will set the visit’s tone, officials said.

Foreign ministry sources said that ahead of the prime minister’s visit, various meetings of various bilateral mechanisms are planned.

“Soon, we will hold the energy secretary-level meeting, followed by the meetings of water resources, agriculture, integrated check post, railway and the bilateral project oversight mechanism led by Nepal’s foreign secretary and the Indian ambassador to Nepal,” foreign ministry sources told the Post.

Singha Durbar officials said preparations are independent of any official instruction from the prime minister. When Foreign Secretary Bharat Raj Paudyal visited India in September, he invited Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra for a return visit, a senior foreign ministry official said. “Kwatra will probably make the return trip to Kathmandu for the foreign secretary-level meeting after the prime minister gets a formal invite to visit India.”

But Paudyal has yet to send an invitation to Kwatra to come to Kathmandu, the official said. “Our prime minister also has to make a return trip to India after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Lumbini in May last year.”

Soon after Dahal took the oath of office, Kwatra called on him on December 27 and invited him to visit India. In his interview to an Indian news channel on December 28, Dahal confirmed that he had received a phone call from Kwatra and was invited to visit India at a convenient date.

“I think my first foreign visit will be from India,” Dahal said in the interview with ABP News.

On December 30, Indian Ambassador Naveen Srivastava, while handing over a written congratulatory message by Indian Prime Minister Modi to Dahal, extended the invitation, sources said.

Responding to Modi’s message, Dahal said that he wants to work closely with New Delhi, speed up implementation of India-funded projects and improve Nepal-India ties.

Shankar Sharma, Nepal’s ambassador to India, said he hopes the prime minister’s visit takes place soon.

“Once the date is finalised, we will proceed with the preparations,” Sharma told the Post over phone from Delhi. “We are waiting for instructions from Kathmandu.”