Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who left for Nepal early on Friday morning, landed in historic Janakpur city in the Himalayan nation at 10.30 am India time for what is being seen as an attempt at “resetting ties” with the northern neighbour, relations with whom soured briefly following the 2015 Madhesi crisis.
He was received warmly at the airport by Nepalese Defence Minister Ishwor Pokharel, Chief Minister of Province-2, Mohammad Lalbabu Raut Gaddhi, and other top officials of the country.
Province-2, where Janakpur is located, is a Madhesi-dominated region where a majority of the population speaks Maithili and Bhojpuri languages other than Nepali language.
The PM, who is on his third tour to Nepal after coming to power in 2014, will begin his two-day visit from Janakpur, the birthplace of Goddess Sita, where he along with Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli will inaugurate the Ramayan Circuit Bus Route connecting the Nepalese city to Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Ram.
The Ramayan Circuit is among the 13 tourist circuits under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme of India.
At Janakpur, PM Modi will offer special prayers at the Ram Janaki Mandir, making him the first Indian Prime Minister to do so with “khodasopachar” rituals.
Before leaving the temple city for Kathmandu, Modi will be offered a civic reception at the Bahrabigaha’s Rangabhoomi ground where he is likely to address the people gathered to welcome him.
At Kathmandu, Modi and Oli will hold one-on-one talks and discuss ways to strengthen the historic relationship between the two countries. According to officials, certain agreements were expected to be signed between the two leaders.
A major highlight of his visit is laying of the foundation stone for Arun III hydroelectricity project in Sankhuwasabha district of eastern Nepal. India will spend $1.5 billion on the 900-MW project undertaken by India’s Sutlej Jal Vidyut Nigam. It is expected to be completed in five years.
The ceremony comes a day after Nepal said “no” to China to build the Budhi Gandaki hydroelectricity project that was awarded to a Chinese firm by the previous Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’-led dispensation in 2016.
It is also expected that a strategic railway link between Raxaul in Bihar and Kathmandu in Nepal will get the green signal during the visit.
The project report of the rail line would be prepared by top officials of the two countries in the coming weeks and months. They would also give to the two governments the estimated cost of the project and the time-line for completing it, sources said.
The rail project is considered significant in strategic circles since China proposes to build a railway line between Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Kathmandu by 2022, with an apparent aim of reducing Kathmandu’s dependence on India.
The PM will also meet President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, vice-president Nanda Bahadur Pun and leaders of the major political parties.
On Saturday, Modi will visit Muktinath temple at the foot of the Thorong La mountain pass in Mustang district to pay obeisance and also announce a “surprise gift” for its development and reconstruction.
Modi will also be praying at the famous Pashupatinath temple.
Kathmandu Metropolitan City will hold a civic reception for Modi with Mayor Bidhya Sundar Sakya presenting an “artistic key” to the Indian Prime Minister.
Both India and Nepal are pulling out all stops to ensure that the meeting between PM Modi and Oli is a success.
The provincial government has announced a public holiday in Bahrabigaha to coincide with Modi’s visit. Security has been tightened in the country and as many as 11,000 security personnel from both countries have been deployed.
Before emplaning for Nepal, the PM had said that his visit at the invitation of the PM KP Sharma Oli “reflects the high priority India, and personally I, attach to our age-old, close and friendly ties with Nepal”.
Underlining the visit by PM Oli to India, PM Modi said that the regular visits between the two nations reflect his government’s “commitment to the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, in consonance with the motto of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’”.
“Prime Minister Oli and I will have the opportunity to take forward our recent wide-ranging discussions in New Delhi on issues of mutual interest, and to advance our cooperative partnership across diverse sectors,” he said in a statement.
PM Modi hailed Janakpur and Muktinath as “living testimony to the ancient and strong cultural and religious ties between the peoples of India and Nepal”.
“I am looking forward to meeting the political leaders and friends in Nepal. I am confident that my visit will further cement our people-centric partnership with Nepal on the basis of mutual benefit, goodwill and understanding,” he said.
PM Oli had visited India on 6 April on a three-day visit. It was his first visit to any foreign country after coming to power.
He held extensive talks with PM Modi and the two nations agreed on a range matters including reviewing key projects together and removing obstacles.
(With inputs from agencies.)