As India makes efforts to deepen its diplomatic and economic engagement with its neighbours, Nepal on Saturday said there is a "historic opportunity" in taking bilateral ties with India to the "next level" and that it must be seized by both the countries.
Nepal's top leadership, including President Ram Baran Yadav and Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, during separate meetings with the visiting External Affairs Minister Minister Sushma Swaraj hailed efforts by India’s new government to improve Indo-Nepal relations. Swaraj also met UCPN-Maoist chief and Leader of Opposition Prachanda.
Swaraj is in Kathmandu to chair the meeting of the Indo-Nepal Joint Commission which was held on Saturday after a gap of 23 years and to prepare for the two-day official visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi from August 3 -- the first visit by an Indian premier in over 17 years.
The late Prime Minister I K Gujral had visited Nepal in 1997.
The Nepalese leaders, in separate interaction with Swaraj, expressed their "happiness" and "excitement" over the initiative taken by India to bring new momentum in the bilateral ties while stressing on the need for stepped up engagement between the countries.
The leaders conveyed to Swaraj that they were really upbeat over Modi’s planned visit which they think will bring the two countries "much closer".
Swaraj on Friday said Nepal stands high on the priority list of the Modi government and the testimony to it is her visit here within two months of assuming office.
Sources said there was visible excitement among the Nepalese leaders about India’s initiative for closer ties with the Himalayan nation during their meetings with Swaraj.
The Spokesperson in the External Affairs Ministry Syed Akbaruddin described the meetings as "productive".
"In general if I have to encapsulate the views, there is a lot of excitement in Nepal about India’s intention to reengage and reinvigorate the relationship. They are all looking forward to Prime Minister’s forthcoming visit and all feel that this is a historic opportunity to move to the next level in terms of our engagement with each other," he said.
Koirala, who had his meeting with Swaraj at his official residence in Baluwatar, sought India’s help and goodwill as Nepal moves forward on the path of development by drafting a new democratic Constitution.
"The Prime Minister has asked for India’s cooperation, goodwill and support as Nepal moves towards democracy, political stability and development by promulgating the new Constitution," Prime Minister’s Foreign Affairs Advisor Dinesh Bhattarai said.
Swaraj wished for good health of the Prime Minister and extended best wishes that Nepal would be able to conclude the peace process by promulgating a democratic and inclusive constitution within the stipulated time frame, according to Bhattarai. Koirala has just returned home from New York after spending nearly a month for treatment of his lung cancer.
"Koirala expressed gratitude to Prime Minister Modi for accepting his invitation to visit Nepal," Bhattarai said quoting the Nepalese prime minister, adding, "As Prime Minister of India is paying an official visit to Nepal after a long gap of 17 years, this will be a new beginning in our bilateral relations".
Koirala expressed happiness that Modi has begun a good tradition of focusing on India's neighbourhood by visiting neighbouring countries.
In her meetings, Swaraj talked about the civilisational relationship between the two countries based on shared cultural heritage and expressed resolve of her government to take the relationship to a new level.
Earlier on Saturday, Swaraj called on Nepal President Yadav at the Rashtrapati Bhawan in Sheetal Niwas.
She also met with senior political leaders of Nepal including UCPN-Maoist chief and leader of the main opposition Prachanda. She also met Chairman of Nepal's Constituent Assembly Subas Chandra Nembang and a number of Madhesi community leaders who apprised her about their problems.
As close neighbours, India and Nepal share a unique relationship of friendship and cooperation characterised by open borders and deep-rooted people-to-people contacts. There are six million Nepalese workers in India. Annually three thousand Nepalese are provided scholarships by India.
There has been a long tradition of free movement of people across the border as Nepal shares a boundary of over 1,850 km to the south with five Indian states.
Image: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj meets Minister for Foreign Affairs of Nepal, Mahendra Bahadur Pandey, in Kathmandu
Photograph: Ministry for External Affairs