Nilambar Acharya, recently sworn in by the president as Nepal’s ambassador to India, will soon assume office in New Delhi. Acharya will be heading the crucial Nepali mission in New Delhi that had remained vacant for over a year after former ambassador Deep Kumar Upadhyay resigned to join politics. Acharya was law minister in the interim Cabinet of 1990. He was later appointed ambassador to Sri Lanka. Acharya was also nominated as member of the first Constituent Assembly, and headed its constitutional committee. Roshan S Nepal from The Himalayan Times caught up with Acharya to talk about his priorities as ambassador to India. Excerpts:
Congratulations on your appointment as Nepal’s ambassador to India. What are your priorities as envoy to the southern neighbour?
Nepal and India have deep, historic, and multi-faceted relations that cannot be compared with relations with any other country. Nepal and India are also related spiritually and religiously. The relations have developed over the years on the basis of changing context and norms. So my priority would be to further strengthen relations on the basis of the present context — needs and sensitivities of both countries and changes in the two countries and globally. Although the closeness and goodwill between the two countries will always remain same, bilateral relations should also evolve on the basis of new global norms that have developed in terms of relations between two sovereign countries.
What are the constraints in Nepal-India relations?
Rather than looking at constraints, we need to focus on potentials such as economic and infrastructure development cooperation. Besides roads, we are today talking about boosting connectivity through railways, inland waterways and petroleum pipelines.
There are some constraints such as procedural hassles and delays in transit, but there are new technologies to address such issues. There are problems related to inundation along the border, and the two countries are working to address the issue together.
With the evolution of new technologies, new types of criminal activities have emerged. There are new types of diseases. There’s also the issue of climate change and environment pollution. These issues should be addressed with joint efforts.
We have resources and culture that should be utilised together. We have immense potential in agriculture, natural herbs, water resources and trade and industry. Nepal faces a huge trade deficit with India. We need to work to minimise that deficit. The two countries share an open border. We need to make sure that the open border is not misused by criminals, drug traffickers, human traffickers and counterfeit currency racketeers.
Nepal-India relations are so multidimensional that we cannot say we will only focus on certain areas.
The fact of the matter is Nepal has to develop good relations with India to realise its goal of prosperity. If we have good relations with our immediate neighbour, we can attract international partners in our development endeavours.
You’ve met the prime minister and the minister of foreign affairs. Could you please share the briefing they gave?
The government wants Nepal-India relations to further strengthen after I assume office. Relations have reached new heights following political-level engagements and high-level visits between the two countries over the past few years. I am going to Delhi as a representative to further boost Nepal’s goodwill, friendship and closeness with India. If there are some constraints in relations, we need to openly discuss and address those through bilateral engagements instead of exaggerating things publicly. We never work against anybody’s interest, so we do not develop relations with a country against the interest of the other.
We’ve also faced difficult times, but we need to be future-oriented and forward-looking. What we should not forget is that even during difficult times, the respect that peoples of the two countries hold towards each other was not affected. So this value can never be forgotten.
We share common civilisation, cultural and spiritual values. These things are huge. Leaders and stakeholders of both countries should understand that only saying we have deep historic relations will not work, we need to constantly cultivate the relations.
You’ve been a powerful member of the Eminent Persons’ Group on Nepal-India relations. What is there in the report that the Indian side is taking so much time to accept it?
The contents of the report will be known only after it is submitted to the prime ministers of both countries. Since the EPG also had representatives from India and it is a joint report, I hope the Indian side will receive it. Yes, we have not been able to give momentum to the post-report phase. But we also need to have patience because formation of EPG and finalisation of the joint report are in themselves huge achievements. Both countries
acknowledged that bilateral treaties, including that of 1950 and other agreements should be revised and formed the mechanism. Despite widespread scepticism, the EPG finalised its joint report in the given two-year tenure. This is a basis for heralding a new era in bilateral relations.
Today, bilateral relations between countries are based more on trade and investment. What plans do you have on the economic diplomacy front?
In terms of trade, if there are hiccups at border points such as quarantine issues, we need to address those. At the same time, we also need to boost production and diversify our exportable products if we want to minimise trade deficit. We need Indian assistance, such as joint investment and foreign investment, in both these areas. We need to identify concrete areas for such investments. We also need to promote cooperation between private sectors of the two countries.
There is also huge potential in the service sector. Not only in tourism, there’s potential in health and education sectors. So we need to boost investment not only in production, but also in the services sector.
Also, we need to be self-reliant in some products such as agriculture. To curb petroleum imports we can use clean energy. If we are able to minimise the use of petroleum-based energy to some extent, it can go a long way in bringing down the trade deficit.
Some India-funded projects, such as postal road, are mid-way through. How do you plan to facilitate these projects’ swift completion?
Earlier, meetings would not take place. Even if they took place, the execution part remained feeble. But now things have improved. There’s also an oversight mechanism that has been working effectively. But we need further improvements to ensure that talks are result-oriented. Swift implementation of agreements and cooperation commitments will also strengthen the trust between the two countries. It will also benefit India as it will have a demonstrative effect. We can tell the world that Indian projects in Nepal have completed in time with high quality work.
Nepal has already signed up with the Chinese-funded Belt and Road Initiative, while India is part of the United States Indo-Pacific Strategy. How do you plan to balance these as Nepal’s ambassador to India?
We are neither joining the Chinese camp nor subscribing to the American camp. There was a time when Britain, including other European countries were world powers. After the Second World War, there were two superpowers, the US and Russia. The Cold War ended and the US became more powerful while Russia became weaker. Now, the power is shifting gradually towards Asia. China has made tremendous progress with decades of double-digit economic growth. Japan, although it has lagged behind a bit now, is still ahead. India is now an emerging power. So for Asia to progress, India and China have to maintain good relations.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping have held numerous formal and informal meetings over the past few years. So we must not assume that India and China are only in confrontation, we also need to look at cooperation between them in terms of trade and investment. Nepal should not draw the conclusion that there are two distinct camps now and a situation of conflict and rivalry has been created. Yes, India and China are competing in a few areas and they have fought battles in the past. But Nepal should look at its national interest and sensitivities of both India and China. On the other hand, all countries would want to develop relations with countries that have economic might. So boosting relations with one country does not necessarily mean countering another country.
You’ve been close to the Nepali Congress. were you surprised by your appointment as ambassador?
I was not surprised because of the fact that I am close to the Nepali Congress, but because of the fact that the prime minister chose a neutral person bucking the trend of choosing party members or faction members for such roles. I resigned from the communist party in February 1992 after almost three decades with the party. I was made member of the first Constituent Assembly on the recommendation of the Nepali Congress, and the then CPN-UML supported me in my appointment as president of the constitutional committee. Sher Bahadur Deuba nominated me as ambassador to Sri Lanka. I believe both the left and the Congress should come together for development and prosperity of the country.