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Narendra Modi offers assistance to Nepal for its first local polls in two decades

LiveMint logoLiveMint 25-04-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a telephone conversation with his Nepalese counterpart Pushpa Kamal Dahal on Tuesday, promised all assistance to Nepal in the conduct of its first polls to local bodies in two decades.

Modi’s assurance comes after Dahal, a former Maoist guerilla rebel known by his nom de guerre “Prachanda”, requested India for assistance while speaking about Nepal’s local elections, a statement from the Indian Prime Minister’s office said.

“Prime Minister Prachanda spoke about the ongoing efforts of his government to take all stakeholders on board in the constitution implementation process,” the Indian statement said, referring to the differences within the Nepalese people over a new constitution unveiled in 2015. The Tharu, Janjati and Madhesi groups that make up almost 50 % of the population are feeling politically marginalised by some provisions of the charter.

The dates that are under consideration for the polls include 14 May and 14 June.

“Prime Minister Prachanda also spoke about Nepal holding the first local elections in nearly twenty years and requested for India’s assistance in this connection. Prime Minister Modi conveyed the good wishes of the people and government of India to the friendly people of Nepal in their national efforts to achieve peace, stability and socio-economic transformation, and assured Prime Minister Prachanda that India would extend all possible assistance for local elections,” the Indian statement said.

“The two prime ministers reiterated their commitment to advance multi-faceted India-Nepal cooperative ties for the benefit of the two peoples,” it said.

Prachanda’s call to Modi comes days after reports that Nepal’s Madhesi parties had struck a deal with the Prachanda-led coalition government under which they would take part in the local body elections after a revised constitution amendment bill is passed in parliament that seeks to address the Madhesi concerns of political marginalisation.

The Federal Alliance—an umbrella group of Madhesi parties and ethnic groups—reached an agreement on issues related to constitution amendment and local polls on Sunday, a PTI report from Kathmandu said.

The Madhesi parties had earlier warned the government that they would disrupt the local elections if their demands, including proportional representation in parliament, were not addressed.

India-Nepal ties had deteriorated over the issue of Madhesis, Tharus and Janjatis feeling marginalised by the constitution, with the Indian government seemingly supporting the three groups in their fight to get the constitutional provisions changed.

India had felt that ignoring the sentiments of a large section of the population would create an unstable Nepal, with China possibly taking advantage of the divisions between the two groups by supporting the ruling elite hill tribes.

Ties between the two countries stabilised last year with Prachanda visiting India. India also played host to Nepalese president Bidya Bhandari, whose visit signalled ties returning to an even keel.

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