New Nepal PM to visit India, sidestepping controversy

September 7th, 2011 - 7:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Kathmandu, Sep 7 (IANS) Nepal’s new prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru University scholar Baburam Bhattarai, will visit India after attending a UN meet in New York this month, thereby sidestepping the old controversy about Nepali premiers’ first foreign trip after assuming office.

The 57-year-old architect, who took oath of office last month, Wednesday received the Indian ambassador to Nepal, Jayant Prasad, to discuss his first official visit to India after becoming Nepal’s new premier.

The nearly one and a half hour meeting, the first between the Indian envoy and Bhattarai, was also attended by the latter’s wife, senior Maoist leader and former minister Hisila Yami, who confirmed the India visit.

Yami told journalists that Bhattarai will visit New Delhi on the invitation of his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, after attending the 66th UN General Assembly in New York.

Bhattarai, who has promised to wrap up the wilting peace process in 45 days, is scheduled to lead a small delegation to the UN headquarters either on Sep 17 or 19 and return to Kathmandu on Sep 24.

This will be the third time in a row that Nepal’s prime ministers in recent times are heading towards diplomatic and regional meetings to prevent bad blood with either India or China.

Communist chief Jhala Nath Khanal, who preceded Bhattarai, began his foreign trips as prime minister with the unlikely destination of Turkey in May to attend the fourth summit of least developed countries.

His predecessor, Madhav Kumar Nepal from the same communist party, chose Cairo to attend the 15th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in 2010.

The caution over the first foreign destination began to be exercised after Nepal’s first Maoist prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda alleged that his visit to China in 2008 to attend the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games angered New Delhi, who connived at the fall of his government the next year.

Traditionally, Nepal’s prime ministers had been visiting India first after assuming office.

In 2006, when the then Nepali prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala visited New Delhi after inking a historic peace accord that ended a decade of Maoist insurgency in the Himalayan kingdom, he was given a red-carpet welcome with his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, meeting him at the airport.

Even Nepal’s deposed king Gyanendra, who visited India first in 2002 after being crowned, said he received an unexpectedly warm welcome in the neighbouring country.

Bhattarai, who shares close ties with India’s leftist and socialist leaders and intellectuals, is regarded as the moderate and pragmatic face of the once underground Maoists whose hardliners still see India as their biggest enemy.

New Delhi is hopeful of a better understanding with its northern neighbour under Bhattarai’s government.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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