Prachanda arrives in India, talks on Monday (Lead, Changing dateline)

September 14th, 2008 - 9:12 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi/Kathmandu, Sep 14 (IANS) Nepal’s Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” arrived here on his first official visit to India that could redefine friendly ties between the two neighbours. He was received at the airport by Minister of State for Home Shakeel Ahmad and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon.

The 54-year-old leader will hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday on a wide array of bilateral issues, including an expansion of economic ties and hydropower cooperation.

Imparting a more contemporary character to bilateral ties is expected to top Prachanda’s agenda when he holds talks with Manmohan Singh.

Prachanda, a former revolutionary who became the first prime minister of a republican Nepal nearly a month ago, will also meet President Pratibha Patil, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

India is likely to announce a hefty relief package for Nepal’s flood-hit during the visit.

During his five-day visit, Prachanda will also go to Bangalore, India’s IT hub.

Prachanda is heading a 44-member delegation that includes four ministers, senior government officials, heads of business federations and journalists.

Foreign Affairs Minister Upendra Yadav, Information and Communications Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who is also the spokesman of the six-party ruling alliance, Water Resources Minister Bishnu Poudel and Commerce and Supplies Minister Rajendra Mahato are part of the delegation that will return Sep 18.

Prachanda will address a business conclave, organised by apex industry bodies, Monday afternoon where he is expected to make a pitch for attracting Indian investment in key areas like hydropower, agriculture, tourism and infrastructure.

Before he left for New Delhi by the national carrier, Nepal Airlines, it was a hectic day for the prime minister who held a cabinet meeting during the day to endorse his agenda. The council of ministers has advised the former revolutionary not to sign any new treaty during his visit.

The prime minister was carrying with him a draft of the controversial 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty between India and Nepal. There is mounting call in Nepal for the abrogation of the pact and Prachanda is proposing the formation of a special India-Nepal task force to finalise the draft through “mutual consultations and understanding”.

Nepal would ask for a review of the 1954 Kosi treaty as well as negotiate over relief and reconstruction measures in view of the recent flood in the river that left over 100,000 homeless in Nepal and affected more than 3 million in Bihar in India.

Nepal’s major parties have asked the prime minister to seek compensation from India since the treaty makes it India’s responsibility to maintain and repair all constructions on the river.

The second-largest party in the ruling coalition, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), has asked Prachanda to raise other contentious water treaties signed with India, like the Mahakali pact which has failed to take off even 12 years after its signing.

Former UML chief Madhav Kumar Nepal said Prachanda should also raise the Gandak water treaty with India. The Himalayan republic regards it as an unequal one since it gives maximum irrigation benefits to India.

Before his departure, Prachanda assured the constituent assembly - Nepal’s interim parliament - that he would not do anything that would harm Nepal’s national interests.

Trade talks are also expected to feature largely in the talks. To rectify the growing imbalance in bilateral trade, Nepal would seek to simplify tax and quarantine systems as well as transit facilities. Besides Kolkata, Nepal is seeking transit facility through Mumbai port and to Radhikapur in Bangladesh.

The controversial high dam that India has been mulling to tame the Kosi would also be discussed as well as building a diversion canal.

Nepal would try to get more Indian investment in the Himalayan republic’s hydropower sector. However, the generated power would be harnessed first to meet the national demand.

In 2006, when then King Gyanendra seized absolute power with an army-backed coup, India brought the Maoists and the political parties together to sign a 12-point agreement which subsequently ended the Maoists’ 10-year armed war and brought peace to insurgency-ravaged Nepal.

Soon after his India visit, Prachanda is scheduled to proceed to New York to attend the UN General Assembly.

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