Nepal can't progress without maintaining close friendly relations with India: CPN-UML

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Kathmandu, Jul 11 (PTI) The Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) on Thursday said the landlocked Himalayan nation can attain economic prosperity only by maintaining close friendly relations with India, asserting that it will not allow any activity directed against the southern neighbour from the Nepalese soil.

The remarks by a senior leader of the party led by former prime minister K P Sharma Oli came on the eve of a confidence vote in Parliament which may see him return as the politically fragile Himalayan nation's premier once again.

"CPN-UML doesn't believe that Nepal can progress or the interest of Nepalese people could be promoted by pursuing anti-India policy," Dr Rajan Bhattarai, the Foreign Affairs Department chief and Standing Committee member of the CPN-UML, told PTI in an interview.

He said the party's chairman Oli wants to take Nepal-India relations to a new height as per the demand of the 21st century.

"We believe that we can attract more foreign investment, promote trade and attain economic prosperity only by maintaining close friendly relations with India,” he said. "We consider India as an important neighbour and we won't allow any activity directed against India from our soil." Oli is known for his pro-China stance and it would be interesting to see how he maintains ties of equi-proximity with both neighbours if he becomes prime minister after toppling Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal "Prachanda" after Friday's floor test in the House of Representatives.

"Our party has a clear view in not allowing any activity directed against another neighbour by taking the side of one neighbour," Bhattarai told PTI.

Although there are some problems in bilateral relations due to some provisions of the 1950 treaty, border dispute, inundation of land in the border areas and the growing trade deficit, the CPN-UML wants to resolve them through dialogue, he said.

"We can resolve all our problems by sitting together and holding talks in a friendly manner,” he added.

Ties between the two countries came under severe strain in 2020 after Kathmandu published a new political map that showed the three Indian territories - Limpiyadhura, Kalapani and Lipulekh - as part of Nepal.

The then Prime Minister Oli attempted to use the issue to fend off increasing domestic pressure and challenge his leadership.

Oli in the past had publicly criticised India for allegedly interfering in Nepal's internal matters.

Land-locked Nepal relies heavily on India for the transportation of goods and services. Nepal is also important for India in the context of its overall strategic interests in the region, and the leaders of the two countries have often noted the age-old “Roti Beti” relationship.

Nepal shares a border of over 1,850 km with five Indian states – Sikkim, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

"It is our firm belief that a stable, prosperous, peaceful and developed Nepal will also be in the interest of India," Bhattarai said. "However, we would also like to make it clear that our relations will be based on non-intervention in internal affairs and promoting national interest." "We want to move ahead in the path of development and prosperity by taking into confidence our neighbours," he added.

Replying to a question, Bhattarai said, "Until and unless there is political stability, we cannot bring economic prosperity and develop the country. Therefore, the main purpose behind the change in coalition government is to bring stability, prosperity and promote good governance by checking corruption." Oli-led CPN-UML, the largest party in the ruling coalition, withdrew support from the Prachanda-led government last week after inking a power-sharing deal with the largest party in the House - Nepali Congress - to replace the former Maoist leader.

The Nepali Congress, the largest party in the 275-member House of Representatives, has 88 seats at present, while CPN-UML has 79 seats. Their combined strength of 167 is much more than the 138 seats required for a majority in the lower house. Prachanda's Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) has 32 seats.

Prachanda is likely to lose the floor test on Friday.

"The Prachanda-led government was very much unstable as Prachanda switched loyalty from one party to another thrice within one and a half years and this time he wanted to make an alliance with the Nepali Congress by sidelining UML, which we didn’t allow," Bhattarai said.

"The parliamentary Election of 2022 gave a hung parliament, no party could get a majority normally with the current electoral system where only 60 per cent of Parliament Members are directly elected and remaining are elected through the proportional voting system or based on total votes obtained by party,” he said.

"Therefore, NC and UML have in principle agreed to change the present electoral system through a constitutional amendment,” Bhattari said while talking about the need for change in government leadership. "But at the same time, we want to ensure that all the features such as inclusiveness, republic system, federalism and secularism will remain intact." "Without political stability, we cannot fulfill people’s aspirations and bring concrete change in people’s lives and that is not possible in the present circumstances. Therefore, UML and NC have agreed to amend the constitution to bring necessary changes in the electoral system,” Bhattarai added. PTI SBP ZH AKJ ZH ZH