Narendra Modi takes softpower to Nepal: Temple run and MoUs on agenda for Lumbini visit

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will make his way to Lumbini in Nepal today, on the occasion of Buddha Purnima and meet with his Nepali counter...

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will make his way to Lumbini in Nepal today, on the occasion of Buddha Purnima and meet with his Nepali counterpart Sher Bahadur Deuba.

This will be Narendra Modi’s first visit to the neighbouring country since his re-election in 2019 and fifth since he became prime minister in 2014. Modi’s trip to Lumbini, the first by an Indian prime minister, will re-cement bilateral ties between the two countries and ‘is focused on bringing soft power to the centrestage of India-Nepal relations’, reported the Indian Express.

Ahead of his departure — Modi will fly on a chopper from Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh, which is where Lord Buddha is believed to have attained nirvana, to Lumbini, where he was born — the prime minister said, “I look forward to offering prayers at the Mayadevi Temple on the auspicious occasion of Buddha Jayanti. I am honoured to follow in the footsteps of millions of Indians to pay reverence at the sacred site of Lord Buddha's birth.

“I also look forward to meeting Prime Minister Deuba again after our productive discussions during his visit to India last month. We will continue to build on our shared understanding to expand cooperation in multiple areas, including hydropower, development and connectivity.

“Apart from visiting the holy Maya Devi Temple, I will be participating in the ‘Shilanyas’ ceremony of the India International Centre for Buddhist Culture & Heritage in the Lumbini Monastic Zone. I will also be attending celebrations to mark the occasion of Buddha Jayanti organised by the government of Nepal.”

What’s on Modi’s plate?

To mark the auspicious occasion of Buddha Purnima, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit the Maya Devi Temple and offer prayers there. The prime minister had gifted a Bodhi tree sapling from Bodh Gaya to this temple during his visit to Nepal in November 2014.

Modi, along with Nepal’s Sher Bahadur Deuba, will also lay the construction stone for the Buddhist culture and heritage centre within the Lumbini Monastic Zone, which India is helping to build.

The ‘India International Centre for Buddhist Culture & Heritage' will be undertaken by the International Buddhist Confederation (IBC), which is a ‘grantee body’ under the Ministry of Culture.

According to reported information, the IBC was registered on 2 November 2012 and is aimed at propagating and preserving the teachings and heritage of the Buddha across the world, and especially in India’s immediate neighbourhood. The Buddhist Centre will be the first “Net Zero Emission” building in Nepal.

An Indian Express report states that the Buddhist Culture Centre is estimated to cost Rs 1 billion and will take three years to build.

Besides the Buddhism thrust, the two leaders will also discuss ‘developmental issues’. Sources told News18 that memoranda of understanding (MoUs) in sectors related to culture and education will be taken up during Modi’s day-long visit.

It is being reported that the two countries will bat for better road and air connectivity — with more air entry points to India.

Additionally, Hindustan Times reports that the two leaders will discuss the possibility of setting up a premier Indian technical university.

The two leaders will also focus on the issue of hydropower, with Nepal expected to bring up the issue of the 1200 MW “West Seti and SR 6” hydropower project.

Resetting India-Nepal ties

Modi’s visit comes on the heels of Nepalese prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s India visit in April. His visit was seen by many as an attempt to reset India-Nepal ties, which had seen some hurdles during the previous regime of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli.

Ties had taken a hit in 2015 — then Prime Minister Oli’s new map had included Indian territories, which was condemned by India as a “unilateral measure”.

The visit assumes more significance, as many geopolitical experts believe that New Delhi is losing influence over the Himalayan country to rival China, which has been showering Nepal with investments in infrastructure development and helping with millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines during the pandemic.

In February, BBC reported that the Nepalese government had accused China of encroachment. The report had said that China had been trespassing in the district of Humla, in the far west of Nepal, a claim that Beijing refuted.

With inputs from agencies

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India World News: Narendra Modi takes softpower to Nepal: Temple run and MoUs on agenda for Lumbini visit
Narendra Modi takes softpower to Nepal: Temple run and MoUs on agenda for Lumbini visit
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