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India minister meets Nepal leaders in bid to renew ties

India's foreign minister Sushma Swaraj met with Nepal's top leaders on Saturday (July 26) during a visit to expand New Delhi's engagement with a neighbourhood increasingly drawn to China.

KATHMANDU: India's foreign minister Sushma Swaraj met with Nepal's top leaders on Saturday (July 26) during a visit to expand New Delhi's engagement with a neighbourhood increasingly drawn to China.

Swaraj's trip, which follows a visit last month to Bangladesh, is part of an ongoing campaign by India's new government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to renew neglected ties as Beijing makes deeper forays into South Asia.

"Her principal message in all of today's engagements was... that the new government of India is very keen to impart renewed momentum to our multifaceted bilateral relations," Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told reporters in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu.

Swaraj, who is on a three-day visit to the Himalayan nation, met Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, President Ram Baran Yadav and the chairman of the former ruling Maoists, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda.

Her trip to Nepal will be followed by a visit by Modi early next month, the first bilateral visit by an Indian premier in 17 years, Akbaruddin said.

India has traditionally exerted huge influence in Nepal, which has faced repeated bouts of political instability as successive governments have failed to draft a post-war constitution after a decade-long Maoist insurgency ended eight years ago.

Swaraj urged Nepal's leaders to "work for an inclusive constitution whose ownership is accepted by all and... (which) accommodates the desires of all," Akbaruddin said.

He added that India hoped to deepen its trade links with Nepal, with a focus on hydropower projects that could meet the needs of both energy-starved nations.

New Delhi is Kathmandu's sole provider of fuel and its biggest trading partner, accounting for a massive 47 per cent of foreign direct investment in the country.

In recent years, however, China has been gradually making its presence felt in the impoverished Himalayan nation, spending billions of dollars on infrastructure projects ranging from roads to hydropower plants.

Nepal has endured prolonged political limbo since 2006, when former rebel Maoists laid down arms and signed a peace deal, paving the way for constituent assembly polls two years later. Since then, the country has been politically paralysed, with the assembly - which also serves as the parliament - perpetually deadlocked over plans to draft a new constitution.

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