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Modi wraps up Nepal visit

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrapped up his two-day visit to Nepal after meeting Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav on Monday (4 August).

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrapped up his two-day visit to Nepal after meeting Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav on Monday (4 August).

Since becoming prime minister in May, Mr Modi has reached out to neighbours after years of neglect, in a policy top advisers say is key to his plans to make India a military and economic power.

Both India and China are vying for political influence in South Asia, home to more than 1.5 billion people, by offering closer integration with their giant economies.

India has long been the dominant force in the region. But in recent years as its economy slowed and it struggled with policy paralysis, China has stolen a march, building ports from Sri Lanka to Bangladesh and power plants in Nepal.

Mr Modi's trip to Nepal is the first bilateral visit to the country by an Indian prime minister in 17 years, though Indian leaders have routinely attended regional summits in Kathmandu.

In an address to Nepal's parliament, Mr Modi said India will support Nepal's transition to a constitutional republic after the abolition of the monarchy in 2008. He also promised to extend a US$1 billion line of credit to Nepal to help develop its infrastructure.

"I want to hit Nepal. When I talk about HIT, I refer to three things - Highways, Information ways and Trans ways, transmission lines. India should give this gift to Nepal at the earliest. Nepal should not be left behind. Nepal should become digital. It should strive to compete with other nations," said Mr Modi.

These initiatives come as China has also recently stepped up its engagement with Nepal, with millions of dollars pumped into similiar projects to boost the country's infrastrcture.

During his visit, Mr Modi also offered special prayers at the world famous Pashupathinath temple. The temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site near Kathmandu that attracts tens of thousands of pilgrims every year, especially from India.

Some analysts said Mr Modi's visit to Nepal will warm ties between the two neighbours.

Analyst Uday Bhaskar said: "This was a visit that was long overdue. Nepal is not only India's approximate neighbour but also a very special neighbour. While again there have been no major deals signed or no major breakthrough, I think the atmosphere, the political contact is very, very valuable and hopefully over the next two or three months the major issues will be taken forward."

Despite sharing an open border with Nepal, India has not made many significant efforts to bolster ties with its Himalayan neighbour. Once culturally and geographically close, Nepal has of late been wary of India's attitude towards its internal matters.

Mr Modi's visit, therefore, is being touted by many as the first litmus test of his foreign policy. But whether he would succeed in bridging the trust deficit between the two countries remains to be seen.