This year’s Buddha Purnima on Monday might mark a new milestone in India-Nepal relationship as Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to Lumbini in Nepal, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, for a day-long visit to participate in several events, including a bilateral with his Nepal counterpart Sher Bahadur Deuba and also attend a ceremony to lay the foundation stone for a centre for Buddhist culture and heritage.
This will be PM Modi fifth visit to Nepal since 2014, and first by any Indian Prime Minister to Lumbini.
The route taken by PM Modi is of significance – he 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.
This will signify India’s thrust in connecting the two major pilgrimage sites on the Buddhist circuit, and take a lead in Buddhist legacy diplomacy at a time when China, over the years, had pushed its so-called “soft Buddhism” diplomacy in Nepal.
PM Modi will visit Maya Devi temple and offer prayers. He will also deliver an address at the Buddha Jayanti celebrations organised by the Lumbini Development Trust. The Prime Minister will participate in the foundation laying ceremony for the construction of a centre for Buddhist culture and heritage centre within the Lumbini Monastic Zone, which India is helping to build.
PM Modi and his Nepal counterpart Mr Deuba will hold a bilateral meeting in Lumbini, followed by a lunch hosted by the Nepal Prime Minister. After that, PM Modi will leave for Kushinagar again.
Just a month ago, Mr Deuba was in India on a three-day visit, his first foreign visit after taking charge as the Prime Minister of Nepal. That visit was seen by experts as a fresh move between Nepal and India to improve mutual trust and boost ties as India-Nepal relations have seen hurdles during the regime of previous Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli of the Himalayan nation.
Ties nosedived especially after 2015 when there was widespread resentment against India for allegedly interfering in the constitution-drafting process of Nepal. Mr Oli’s new map in 2020 that included Indian territories was condemned by India as a “unilateral measure”.
Although both India and Nepal have not spelt out the agendas for the bilateral meetings, five memorandum of understandings (MoUs) are expected to be signed on Monday, sources said.
Among them the prominent ones are – the Indian Educational and Cultural Foundation will sign one MoU each with Lumbini Buddhist University and Tribhuvan University, and three MoUs with Kathmandu University.
Lumbini Buddhist University and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), Tribhuvan University Nepal and Centre for Asian Studies (CNAS) and ICCR, Kathmandu University and ICCR, the KU and the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai are scheduled to sign two other MoUs.
Nepal is expected to ask India to support its power projects. Mr Deuba and PM Modi had signed a joint vision statement on power sector cooperation for generation, transmission and trade.
The early finalisation of the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project figured in talks, officials added. Nepal being power surplus wants India to buy its power, but India is reluctant since energy is largely produced by Chinese companies in Nepal, official sources added.
However, India is looking to invest more in Nepal as China has the highest foreign direct investment or FDI in Nepal.