Here’s How India’s Covid Vaccines Are Likely To Play A Major Role In Firming India-Nepal Ties

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Jan 13, 2021 02:51 PM +05:30 IST
Here’s How India’s Covid Vaccines Are Likely To Play A Major Role In Firming India-Nepal TiesIndian and Nepali flags.
  • The fact that Nepal has prioritised vaccines from India over those from China is being seen by the MEA mandarins as Kathmandu’s desire to put bilateral ties on a firm plane.

‘Corona-cooperation’ between India and Nepal is the new and exciting buzzword in the foreign policy establishments of the two countries.

Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali, who is arriving in New Delhi on Thursday (14 January) on a three-day visit, is likely to cut a deal with India on supply of Indian-made Covid vaccines to Nepal.

On the eve of the minister’s visit to India, Nepal is abuzz with speculation (read this) about supply of the vital vaccines to the landlocked Himalayan nation by India.

Nepal’s Ministry Of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) released a statement on Tuesday (12 January) evening stating that “Covid-19 cooperation is a major item on the agenda of the foreign minister’s visit”.

Gyawali is coming to attend the 6th meeting of the India-Nepal Joint Commission.

Though the boundary dispute that set back bilateral ties due to Nepal premier K P Sharma Oli’s jingoism is also on the agenda, senior diplomats in India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) told Swarajya that the contentious issue is likely to be mentioned merely in passing by the Nepali delegation.

Other items on the agenda are trade, transit, energy, infrastructure, connectivity, investment, agriculture and tourism.

The primary item, said the MEA mandarins, would be procurement of Covid-19 vaccines from India on favourable terms.

India is likely to offer Nepal a large number of doses for free and the rest at concessional rates. New Delhi may also open a line of credit for Nepal to procure the vaccines from India.

During his visit to Kathmandu in November-end, India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla had promised that New Delhi’s “first priority” in distributing the vaccines would be “our closest neighbours, our friends, like Nepal”.

Nepal requested India last month to prioritise supply of vaccines to that country. Health officials of Nepal have been in touch with New Delhi to finalise procurement of the vaccines after New Delhi gave emergency use authorisation for the two vaccines being made by the Serum Institute of India and Bharat Biotech.

Nepal’s Minister for Health and Population Hridayesh Tripathi was quoted in this report in The Kathmandu Post as saying that India is the preferred source of vaccines for inoculating 12 million people of the country in the first phase.

A senior official in Nepal’s MoFA told Swarajya from Kathmandu that Prime Minister Oli is keen on getting a favourable deal from India.

“India has given us concrete assurances about pricing, adequate supply and help in procurement, and logistics and we are looking forward to finalising the deal (on procuring the Covid vaccines) from India,” he said.

Dr Roshan Pokhrel, chief specialist at the Ministry of Health and Population, said that Nepal’s focus will be on procuring ‘Covishield’ manufactured by Serum Institute of India.

“If it is not possible to get the vaccines developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca (and being manufactured by the Serum Institute), we will opt for ‘Covaxin’ that is developed by Bharat Biotech,” said Pokhrel.

Nepal’s Ambassador to India, Nilamber Acharya, has held talks with the Serum Institute and Bharat Biotech, as well as top officials of the MEA, to get a favourable deal.

Director of Research of Nepal’s Centre for Molecular Dynamics, Dr Sameer Mani Dixit, was quoted by The Kathmandu Post: “Providing vaccines to Nepal will not be a big deal for a country like India. It is an opportunity for both India and Nepal to improve the bilateral relationship, which remains strained for some time.”

This is what is enthusing diplomats on both sides of the border who view the prospect of supply of Covid vaccines by India to Nepal on favourable terms as a game-changer in bilateral ties.

The fact that Nepal has prioritised vaccines from India over those from China is being seen by the MEA mandarins as Kathmandu’s desire to put bilateral ties on a firm plane.

“China had been exercising a lot of pressure on Nepal to procure its vaccines. But many in Kathmandu are justifiably wary of the Chinese vaccines, especially in view of reports of fresh Covid outbreak in some cities of that country and China’s opacity in tackling the pandemic as well as developing the vaccine,” a top MEA official told Swarajya.

Another breakthrough expected during Gyawali’s visit is over the Pancheshwar Multipurpose Project that has been hanging fire for a long time. A few more bilateral MoUs on trade and transit are also likely to be signed.

However, the primary item on the table is the supply of Covid vaccines. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is coordinating with the MEA and the Health Ministry to get Nepal a highly favourable deal.

“This deal will take Indo-Nepalese ties to a different level and prove to the people of Nepal that India is a true friend,” said the MEA official.

Gyawali is expected to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan and others during his visit.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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