As Nepal’s new Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal arrived in New Delhi on Thursday for a four-day visit, India announced that it would help the Himalayan country build railway tracks, stretching from Mechi in east Nepal to Mahakali in the west.

A senior official of the Indian Railways said that New Delhi selected the Mechi-Mahakali route as the project runs parallel to the land-locked country’s 1,030km east-west highway. “The plan is to push forward immediately with this project. It’s a big development project,” added the official. Currently, Nepal has only one short rail line from Janakpur to Jaynagar on the Indian border.

Meanwhile, Dahal, alias Prachanda, told the Indian media that the main purpose of his visit is to remove the bitterness, as the Indo-Nepal ties have deteriorated in recent times. Speaking at a media conference upon his arrival in the Indian capital, the former Maoist rebel commander stressed that he selected India as his first foreign stop because he wanted to rebalance bilateral ties.

Prachanda blamed his pro-China predecessor Khadga Prasad Oli for not taking necessary steps to normalise ties with India, saying that his country needs New Delhi’s support, as it is still going through a political transition. At the same time, he claimed that Nepal has made considerable progress since a decade-long insurgency and weeks of deadly street protests brought down the monarchy in Kathmandu.

Describing the new Republican Constitution as a source of inspiration, the visiting premier stressed that his government would try hard to maintain cordial ties with New Delhi. The veteran Maoist leader did not forget to mention that people of his country (and he personally) trust Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the basis of which he would work together with New Delhi to ensure regional economic development.

“Mr Modi and I think in similar ways and we have chemistry. There is a difference in circumstances and our ideology, but that is a different issue. He is a strong PM, elected with a majority, of a country as big as India. We spoke when Mr Modi came to Nepal for the first time and addressed our Constituent Assembly. It was a rare moment in Nepali history when the visit of the leader of a neighbouring country generated so much enthusiasm. Our first meeting was very good. In the second meeting too, we spoke at length,” stressed Prachanda.

The Nepalese media reported on Friday that PM Modi wooed Prachanda to claw back ground from China. The two leaders held wide ranging talks on key issues, including the ongoing political process in Nepal and ways to strengthen bilateral ties. During their meeting, the Indian premier told his guest that Kathmandu would not have to depend on any other country, as New Delhi would provide all sorts of help to its neighbour. Later, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj gave the same assurance to the Nepali PM.

Indian foreign policy experts opine that Prachanda’s visit is a great opportunity for India to rebuild trust with its northern neighbour (with eye on China). Although the Modi-Prachanda meeting took place under the shadow of the 2015 blockade in Nepal that had stopped the flow of essentials between the two countries, the Indian PM made a serious effort to rebuild trust with Kathmandu.

For strategic reasons, Nepal is an important neighbour of India. New Delhi’s failure to boost ties with Kathmandu could push Nepal into the Beijing’s open arms. Experts have advised the top Indian leadership to keep in mind that Chinese President Xi Jinping would soon visit Kathmandu. They believe that it is the ideal time for India to steer its relationship with Nepal into a positive framework so that the interests and concerns of both nations can be addressed equitably.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]