By Deepak Adhikari
Indian Premier Narendra Modi is due in Nepal on Friday for a two-day visit designed to mend fences with its smaller neighbor, but anger is still simmering in the landlocked country over a crippling blockade some two years ago.
The visit by the India premier, who has been criticized at home over India’s deteriorating relations with its South Asian neighbors, comes a month after K. P. Sharma Oli, Nepal’s new prime minister, made India his first foreign port of call.
According to local media, Modi will first visit Janakpur, a historic town in southern Nepal bordering the Indian state of Bihar. An important religious site for Hindus, the town, according to legend, was the birthplace of Sita, wife of the Hindu deity Ram.
Authorities have also planned two civic receptions for Modi -- in Janakur, and in the capital Katmandu.
The visit is taking place in the shadow of bomb blasts on April 29 at the office of an India-funded 900-megawatt hydropower project in northeastern Nepal, which is set for a joint inauguration by Modi and Oli during the trip.
The blast, which damaged the project office’s compound, is believed to have been carried out by a splinter Maoist group that also detonated explosives at the site of the project in mid-February.
Hundreds of Nepalese have taken to social media calling on Modi to apologize for the five-month blockade, which was imposed in September 2015.
India never officially acknowledged the blockade, coming in the wake of Nepal’s new constitution, which India feared could spur violence that might spill across borders.
Essential supplies such as fuel and medicine were halted during the blockade, which was a double whammy for Nepal, then recovering from a devastating earthquake.
The incident angered young people in landlocked Nepal, which depends on India for supplies and access to the sea.
Ahead of Modi’s visit, hundreds of Nepalese have taken to Twitter using the trending hashtags #BlockadeWasCrimeMr.Modi and #ModiNotWelcomeinNepal, calling on him to apologize for the blockade.
“I hope PM Modi will apologize to Nepalis for this but don’t believe it will happen,” posted Sulav Karki, a Nepalese medical student.
During the trip, the two countries are expected to strike agreements on agricultural development and extending a railway line from India’s border to Katmandu.