KATHMANDU, Nepal — India’s foreign minister arrived in Nepal on Thursday, days before an alliance of Communist parties with strong connections to China takes power in the Himalayan nation.
Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is scheduled to meet Khadga Prasad Oli, who heads the largest Communist party. Oli is likely to be Nepal’s next prime minister.
The last time Oli was prime minister in 2015, the two South Asian nations hit a low point in relations following an economic blockade imposed by India because of its unhappiness over Nepal’s new constitution.
The alliance of Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center) won a majority of the seats in parliamentary elections held in November and December.
They are expected to take over the government following an election for the National Assembly, the upper house of parliament, next week.
“The Indian minister coming to Nepal is an attempt to woo the new Communist government which has strong ties with China,” said Guna Raj Luitel, editor of the popular Nagarik newspaper, adding it was unusual for the foreign minister of giant India to rush to Nepal even before a new government is formed.
“India fears Nepal will tilt toward China and India will lose its grip,” Luitel said.
India surrounds Nepal on three sides and has always had a major political and economic influence. China, which borders Nepal on one side, has competed with India for prominence.
Nepal depends on India for oil and other goods. The two countries have cultural ties and their citizens do not need visas to cross into each other’s territory.
Ethnic protests broke out in southern Nepal bordering India in 2015 when Nepal adopted its new constitution. The Madhesi ethnic groups wanted more territory in their newly assigned state, which the government denied. India supported the Madhesi groups and unofficially closed border points, blocking supplies to Nepal.
For months there was a severe shortage of oil, medicine and other supplies in Nepal, which at the time was recovering from a devastating earthquake.
Oli, the prime minister, refused to accept the protesters’ demands and the protests fizzled out. Relations between the two countries, however, were strained.
Last year China pledged about $8 billion in investments in Nepal and has promised rail links between the two countries.
Communist party officials deny they will improve ties with China while ignoring India.
“There is speculation that the new government will be very close with China and will keep a distance with India, but that won’t be,” said Rajan Bhattarai, a central committee member in Oli’s party. “We will have to maintain a balanced relation between our two neighbors.”
Official election results are yet to be announced, but the alliance is expected to have 174 members in the 275-seat parliament.