Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Nepali counterpart Sher Bahadur Deuba met in Lumbini on Monday on the occasion of Buddha Jayanti, offering prayers and holding a bilateral meeting.
Modi flew in by helicopter after landing at India’s Kushinagar, and bypassing the Gautam Buddha International Airport that was also inaugurated today. The airport is Nepal’s second international gateway and is expected to boost pilgrimage and tourism traffic in the region.
Lumbini was where the Buddha was born 2,566 years ago, and Kushinagar is where he attained parinirvana. India also inaugurated an airport in Kushinagar, and the two countries are working together on a ‘Buddhist Circuit’ that also includes Bodh Gaya and Sarnath.
Modi laid the foundation stone for the India International Centre for Buddhist Culture and Heritage and jointly inaugurated a 4,000 capacity meditation hall in Lumbini. Earlier, they lit lamps at the Ashoka Pillar, put up by the Mauryan emperor in 249BCE to mark the nativity site, and paid a visit to the Mayadevi Temple.
The day-long visit to Lumbini is Modi’s fifth trip to Nepal since he became prime minister in 2014. Bilateral relations soured after India imposed a 6-month blockade on Nepal and after it put 350 sqk km of Nepal’s territory in Limpiyadhura in the country’s northwestern tip on its official maps.
Modi tweeted in Nepali after arriving in Lumbini. He later posted: ‘Happy to be among the wonderful people of Nepal on the special occasion of Buddha Purnima. Looking forward to the programmes in Lumbini.”’
After bilateral meeting between the two prime ministers, Nepal and India also signed an agreement that included developing the 695MW Arun IV hydroelectric project in eastern Nepal at a cost of Rs80 billion. India’s Sutlej Jala Vidyut Nigam (SJVN) which is also building the Arun-III will jointly develop the bigger project in partnership with Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA).
Under the agreement, Nepal will get 152MW for free and the rest will be fed into the Indian grid.
However, a much-expected agreement on opening up new two-way air routes from India and Nepal to facilitate new airports in Pokhara and Bhairawa did not materialise.