New Nepal PM to sidestep India, China controversy

Baburam Bhattarai will make New York his first destination abroad where he will attend the 66th UN General Assembly.

Kathmandu: Nepal`s new Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, a Jawaharlal Nehru University scholar, will evade the old controversy about Nepali premiers` first foreign trip after assuming office by sidestepping both his giant neighbours India and China.

The 57-year-old architect, who took oath of office last month, will make New York his first destination abroad where he will attend the 66th UN General Assembly.

Bhattarai, who has underscored the need for austerity by choosing a car made in Nepal as his official vehicle instead of the luxury vehicles preferred by his predecessors, and on Wednesday sought to control black marketeering ahead of Nepal`s biggest festival Dashain, is scheduled to lead a small delegation to the UN headquarters September 17 or 19.

This will be the third time in a row that Nepal`s prime ministers in recent times are heading towards diplomatic and regional meetings to prevent bad blood with either India or China.

Communist chief Jhala Nath Khanal, who preceded Bhattarai, began his foreign trips as prime minister with the unlikely destination of Turkey in May to attend the fourth summit of least developed countries.

His predecessor, Madhav Kumar Nepal from the same communist party, chose Cairo to attend the 15th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in 2010.

The caution over the first foreign destination began to be exercised after Nepal`s first Maoist prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda alleged that his visit to China in 2008 to attend the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games angered New Delhi, who connived at the fall of his government the next year.

Traditionally, Nepal`s prime ministers had been visiting India first after assuming office.

In 2006, when the then Nepali prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala visited New Delhi after inking a historic peace accord that ended a decade of Maoist insurgency in the Himalayan kingdom, he was given a red-carpet welcome with his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, meeting him at the airport.

Even Nepal`s deposed king Gyanendra, who visited India first in 2002 after being crowned, said he received an unexpectedly warm welcome in the neighbouring country.

Bhattarai, who has been issued a warm invitation by Manmohan Singh, shares close ties with India`s leftist and socialist leaders and intellectuals.

He is regarded as the moderate and pragmatic face of the once underground Maoists whose hardliners still see India as their biggest enemy, and New Delhi is hopeful of a better understanding with its northern neighbour under Bhattarai`s government.


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