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Nepal's Maoist Prime Minister Makes Historic Visit to India

Nepal's new prime minister, who led a Maoist rebellion against the government, is on a five-day visit to India. Ahead of talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the former guerilla sounded very much like the capitalist in calling for India to make significant investments in Nepal. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from New Delhi.

Accompanied by cabinet ministers and business leaders, Nepal's new prime minister is in India for what is termed a "goodwill" visit.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known by his fighting alias, "Prachanda," made clandestine visits to India when he headed Nepal's Maoist insurgency. It was a very different sort of appearance Monday during a session with Indian business leaders in a five-star hotel in New Delhi. The former guerilla leader looked and sounded very much like a pro-business politician, wearing suit and tie, while calling for massive external investment in Nepal's hydro-electric sector.

"I am thinking that today I am in the discussion with the leadership here in India that big projects should be undertaken, not petty and small projects, in the hydro sector," he said.

Energy-hungry India is eager to tap Nepal's water resources to generate electricity for its booming economy. Only a fraction of Nepal's water resources, a potential total of 83,000 megawatts of electricity, is now being exploited.

A related matter being discussed is what to do about the Kosi River. Originating in Nepal, the river breached its embankment, last month, submerging much of the Indian state, Bihar. The two countries have traded blame for the disaster, which has left millions of Indians destitute.

In response to a question on building ties with China, the Maoist leader said the Indo-Nepali relationship will not suffer as Kathmandu builds ties with the Communist government in Beijing.

"The relation with India is crucial and vital although we also want to develop the relation with China. But it can not be compared right now. There is no question of comparison," said Mr. Dahal.

Officials from both countries acknowledge that another key item on the agenda for this week's talks is the 1950 Trade and Transit Treaty between the two neighbors. It governs most aspects of relations between India and Nepal, including security.

During the decade-long Maoist insurgency against Nepal's government, Prachanda repeatedly called for abrogation of the treaty, contending it is unfair to Nepal.

India is Nepal's top trading partner and the small landlocked Himalayan nation is totally dependent on its southern neighbor for its fuel supplies.

India and the now defunct royalist government of Nepal saw the Maoist insurgency, led by the man who is now prime minister, as a common security challenge.

That might be one reason why Prime Minister Dahal is calling for an end to recruitment of Nepali Gurkhas into the Indian Army. The Gurkhas have had a reputation as fierce warriors here since the early 19th century, when they were contracted by the British East India Company. There are about 40,000 Gurkhas serving in the Indian Army and paramilitary forces.

Indian military officials say, even if Nepal takes the unlikely step of banning service in the Indian military, it will not significantly affect the force, which has more than one-million personnel under arms.

Much of Nepal's establishment made a political alliance with the Maoists, in 2006 when then-King Gyanendra seized absolute power with an Army-backed coup. That brought peace, democratic elections which brought the Maoists to power and the abolition of the Hindu monarchy.