Political buffer of Nepal

The Terai region is strategically important for India
Newly appointed Prime Minister of Nepal, Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal being greeted as he takes charge of his office as Nepal's newly appointed PM, in Kathmandu on Monday, 26-December-2022.
Newly appointed Prime Minister of Nepal, Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal being greeted as he takes charge of his office as Nepal's newly appointed PM, in Kathmandu on Monday, 26-December-2022. ANI

It is a historical fact that any nation will be considered unfortunate if it has got unfriendly and ‘mischievous’ neighbors. Now Nepal is poised to join this league following a missed opportunity by Nepali Congress to stop anti India forces from occupying the top slot in the new government which may ultimately benefit China, bad news for India.

China had already started a huge investment during previous Oli’s government in roads and railways which will be accelerated owing to friendly dispensation of Dahal thereby creating a huge security risk. The Terai region is strategically important for India, and China may speed up its projects, and the political buffer of Nepal will get compromised. It  will be of tremendous advantage to China.

A missed opportunity

Analysts opine that in the pursuit of greed, to be dominant partner after its emergence as single largest party in the recently concluded general elections, Nepali Congress lost its coalition partner CPN-Maoists Centre which paved the way for Pro China forces led by former prime minister, K.P.S.Oli to grab an opportunity. It is bound to change diplomatic dynamics in the region. CPN-Maoists Centre’s supremo, Pushap Dahal,’Prachanda’ was determined to head the coalition government for two and half years and then give chance to Nepali Congress and former prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba to complete the rest of the period, but deal got stuck and Oli pounced upon it to fulfill the wish of his arch-rival. Now communists will be at the disposal of China which can ferment trouble for India, and it has been witnessed when EX PM, Oli embarrassed India by redrawing the map and claimed some territories as parts of Nepal. Oli had also objected to construction of road by the border road organization to Mount Kailash, which was later inaugurated by defense minister Rajnath Singh. Prachanda is likely to dominate this coalition and he may opt for equi-distance from China and India though his natural tilt will be towards Dragon which can be attributed to communist ideology.

It is also rightly said that politics is the game of uncertainties and dominated by self-centered approach which has been replicated in Nepal as Nepali Congress missed an opportunity to form new coalition government due to its adamant attitude which forced its partner Pushap Dahal ‘Prachanda’ to strike a deal with Pro China forces led by former prime minister, K.P.S,Oli.

A former Maoist guerrilla who led a decade-long insurgency against Nepal’s Hindu monarchy and still known as ‘nom de guerre Prachanda’ – meaning “terrible” or “fierce” has been successful in snatching the top slot from Nepali Congress, primarily due to its Intra-party contradictions.

In a sudden change of events the negotiations between Nepali Congress and CPN hit the roadblock over the issue of first heading the the government and Prachanda did not show any flexibility; hence to avail this opportunity, he joined hands with arch-rival Oli who wanted to keep Pro India forces at bay.

India bound to worry

Senior retired Indian army generals feel that India has got 1800 Kms border with Nepal which gives a free a access to the citizens of both nations and huge investment plan will be encouraged by a new regime of communists which must worry India. China has been using Pakistan against India and now Nepal may follow suit.

US may not enhance its economic cooperation

United States had taken financial initiatives to strengthen its foothold in Kathmandu to isolate China which had blocked it through Nepali dispensation headed by Oli. But changed political dynamics may keep the United States away as China will never permit it. which will be a loss for the people of Nepal. Deuba’s Coalition government took a different stand as the US normally provides financial assistance as free aid or grant whereas China’s Debt Trap Policy puts the borrowing nation under huge liabilities and starts dictating terms which has already ruined countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka and dozens of poor nations in the world. To improve Nepal’s economic situation, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) had signed, in 2017, a $500 million Compact with Nepal to expand Nepal’s electricity transmission infrastructure and improve its road maintenance regime but the the previous Oli government tried to block it.

Oli emerged as a king maker

As per deal stuck with Oli, Ex-prime minister, a former Maoist guerrilla leader, Prachanda will head the new government for the first half of the five-year term with the support of the opposition Communist Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) party and some other smaller groups. Interestingly, Oli and Prachanda had parted their ways two years back though they had merged their groups after 2018 general elections which was annulled by election commission and later by supreme court. But Oli tried to demean and undermine the authority of Prachanda who was the chairman of the Communist Party Nepal (CPN) which led to the split in the party in Dec. 2020. Prachanda’s CPN-Maoists Centre joined hands with Nepali Congress and ensured Oli’s humiliating defeat in the parliament. But now it was turn of Prachanda to dictate the terms to Oli who was at the receiving end and former walked out of the alliance to become PM for 3rd time.

Karamveer Yojna, uncertain future

Experts say that Deuba had put execution of ‘Karamveer’ project on hold to recruit 28000 Youths from Nepal in the Indian army and now the hurdle will be cleared as the existing coalition may be in office soon. The Indian army chief had threatened to withdraw these posts but the Indian government refrained from it to protect old ties hence the project may be implemented after the new government is installed in Kathmandu. India was optimistic that if the coalition headed by Deuba returns to power then it will be implemented. But now it is uncertain though public pressure in Nepal may force Dahal and partners to start the process of recruiting the Karamveers otherwise there will be further deterioration of ties between two nations.

India’s point of view

Prachanda and Oli may emerge as deadly combination though former was soft towards India when his party ruled Nepal as coalition partner for about one year. Second, China had started interfering in internal affairs of Nepal and completely won over the Oli faction of communists who had come to power by defeating Nepali Congress 2017. Now new government will face no hurdle in strengthening old ties with China which will be the foremost task of the Prachanda-Oli combine. Third, Chinese President Xi had made personal efforts to woo Nepal during the Oli regime and visited the Himalaya Kingdom twice which resulted in huge announcements of financial aid running in billions of dollars. Experts say that a huge investment by China in the Terai region of Nepal has got twin objectives.

First, a large-scale investment with good returns and thereby weaning away Nepal from India. It also helps to change the politics in Nepal in favor of China. Then the open border of Nepal with India can facilitate the smuggling of Chinese goods to India on a large scale. Dahal may not prefer to offend China though it is alluring it in its dangerous debt policy. Fourth, former Chinese ambassador to Nepal had brazenly lobbied to save Oli government and tried to pressurize Prachanda faction to get united but move proved a big flop as Nepali congress and some parties including Prachanda ensured the humiliating defeat of Oli on the floor of parliament a year back. Now both factions have come together which will make Xi happy and create more trouble for India.

5th Prime minister Narender Modi has visited Nepal half a dozen times so far which reflected India’s eagerness to cement strained relations which saw some change in dynamics even during the short span of coalition rule headed by Deuba. India did contribute to help Nepal during the pandemic crisis which was purely on humanitarian basis and common people did appreciate this gesture. But nothing is certain with new government which is dominated by Anti -India elements.

Oli’s climb down

New PM, Dahal’s CPN-Maoists Centre has got the backing of the KP Sharma Oli-led CPN-UML, the Rajendra Lingden-led Rastriya Prajatantra Party, the Rabi Lamichhane-led Rastriya Swatantra Party, the Upendra Yadav-led Janata Samajbadi Party-Nepal, the CK Raut-led Janmat Party and the Ranjita Shreshta-led Nagarik Unmukti Party besides three independent members which formed a simple majority of 138 to form government in the house of 275.

Nepali Congress led by ex-Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba had emerged as the single largest party by winning 53 seats in the parliamentary polls while its partners CPN-Maoist bagged 17 seats, CPN-Unified Socialist (10), LSP (4) and Rastriya Janamorcha (1). The Nagarik Unmukti Party got 3 seats, Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) got 7, Nepal Workers’ and Peasants’ Party (NWPP) got 1, Janamat Party got 1, while Independents got 5 seats. Dahal’s CPN-UML got 42 seats while its partners Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP) won 7 seats each. Deuba and Dahal were coalition partners after the ouster of Oli one year back.

In final assessment, normalization of ties between Nepal and India is strategically essential to checkmate China which has already created a huge trouble on the Line of Control and Deuba government can be trusted in view of its past positive initiatives. But pessimism prevails over the failure of Nepali Congress to snatch initiative which has been done by Pro China leader Oli who has won over his arch-rival, Prachanda to form new government.

(As a representative of premier English daily, writer has covered Nepal for six years)

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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