Topic: General Studies 2:
- India and its neighborhood- relations.
- Security challenges and their management in border areas
Political Crisis in Nepal
Context: Nepal has drifted into a political crisis following its Prime Minister (PM) KP Sharma Oli’s decision to dissolve Parliament, a move promptly approved by President Bidhya Devi Bhandari.
Oli also announced general elections would be held in April and May 2021, more than a year ahead of schedule
A brief background of Nepal’s Political Parties
- Three major parties dominate Nepal’s politics: Nepali Congress Party; Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist led by Oli, and Nepal Communist Party (Maoist) led by Prachanda
- Prachanda led the Maoist insurgency for a decade (1996-2006) before joining mainstream politics. Oli was a fierce critic of the politics of violence that caused more than 17,000 deaths.
- But Oli approached the Maoists in 2017 for a merger between their parties, pre-empting the possibility of an alliance between the Maoists and the Nepali Congress that may have come in the way of Oli’s prime ministerial ambitions.
- Following the merger, the two leaders agreed that they would lead the government by turn, a promise that Oli did not honour at the end of his two-and-a-half years, thus sowing the seeds of separation.
- Now, as a split appears inevitable, Oli is hoping to continue in power with those following him.
Critical Analysis of the Dissolution of Parliament
- Reasons for Oli’s decision: Oli took the step when he realised that a factional feud within the party had reached the point of no return and he faced possible expulsion both as party chief and as Prime Minister
- End of Coalition: Dissolution of Parliament effectively ended the unity forced among the left forces that had led to the creation of the single, grand Nepal Communist Party three years ago
- Uncertainty over Nepal’s new Constitution: Dissolution of the House is not new in Nepal, but this is the first such instance after the new Constitution of 2015 that places safeguards against dissolution. The new constitution does not envisage such a step without exploring formation of an alternative government
- Accountability of caretaker government: The dissolution came hours before a Standing Committee meeting that was expected to order a probe into corruption charges levelled against him by party co-chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda. With Parliament dissolved and with a President seen as favourable to him, Oli will have the power to rule without being accountable to none.
- The Army: The Nepal Army has made it clear that it will remain neutral in the ongoing political developments. This implies that if Oli tries to rule with the help of security forces to maintain law and order and contain protests, it is uncertain how far the Army will play along.
- The China Factor: China has been a big factor in Nepal’s internal politics since 2006. It is seen as having lobbied, visible or secret, to prevent the split. China has also invested in crucial sectors like trade and Investment, energy, tourism and post-earthquake reconstruction, and is Nepal’s biggest FDI contributor
- Judiciary’s decision awaited: Since dissolution, a dozen petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the dissolution with two years left of the present House’s tenure. The constitutional validity of Oli’s move has been questioned, and is awaiting decision by the Supreme Court.
How India handled this Political Crisis?
- Ire not directed at India: Unlike on previous occasions, Oli has refrained from blaming India for destabilising his regime. The PM’s ire has been directed at his senior party colleagues for not allowing him to govern smoothly.
- India’s subtle support to Oli: Anti-Oli forces were quietly cheered to dump him, but when they failed, India subtly extended a helping hand to a desperate Oli struggling for survival. PM Modi positively responded to Oli’s telephonic greetings on India’s Independence Day. A series of important visits from India followed.
- Continuing bilateral relationship: Energy and trade officials from the two countries have met each other, border talks are on board, and Nepal’s foreign minister is visiting India for the joint commission
- India has achieved its tactical goals: Through these moves, India has achieved its immediate tactical goals. Oli has been emboldened to stick to power even by breaking the party. In the process, the shallowness of Oli’s opportunistic and politically driven anti-Indian nationalism has been exposed.
- Embarrassment to China: India has played its cards cautiously and craftily. With an assiduously cultivated façade of non-interference, it let China smear itself into the mud of micromanaging the ruling party’s internal conflicts. The unity and dominance of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has been shattered, and China, as its patron, has been embarrassed.
- Support for elections: On the sidelines of these developments, India has also fuelled and fed Hindutva forces under the leadership of a discarded monarchy, possibly as a ploy in the unfolding realignment of political forces in Nepal. Towards that end, India has now come out openly in favour of fresh elections.
Critical Analysis of India’s moves in Nepal Political Crisis
- All this puts India on the side of undemocratic, unconstitutional and opportunistic players in Nepal, which South Block strategists think is a small price to be paid for the significant gains otherwise made.
- Seeking a friendly regime in the neighbourhood is a recognised norm in the realist world of international relations. India is no exception. It has often invested heavily in Nepal to have a friendly, even a pliant, regime.
- But in the long-term, this approach has largely resulted in the erosion, rather than consolidation, of India’s vital security and economic interests.
- With China deeply pitched in the regime change business in Nepal, prospects of this approach in coming years seem expensive and uncertain.
Way Ahead for India
- Let Nepal deal with its internal mess: Irrespective of whether Nepal has elections or witnesses the restoration of Parliament, a prudent course for India would be to let Nepal cope with its internal political mess.
- Improve its own popular profile: As no major development in bilateral relations appears likely during the prevailing uncertainty, India must encourage consolidation of a people-driven polity, and improve its own popular profile.
- Resolve Controversial Issues: India can pick up pending controversial issues such as the 1950 treaty, the Kalapani border dispute, and trade and investment matters, and categorical state its position, drawing red lines that Nepal should not cross.
- New Indo-Nepal Treaty: Nepal has asked for a revision of the 1950 treaty, and this has been accepted by India. But the issue remains stuck because Nepal does not clarify how to strike a proper balance between India’s security concerns and Nepal’s developmental aspirations. Without this balance, no new treaty is possible, and Nepal, seemingly, is not prepared to abrogate the old treaty.
- India’s Stand should be made clear: India’s policy towards immediate neighbours has never been driven by territorial nationalism. This has been evident in the case of Sri Lanka (Katchatheevu), Bangladesh (territorial waters), and even Pakistan and China.
- Bridge trade imbalance: On trade and investment issues, India needs to be more accommodative. Nepal sells less than $1billion worth of products to India while importing nearly $8 billion of them. This is unsustainable, despite the fact that trade deficits are governed by the nature of economies. India can and must move to remove structural and procedural impediments to the entry of genuine Nepali goods into Indian markets
- China Factor: In redefining India’s approach to Nepal, India also needs to shed a great deal of its Sinophobia. China is no doubt politically assertive and financially spread out in Nepal, but most of its promises, such as transit through Chinese ports and railroad connections, are politically driven.
Connecting the dots:
- India- Nepal Border dispute at Kalapani and Lipulekh: Click here