Opinion: What options does India have amid political instability in Nepal?

New DelhiWritten By: Achal MalhotraUpdated: Jan 02, 2021, 12:11 AM IST

Nepal PM KP Sharma Oli (left) is facing tough challenge from within Nepal Communist Party from PK Dahal 'Prachanda' (right) Photograph:(WION Web Team)

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The failure of the Chinese delegation should be viewed as a setback for China and a personal humiliation for Guo Yezhou who had played an important role in the unification of the two left parties to create the largest communist party in South Asia

The four-member delegation deputed by President Xi Jinping of China and led by GuoYezhou, a Vice-Minister of the International Department of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee concluded its four days visit to Nepal (30th December). Reports at hand suggest that Guo Yezhou failed in his mission to resolve the intra-party feud in the ruling Nepal Communist Party. He also could not derive any assurances from the top leadership of the party in this context.

The current constitutional crisis and political instability in Nepal are a result of Nepal PM KP Sharma Oli’s surprise decision (20th December) to dissolve the Parliament in which his ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) enjoyed a two-third majority. The mid-term elections are due in April/May next year.

The crisis was in the making for the past several months due to intra-party squabbles in NCP. The feud is largely over the issue of power-sharing between the two top party leaders- former PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda and current PM KP Oli. Both of them were elected as Co-Chairs of the Nepal Communist Party when it was formed in May 2018 through the merger of the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist), led by K.P. Oli and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre) led by Prachanda; Several agreements in the past two-and-a-half years including the one in mid-September this year have failed to resolve this key issue. 

The failure of the Chinese delegation should be viewed as a setback for China and a personal humiliation for Guo Yezhou who had played an important role in the unification of the two left parties to create the largest communist party in South Asia.

There are enough reasons for China to feel concerned over the political instability in Nepal. China’s footprints in Nepal have steadily increased in recent past as reflected inter-alia in its large scale investments and pledges, particularly in energy and infrastructure and connectivity sectors, enhanced political influence and Nepal’s subscription to China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative; some of this has arguably come at the expense of India. 

A split in the NCP would reduce the combined influence of the leftists on Nepal’s political horizon and diminish the chances of the NCP returning to power as a single largest party at the mid-term elections. Further, from China’s perspective, a change in guard in Nepal could mean the loss of an important ally in South Asia and to that extent its ability to reduce India’s influence in its immediate neighbourhood.

India appears to have treaded carefully and cautiously while responding earlier to anti-India actions and utterances by PM Oli and now to the situation of political instability in Nepal. India did react through a very strongly worded statement when Nepal released a new political map in May 2020 which included some of the Indian territories e.g. Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh within its own borders.

However, India took no such measures as could be viewed even remotely as retaliatory or punitive in nature. Instead, India pursued uninterruptedly its development assistance to Nepal while continuing to engage its leadership at different levels. The visits of the R&AW chief, army chief and foreign secretary to Nepal were some of the important links in this chain of sustained bilateral exchanges.

India’s studied silence on political developments in Nepal is in sharp contrast with China’s blatant interference in the internal affairs of Nepal, initially by China’s ambassador to Nepal and recently through the CPC delegation’s visit to Kathmandu and its interaction with major political parties in Nepal.

India has obviously learnt a lesson from the past that perceptions are often louder than actions. On a previous occasion when a segment of the Nepali population’s agitation against new constitution of Nepal had caused blockades at Nepal –India borders causing enormous disruptions in supplies of essential commodities to Nepal, the popular perception in Nepal was that the blockades had been engineered by India to arm-twist the Nepalese government to amend constitution to accommodate the demands by the agitating Nepalese of Indian origin residing largely along India-Nepal border areas. The erroneous perceptions had caused a certain degree of damage to the goodwill India has enjoyed all along in Nepal.

Further developments in Nepal would depend to a great extent on the much-awaited verdict of the Supreme Court of Nepal which is looking into the constitutional validity of the dissolution of Parliament without exploring the possibility of formation of an alternative government. Meanwhile, India’s current approach should help restore and strengthen its reputation in Nepal where a large number of people see their future in good relations with India as these relations are rooted in history, language, religion and social believes and customs.

(Disclaimer: The views of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views of the writer)