KP Sharma Oli's journey from spending 14 years in prison to becoming Nepal's Prime Minister

New Delhi, Delhi, IndiaEdited By: Palki SharmaUpdated: Jul 15, 2020, 07:25 AM IST

Nepal PM KP Sharma Oli (File photo) Photograph:(Reuters)

Story highlights

At the age of 18, he signed up for the communist party. Almost immediately he was arrested. Oli spent 14 years in prison.

Nepal's Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is not a traditional politician. He is a school dropout and was sent to jail at the age of 22, not for any civil offence but for the murder of Dharma Prasad Dhakal, a farmer in eastern Nepal.

It is something that Oli doesn’t talk about much. He was born in 1952 in eastern Nepal. Oli was called "Dhruba" as a child and raised by his grandmother. His mother died due to smallpox when he was just four.

At the age of 18, he signed up for the Communist Party and almost immediately he was arrested. Oli spent 14 years in prison.

The Nepali prime minister rarely refers to his time in jail but those who know him say he was moulded by his experiences there. Oli was released after getting a royal pardon in the mid-1980s.

Oli got a break in politics when he was elected to Parliament in 1991. He was one of the strongest critics of the Maoists throughout the insurgency that left 17,000 people dead.

It was also the phase when he developed a rivalry with Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Prachanda went the other way, he launched an armed insurgency and adopted Maoism to finish the monarchy.

When the peace process ended in 2006, Prachanda won big. He was elected prime minister first in 2008 then once again in 2016.

Nepal underwent a transition as monarchy gave way to a secular, federal republic with coalition governments becoming the norm.

It was the transition that also brought Oli and Prachanda together. They decided to contest the 2017 elections together and merged their parties. Two years later, the daggers have been drawn again.

Today, KP Sharma Oli is known as the face of "Nepali nationalism” but it wasn’t the case earlier. In 1996, Oli had split from his own party just because he wanted to support the India-Nepal agreement over the Mahakali river water-sharing agreement.

Oli’s shift to China is fairly recent driven by political and economic considerations. In 2016, he signed a deal with Beijing that gave Nepal access to dry ports and rail links from China for the first time since then the partnership has only grown from strength to strength.

Today, China drives the political choices of Oli, choices that have damaged India’s ties with Nepal, choices that have brought Oli to the brink of his ouster. The Nepal prime minister could end up paying a heavy price for an alliance with Beijing.