File image of Nepal PM KP Sharma Oli Photograph:( Twitter )
Oli’s move to relieve Pokharel from the defence ministry and retain the portfolio with himself has sparked speculation in the Nepalese political spectrum and the media.
Nepal's Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli has reshuffled his Cabinet, keeping the key defence portfolio with himself, in a bid to strengthen his grip within the fractious ruling party and to allow smooth functioning of his government.
Oli has inducted three new ministers, including Finance Minister Bishnu Poudel, and changed the portfolio of Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Ishwor Pokharel.
However, the dissident faction of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal led by executive chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ''Prachanda'' was not satisfied with Oli’s latest move, which they considered as one-sided, a source close to the ruling party said.
Oli and Prachanda, bitter political rivals, have been trying to shore up their base within the party in recent months.
The finance ministry had remained vacant for some time and the nomination of Poudel, who is also the general secretary of the ruling party, to the department was a normal phenomenon, the party source said.
However, Oli’s move to relieve Pokharel from the defence ministry and retain the portfolio with himself has sparked speculation in the Nepalese political spectrum and the media.
"Pokharel, who is known for his tilt towards the North, has been transferred to the Prime Minister’s Office, apparently in a signal to New Delhi ahead of the forthcoming visit to Nepal by the Indian Army chief,” senior journalist and editor of Janamanch Weekly Pralhad Rijal said.
Indian Army Chief General M M Naravane is scheduled to visit Nepal in the first week of November and the details of the visit is being worked out, a Nepal Army spokesperson said in a statement.
Mainly there might be two reasons behind the removal of Pokharel from the defence ministry - one is his tussle with the Nepal Army leadership and another is that Oli wanted to send a signal to Delhi for holding a dialogue to resolve the border issue with India diplomatically, Rijal said.
Pokharel also came under criticism when as the head of the Corona Crisis Management Committee he procured expensive medical supplies from China to fight the deadly disease without following proper procedures. He has been dragged in alleged irregularities in the procurement process.
Pokharel as head of the COVID Crisis Management Committee could not show a good performance in containing the infection in the country, and he has not been able to make good rapport with the Army, which is why he has been relieved from the defence ministry, said a senior Standing Committee member of the ruling party.
However, senior advocate and political analyst Dinesh Tripathi said that the Oli government has been a failure in dealing with its neighbours as it has no clear cut vision regarding the country’s foreign policy.
The communist government neither took into confidence the northern neighbour (China) nor the southern neighbour (India) and it is being isolated internationally too, he pointed out.
The defence minister’s growing tussle with the Nepal Army and poor handling of the corona crisis might be the reason behind his removal from the ministry, he said.
Removing Pokhrel as the defence minister is largely guided by his "not-so-good” relations with Army chief Purna Chandra Thapa, The Kathmandu Post reported, citing some knowledgeable sources.
"The Army chief was especially not happy when the national defence force was dragged into controversy over the procurement of medical equipment to fight COVID-19,” the paper said.