Embattled Nepal Prime Minister KP Oli has indicated that he holds India responsible for the decision of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre) to withdraw support to the ruling coalition – a charge that India vehemently denied. At a conference on national security in the capital city of Kathmandu, Oli had reportedly said that “India’s role was primarily behind” the crisis and that his government had been destabilised “by remote control”
On July 12, the CPN(M-C) announced its decision to pull out of the coalition government, alleging that the prime minister had failed to honour past agreements. Oli, who refused to step down even though his party has only 175 seats in the 601-member Legislature Parliament, now faces a no-confidence vote. The CPN(M-C), which has 80 seats in the Parliament, has struck a deal with the Nepal Congress, the main opposition party.
This is not the first time that Oli has alleged political interference by India. Though Nepal and India have historically enjoyed good ties and strong trade relations – ties between the two have hit an all-time low over the last year or so.
‘Man of India’However, relations between Oli and India weren’t always this hostile. Contrary to his current stance, Oli was once portrayed as a “Man of India”, or pro-India in Nepali politics.
His role in historic Mahakali Treaty (1996) – on equal rights and joint development of the Mahakali River – between the two countries was perceived as a sign of loyalty towards the Indian establishment.
Oli was a Cabinet minister in the early 1990s and post 2006 he held several roles in the government – including a stint as foreign affairs minister till 2007. During these years, he established a good relationship with the Indian government.
In 2008, Pushpa Kamal Dahal , widely known as Prachanda, chairman of the CPN(M-C), became prime minister when Nepal formed its first Parliament. This was the culmination of a decade-long civil war where the Maoists, led by Prachanda, had waged a campaign against the ruling monarchy of Nepal.
Oli was deeply unhappy with Prachanda's victory. As a longstanding and sharp critic of the Maoist party, Oli, it is believed, used all his energy to vilify Prachanda and dislodge his government. When Prachanda attempted to sack Army Chief General Rukmangad Katwal, Oli, political analysts say, rallied several parties and players to pressurise President Ram Baran Yadav into blocking Prachanda’s plan. As a result, Prachanda stepped down as prime minister in May 2009.
Prachanda was known for his anti-India stance and India, on its part, wanted to tame the former insurgent. Oli purportedly used India’s help to have Prachanda replaced with Madhav Kumar Nepal as prime minister.
Friends to foes
Things, however, changed with time. Oli and Prachanda entered into an unlikely alliance in October 2015, when Oli became prime minister. Prachanda hoped this would help him consolidate his dwindling power, and Oli would help get his name cleared in several cases dating back to the civil war.
The two together invoked an anti-India rhetoric after the four-month blockade in Nepal starting September 2015. Madhesi groups – an ethnic minority in the country from the plains – had blocked roads leading to India, demanding adequate representation in the country’s constitution, which was passed towards the end of that month. Tharus, another ethnic group, residing in the western plains, also backed the protest. The blockade caused a shortage of fuel and other supplies, including supply of relief material shortly after a devastating earthquake in April that year in Nepal. The government accused India of supporting the Madhesi protests and having a hand in the blockade, which India denied.
The Nepal government then amended the constitution in January, but failed to meet a key demand of the Madhesis and Tharus – that of redrawing provincial boundaries to form contiguous provinces comprising only of plains instead of including flatlands and hills in the same province. This, the minority communities say, is the only way to ensure they are not discriminated against.
The cracks in the ruling coalition first came out into the open in May, when Prachanda announced that he would withdraw support to Oli, but less than 24 hours later, purportedly under pressure from China, he decided to continue backing the prime minister.
This time, however, there was no such reconciliation. The CPN(M-C) said Oli’s party had gone back on a nine-point agreement signed between the two parties after their reconciliation in May. The agreement included expediting reconstruction of properties damaged by the earthquake, building national consensus around the constitution and initiating processes to withdraw war-era cases against Prachanda’s party. The CPN(M-C) said Oli had failed on the aforementioned counts.
With these promises broken, Prachanda struck a deal with the Nepal Congress, which has 196 seats in the Parliament. A seven-point agreement was reportedly passed between the two, one aspect of which was a fresh amendment to the constitution based on the demands of agitating ethnic groups.
Oli, now thoroughly weakened, is looking to keep the anti-India rhetoric alive by painting Prachanda’s party as a puppet of India – this, he believes, will help him consolidate his position in the politically strong hill constituencies of Nepal. If the CPN(M-C) and Nepal Congress form the new government, Oli, in the role of opposition leader, is certain to obstruct all its efforts in creating political consensus for the amendment of the constitution. And without an amendment, it is nearly impossible to address the demands of the Madhesis and win their support.