The resignation of Nepal Prime Minister KP Oli ahead of a no-confidence vote on Sunday almost two weeks after the country’s main Maoist party withdrew support to his nine-month-old coalition government has led to widespread criticism of India on social media in Nepal.
Reports in the mainstream media in India suggested that his resignation indicated that India had made a comeback in Nepal affairs.
As true as that is – and almost all political commentators in Nepal unanimously believe that India has played a vital role in getting Oli to resign – the reports have fuelled anti-India sentiment in the Himalayan nation.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal – the chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre), also known as Prachanda – who is set to become Nepal’s new prime minister, is expected to calm this sentiment and bring Nepal-India relations back on track.
Started in May
The Nepal government was in danger of falling three months ago, when Prachanda announced that his party was withdrawing support to the Oli-led coalition.
Shortly before that, Prachanda had sent his second-rank leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara to India. Though Mahara’s visit was reported to be personal, he is believed to have held several political meetings with Indian leaders and bureaucrats.
At that time, Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba was also in India for a health check-up, following which he also met his Indian friends.
Though these visits were assumed to have triggered a bid to change the government in Nepal in May, the attempt did not materialise. It is said that China stopped Prachanda from dislodging Oli at that time.
Oli’s resignation on Sunday is believed to be the culmination of the India-backed exercise that started in May. Thus the conclusion that India has, once again, snatched the mantle of managing Nepal affairs from China.
Stuck between big brothers
Adding to the paranoia of a small country squeezed between two giants, India has always been pivotal in all big and small changes in Nepali politics. But, most often, Nepali politicians invite India’s role – covert and overt – in managing their affairs.
However, the relationship between India and Nepal sank to its lowest ever under Oli. It deteriorated significantly after Nepal adopted its first post-monarchy Constitution last year, which was opposed by its ethnic and linguistic minorities who include the Madhesis, a term for several communities living in Nepal’s central and eastern plains who have close cultural and family ties to India. These minorities fear the new statute will perpetuate the discrimination they have long faced.
New Delhi’s stance that Nepal must address the demands and aspirations of its minorities in its Constitution led to tensions between the two countries and pushed Nepal closer to China.
Last year, a prolonged and deadly agitation in the Terai – the low-lying plains contiguous with India – against the new Constitution in which over 50 people died was followed by a blockade, which cut off supplies to Kathmandu bringing it to a halt.
Nepal blamed India for supporting the blockade that stopped the flow of supplies to Kathmandu, and anti-India sentiment was evident on the national capital’s streets even during that time.
India’s support to the blockade was interpreted as the expression of its irritation against the decision of Nepal’s major parties not to take into account the concerns of the Madhesis while promulgating their Constitution.
Nepal’s political parties are dominated by the hill elites who have historically suppressed the country’s ethnic and linguistic minorities. The parties were against the formation of federal states in favour of minorities, who had called for an inclusive and representative Constitution.
The fear of being forced to incorporate Madhesi concerns in the Constitution deepened after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his visit to Nepal in November 2014, called for consensus with Madhesi parties for the Constitution.
But Nepal’s mainstream parties successfully dodged the concern of Madhesis and adopted a new Constitution after which protests broke out in Nepal, leading to the blockade.
Instead of repairing the relationship with India when he took over as Prime Minister in October 2015, Oli stoked nationalist feelings.
The only way to restore normalcy in the Nepal-India relationship was by creating a consensus with Madhesi parties and addressing their grievances, which Oli was never keen on. Though he paid lip service to consensus politics, he did not take any genuine steps to forge a consensus with the agitating parties.
Adding to the complexity, India also did not budge from its initial position that it wanted the Nepal government to ensure the incorporation of Madhesi agendas in the Constitution.
The bilateral relationship deteriorated further earlier this year.
Unlike preceding Prime Ministers, who, during their visits to India, would issue a joint statement with their Indian counterparts, Oli failed to come up with one during his visit in February.
Worsening the discord further, he recalled Dip Kumar Upadhyaya, Nepal’s ambassador to India in May, accusing him of being involved in New Delhi’s attempt to topple his government.
He also cancelled the visit of Nepal’s newly-elected President Vidya Devi Bhandari to India.
All of Oli’s moves were directed at invoking anti-India nationalism among hill-origin Nepalis.
Thus, the India-Nepal relationship was unlikely to get better with Oli at the helm.
The next government, which Prachanda is set to lead, will certainly work towards improving the India-Nepal relationship as India has played a role in forging the alliance between his party and Deuba’s Nepali Congress.
But New Delhi is likely to be wary of Prachanda, who has a love-hate relationship with Nepal’s southern neighbour.
Prachanda has previously been very flexible with his stances. During Nepal’s years of insurgency, the Maoist leader called for a war against India. He later sought India’s help to forge a consensus with Nepal’s political parties.
However, relations with India soured when Prachanda was elected Prime Minister in 2008 and New Delhi stopped him from sacking his army chief. It took some time for the India-Nepal relationship to get back on track.
When all was well with India, he left Madhesi parties behind and joined the major parties including the Nepali Congress and Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) to sign the 16-point deal that led to the promulgation of Nepal’s Constitution and ignited the protests by Madhesis.
Prachanda also joined Oli’s anti-India wagon, and also invoked anti-India nationalist sentiment. But soon, disillusioned by Oli, he went back to Madhesi parties and told them that he had “come back to where he actually belongs”.
Prachanda is now expected to soften his erstwhile nationalist stance to strengthen relations with the Indian establishment.
One of the challenges before him will be to keep intact Nepal’s cordial relations with China while maintaining a warm camaraderie with India.
In turn, India will be cautious, as it is aware that the love for New Delhi that blossomed within Prachanda in the wake of Oli’s resignation may go to the other extreme anytime.