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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 1 New Delhi December 23, 2017 - Annual Number

Left Wins in Nepal heralding Prospect of Political Stability

Sunday 24 December 2017

by Barun Das Gupta

In the parliamentary elections in Nepal held recently, the two Communist Parties—K.P. Sharma Oli-led Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) and Pushpa Kanta Dahal (Prachanda)-led Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre)— have won the majority, relegating the Nepali Congress to the third position. The CPN(UML) won 81 seats, followed by the CPN(MC) with 36. The NC had to be satisfied with just 23 seats. What is more, the two Communist Parties, which were once at daggers drawn, have decided to bury the hatchet and are reportedly planning to merge and form a single Communist Party.

Nepal’s politics was bedevilled by instability almost for ten years since the monarchy was overthrown in December, 2007. No party could gain an absolute majority and due to their mutual rivalries no stable government could be formed. Even the framing of a new Constitution was delayed due to this. This time the Nepali Congress failed to make the mark largely because of the inability of its leader, former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, to spell out the party’s political policy and what it would do if returned to power. The decision of the two CPs to fight the elections together was yet another blow to the NC and made it jittery. It tried to hurriedly stitch together a joint front with the ‘Madhesi’ parties which are strong in southern Nepal.

What is more, in its eagerness to keep the Left out of power, the NC also took in the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) which stands openly for restoration of the monarchy and making Nepal a Hindu Rashtra. In the just held elections, the RPP managed to win only one seat, signifying its total rejection by the people. It may be recalled that when the Nepali Constitution was being drafted, the BJP wanted Nepal, an overwhelmingly Hindu majority country, to declare itself a Hindu Rashtra. But the two CPs were firm in their resolve to make Nepal a secular state which it eventually became, much to the chagrin of the Hindutvavadis of India. The BJP is believed to have tried to influence the Constitution-makers of Nepal in favour of a Hindu Rashtra. This did not go down well with the people of Nepal who took it as an unwarranted interference by India’s ruling party in Nepal’s domestic politics.

What strained relations between the two countries further was the ‘blockade’ of the Indo-Nepal border in September, 2015. Outwardly, the blockade was organised by the ‘Madhesis’, the people of Indian origin settled in the southern part of Nepal, because of the perceived ‘discrimination’ made to them in the draft Nepali Constitution. But the Nepali people knew it well that the blockade had the full support of New Delhi. The blockade was unwise and counter-productive. By bringing Nepal’s economy virtually on the brink of a collapse, the Indian rulers not only alienated the Nepali people but drove Nepal closer to China. Being a landlocked country Nepal has been entirely dependent on her supplies through India. The blockade lent an urgency to building the China-Nepal railway link, connecting Tibet to Nepal and thus opening for Nepal an alternative route for essential supplies.

After the present elections, New Delhi will have to reconcile itself to the reality that it can no longer adopt the attitude of “Big Brother” to Nepal. A fine-tuning of our diplomacy in relation to Nepal is imperative. The Indian Government’s suspicion that a Left victory would ipso facto bring Nepal under the greater influence of China also did not contribute to forging closer Indo-Nepal ties. K. P. Sharma Oli not long ago enjoyed the confidence of New Delhi. But India’s dealing with Nepal drove him closer to China.

New Delhi will have to disabuse itself of the perception that Nepal is pro-China and anti-India. The reality is otherwise. Last month, Nepal cancelled a $2.5 billion hydel project which was to have been built with Chinese assistance. The contract to build the biggest hydro-electric project to generate 1400 MW of power was given to the Gezhouba Group Corporation of China. It was Nepal’s Energy Minister, Kamal Thapa, who is also the country’s Deputy Prime Minister, who announced the cancellation, citing ‘irregularities’ in awarding the contract to the Chinese company. (The contract was reportedly given without inviting tenders.)

India, on the other hand, is building two hydel power plants in Nepal—one by the GMR group and the other by the Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam, each with a capacity to generate 900 MW of power. As Nepal has vast hydro-electric potential, Indo-Nepal cooperation in this field will be of great mutual benefit.

The rising hostility of China towards India makes it incumbent on India to widen and deepen friendship and cooperation with Nepal. Preconceived notions and opinions about Nepal have to give place to a pragmatic and realistic policy based on the realisation that Nepal is a sovereign country and that India will have to take and treat it as an equal.

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.

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