In a dramatic series of events on December 25, 2022, Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ was sworn in as the 44th Prime Minister of Nepal by President Vidya Devi Bhandari. Prachanda’s party, Communist Party of Nepal, Maoist, even after securing just 32 seats with the third overall position in the final tally of the Parliamentary elections, diplomatically and sarcastically managed to be the executive head of Nepal. He decided to join the UML camp of KP Oli, following Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba’s refusal to allow him to lead the Government for the first half of the next five-year term. Until the afternoon of December 25, the incumbent PM and Nepali Congress-led coalition led by Deuba was the favourite and sought after by Nepalese to form the next federal Government. Now, as the tide has taken an otherwise quick turn promptly, the role of Beijing and its collusion to bring all the Left parties is the talking point in Kathmandu. Though this Government formation is perceived as the betrayal of the mandate franchised by the Nepali citizens, this new alliance is set to push Nepal into another turmoil of instability and pulls and pressures on the coalition Government.
Election Results and Deadlock
Nepal’s election is nothing less than an ‘eye catching novelty’. Even after the elections process was through, a month earlier and people by and large extending the mandate in favour of Nepali Congress-led Alliance of which Prachanda’s party was also a partner, the Government formation was in doldrums. The opportunist indefatigable leaders across the party lines were unable to sort out the most rudimentary stride required in democracy as everyone wanted their flesh amidst the mass of instability. For more than a decade, since the abrupt end to the monarchy, the Nepalese are still not sure about the future of democracy. Even in these parliamentary and provincial elections, they had a very grim hope in voting for the best representatives possible as every party is soaked in perpetuation and propagation of corruption, nepotism, caste and not to forget racism.
The Nepalese are still not sure about the future of democracy. Even in these parliamentary and provincial elections, they had a very grim hope in voting for the best representatives possible as every party is soaked in perpetuation and propagation of corruption, nepotism, caste and not to forget racism
There was a hope for some kind of continuity in Governance but sudden developments allegedly prompted and eschewed by the Chinese interference suddenly changed the scenario. The consequences of the recently cobbled opportunistic alliance will certainly be felt in New Delhi, as the Himalayan neighbour has entrenched civilisational relations with Bharat. The Prachanda-led Government and the new communist alliance symbolises the strategic dimension of Beijing trying its nefarious and noxious means to take benefit of the political instability with economic and diplomatic might. Hence, there is an imperative urgency for dwelling deeper with a multidimensional approach to the current situation in Nepal and the possible emerging scenario.
The last month election mandate both for the Pratinidhi Sabha (Parliament) & Pradesh Sabha (State Assembly) was hung in nature, throwing Nepal into another stint of political instability. The previous election mandate of 2017 was little clear, where at least the left alliance was in a commanding position, gaining almost more than 60% of seats. This time though Nepali Congress led alliance of five parties which encompasses Maoist, Nepal Communist Party Socialist and Loktantrik Samajwadi Party has crossed the majority required to form government, the imperious & power hungry leaders were in search of finding an alternative contrary to the verdict. The best example is of Maoist Chief Prachanda who left no stone unturned to distort all cards and play gimmicks to be the Prime Minister for the third time and dubiously achieved the same. He openly staked his unholy willingness to align with anyone who accepts him as the de-facto leader in the Government, at least for half of the five year tenure. Another prominent contender was, the 76 year old Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba who did not leave any chance to become the Prime Minister for the sixth time! But, the Veteran leader of manoeuvring hung parliaments to his advantage and got outfoxed on December 25 by the clever tactics of KP Oli. New Delhi would have preferred Deuba to be continued as the Prime Minister despite his deep connections with the West in general and USA in particular. Generally, in the interregnum of Deuba regimes, Nepal has seen exponential rise of the Christian Missionary activities in the Himalayan country.
Where does KP Oli, the ex-PM of Nepal and a new kingmaker, stand now? Oli’s masterstroke in catapulting to form this Government means that he will now get to pull the strings of power. Even though he is not in the commanding roar, he will be at the vantage point in steering the government. He will try to check the Dahal-led administration through the President and Speaker as per the new deal. He has often, in the garb of ‘Khas Arya Nationalism’ (signifying the racial superiority of hill people over the Madheshis) cleverly played the anti-Bharat card. The best example is the Lipulekh issue, a very provocative allegation on India over COVID-19 spread and regarding the Ram Janmabhoomi issue during his tenure. He is much closer to and intimate with Beijing today but simultaneously he claims to be open to developing some kind of rapprochement with New Delhi, (to be not branded as China’s favourite) as it used to be in the 90s or in the first decade of millennium. Can New Delhi re-develop new equations with the Communist alliance is a million dollar question? Without any doubt, Nepal is set for another political instability and would be at the centre stage of Bharat-China dominance rivalry.
Demography, Culture and Security
In 2008, Nepal was declared as the ‘secular state’ by the first Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda. Despite this, Nepalese, including the communist leaders, are still unquestionably Hindu in ethos as people follow the Sanatan Dharma and have deeper commitments to rituals associated with it. There has been a massive change in the demographic structure of Nepal as people following the faith of Islam have grown in double digits in terms of percentage in the last two decades, especially in the plain ‘Terai’ region. This is the same area where Bharat shares an open and porous border with Nepal! Besides, the Christian evangelical activities have exponentially mounted in the hilly regions. Though official data is not kept in Nepal about the illegal migration or citizenship status, the Politics of Muslim appeasement has made big forays and made a significant space in Nepalese Politics. There are more than 30 seats out of 165 direct constituencies where the Muslim voters can sway the electoral outcome in the multi-cornered election. In the long run, this can pose a serious threat to the pristine Mithila & Madheshi culture of the region. These very cultural links are the connecting bond of people between Bharat and Nepal. The bordering states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, who share open borders with Nepal, have seen significant rise of Islamic fundamentalist activities emanating from other sides of the border. The rapid rise of Madrassa preaching radical thoughts has the involvement of big foreign hands. Politically unstable Nepal with a free and open border with Bharat provides a fertile ground to the Pakistan promoted nefarious activities. Remember, Yasin Bhatkal, India’s most wanted terrorist arrested from Birgunj, the Ghaziabad serial blast terrorist from Rautahat or Mohammad Umar Madani who was Lashkar-e-taiba, commander in chief for Nepal, operating actively from holy city of Janakpurdham. Also, the Darbhanga module of terrorism has direct links and support emanating from Nepal.
Forced Economic Migration
The current economic situation of Nepal stands in doldrums as it does not look very promising. Increasing trade deficit, rapidly declining foreign exchange reserve, and skyrocketing inflation have hit the life of ordinary people and crippled Nepal’s economy. Banks have not been extending credits for the last two years and even if they do so, it comes at exorbitant rates. Marred by mass scale unemployment and a vicious cycle of the economy, the future again looks very gloomy and grim. It is the free and open access to Bharat which provides a crucial relief and reprieve to the common Nepali population. Dealing with the difficult economic scenario will be the biggest challenge for the Prachanda-led Coalition government.
India should follow a pragmatic and cautious policy
“There was no clear majority for any party, so coalition was a given mandate. The fact that Pushpa Dahal Prachanda was able to stitch the numbers from across the diverse spectrum of political actors is a feat. With the predominance of Communists and known predilection of Oli and Prachanda towards China has always raised a debate. The fact remains that India has been the first responder in all emergent and crisis situations through her non-reciprocal ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and extensive developmental assistance hoping, in return, that her security concerns will be addressed by our partners. I think that the Government of Nepal and the leaders do recognise this fact and would prefer to leverage relations with India and China to their advantage, from the early statements of the leaders it is quite evident. But anyway Delhi will have to continue to follow a pragmatic and cautious policy with P2P and civilisational connection dimensions being a central focus.”
— Ambassador (Retd) Anil Trigunayat, served in the Indian Missions in Cote d’Ivoire, Bangladesh, Mongolia, USA, Russia, Sweden and Nigeria, Libya and Jordan.
The latest case of the plight of Nepalese workers in Qatar is a classic case to gauge the situation on the ground. Nepal, like many other South Asian countries, is passionate about the game of football. More than 3,000 manual Nepalese labourers working in Qatar for building the critical infrastructure for organising the FIFA World Cup died or committed suicide due to hostile conditions. Neither the State nor the civil society organisations were even bothered to raise this issue. The forced migration due to prevailing economic conditions is obvious enough. The youth are left without any option except selling their labour in West Asian countries at a very low returns in an extremely unfriendly social and cultural environment. This forced migration for economic opportunities naturally has a serious impact on social structures. No matter what conditions these youth have to bear in the distant land, for the Nepalese state it has become ‘banality of evil’.
The way forward
As the External Affair Minister, S Jaishankar in one of the programmes in Delhi remarked, “Bharat very well acknowledges and accepts the presence of China in Kathmandu, so we will construct our relation with Kathmandu in a more constructive and cordial way”. New Delhi with changing political tides will have to proactively engage with the new generation of leadership emerging in Nepal. Few new entrants in the electoral arena have shown exceptional potential and strengthened this election like Ravi Lamichhane of RSP, who in this new Government has secured the position of Home Ministry and even with Balen Shah, the very popular independent Mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan. At the same time, Bharat will have to increase the track two diplomatic efforts going beyond the ‘agency’ based or bureaucratic interactions. There are no two countries in the world that share so much of social and cultural traditions that Bharat and Nepal do. Therefore, engagement with all layers of stakeholders is the key. Besides, Bharatiya delivery on the infrastructure front needs to be expedited. To name one, the Hulaki Rajmarg (Highway) that connects the Terai region of Nepal, from Bhadrapur, Jhapa in the east to Dodhara, Kanchanpur in the west, should be quickly completed. This is the same region that is strategically important for Bharat and invested heavily in the 1700 kilometre stretch.
The current economic situation of Nepal does not look promising for a nation looking for foreign investments. Increasing trade deficit, rapidly declining foreign exchange reserve, and skyrocketing inflation have hit the life of ordinary people and crippled Nepal’s economy
All stakeholders in Nepal know very well that Bharat as a strategic and civilisational neighbour is irreplaceable. For instance, China under Xi Jinping has invested more than a billion dollars to propagate Chinese culture in Nepal through dozens of Confucius centres. Till date, there are no substantial returns to Beijing on this investment, while people of Nepal have a great faith in Prime Minister Modi and his ability to reach out to neighbours whenever needed. They see the growing clout of Bharat on the global stage in their interest, whatever may be the political posturing by leaders. In this phase of instability, Bharat and Nepal should find newer and innovative ways to strengthen the civilisational bonds. Bharat will have to proactively deal with all stakeholders in Kathmandu, that is, the politicians across the lines, the civil society, administration, NGOs & most importantly with common people of Nepal.