Blaming India Won’t Help Nepal’s Leadership
Nepali leadership has to realise that blaming India will not solve its domestic problems; cozying upto China is no solution either
Nepal moved to the brink of a political abyss last week when the opposition Nepali Congress (NC) made a deal with the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), the second-largest partner in Nepal’s ruling coalition led by the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), and the Madhesi parties, to unseat the Khagda Prasad Sharma Oli government. The NC, UCPN-M and the Madhesi parties felt that Oli had failed to resolve the Madhesi issue, and had also been unable to hasten reconstruction of houses, buildings, roads and bridges destroyed and damaged by the earthquakes in Nepal in April and May last year. They have also accused him of some other acts of commission.
The deal was that UCPN-M would form the government with outside support of the NC and the Madhesi parties and its leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal would become the Prime Minister.
Oli earned a reprieve earlier this week when Prachanda went back on the deal with the NC and struck a fresh deal with the CPN-UML. However, this respite for Oli is likely to be very short-lived since UCPN-M leaders have been claiming that an unwritten understanding had been reached with Oli that the latter would step down as Prime Minister after the country’s budget is passed in Parliament later this month. The CPN-UML has been denying that such an agreement exists, and if Oli does not step down after the budget is passed, it will trigger a fresh political crisis in the Himalayan country.
Oli has only himself to blame for the mess that he finds himself in today. Ever since he assumed office in October 2015, Oli has been blaming India for all the troubles afflicting his country. He squarely blamed India for the four-and-half month long blockade of transit routes from India to Nepal that caused severe shortages of all commodities in Nepal last year. The blockade was imposed by Madhesis angry with the country’s new Constitution that was adopted in September 2015.
Oli took advantage of the blockade to steer Nepal away from India and towards China. He signed a transit agreement with China and got China to supply petroleum products to Nepal to reduce Nepal’s dependence on India. While it is a different matter that little progress has been recorded on building the transit routes to China and the fuel supplies from China have been erratic, Oli has earned New Delhi’s severe displeasure by playing the China card. He has been playing the ‘nationalist’ card in order to endear himself to Nepal’s ‘hill elite’, but has become a deeply divisive figure in the country. The Madhesis, Janjatis (tribals) and Muslims who make for 50% of Nepal’s population are deeply suspicious of him. They accuse him of ignoring their demands and aspirations and trying to suppress them politically.
Oli and his ministers are often accused of large scale corruption and grave financial improprieties. He is seen as a person preoccupied with packing top posts with his cronies and allowing them a free hand to loot the country. Nepal is still facing an acute shortage of fuel and cooking gas even though supplies from India had normalised way back in February 2016 after the blockade of routes from India to Nepal was lifted by the agitating Madhesis.
It is suspected that the CPN-UML government allowed black marketeers to create artificial shortages in return for huge donations from them. Prices of all commodities have shot up under Oli’s regime and inflation has touched double digits. The Nepali Congress and Madhesi parties say Oli has been whipping up anti-Indian sentiments in order to divert people’s attention from his failures on many fronts and to keep the spotlight away from corruption and misgovernance.
Oli has to realise that blaming India for everything that happens in Nepal does little good. Being a landlocked country, Nepal is dependent on India for almost all its needs. Oli’s attempts to find alternate transit routes through Tibet are impractical since the terrain and remoteness of the Tibetan plateau makes import through Tibet an expensive and time-consuming proposition. Nepal’s easiest access to a seaport (in Bangladesh) is through India.
Also, as Nepal’s last ambassador to India, Deep Kumar Upadhyay (he has been recalled on charges of acting against the Oli government), has been stressing repeatedly at many fora during his visits all over the country, Indians and Nepalis have a ‘roti-beti rishta’. And he has also said, very rightly, that Nepal should not blame India for its problems. Upadhyay, a Madhesi, was appointed by the earlier NC government and is said to have expressed his severe displeasure to Oli after the latter cancelled the scheduled visit of Nepal’s new President Bidhya Devi Bhandari’s visit to India. Bhandari is also said to be upset with Oli for cancelling her visit to India that she had hoped would mend ties with a crucial neighbour.
Nepal’s citizens are free to migrate, work and settle down in India (just as Indians are, but few Indians actually avail that opportunity). There are more than 80,000 Indian army pensioners in Nepal, more than 11,000 widows of ex-servicemen, nearly 18,000 servicemen who retired from the Assam Rifles and a similar number of those who retired from other Indian paramilitary forces like the ITBP, CISF and CRPF, as well as pensioners from various states and the Union government. All of them receive pensions from India. Add to them the lakhs of Nepalis who currently serve in the Indian Army and paramilitary forces, in state governments and the central government and in the private formal and informal sectors, and their remittances that Nepal is critically dependent on, and the true magnitude of the close and inalienable links between the two countries and the people of the two countries can be fathomed.
Nepal’s communists need to realise that they can never replace India with China, much as they would like to. They also need to understand the inherent dangers in taking Nepal into China’s suffocating embrace. All said and done, China can never have Nepal’s interests at heart when it woos Nepal; for China, Nepal is at best a small country that can be used as a pawn to prick India and discarded when that utility ends. Nepal is beset today with problems of Himalayan dimensions and Oli does his country and his people scant service by attempting to divert attention from those problems by fuelling anti-Indian sentiments.
India, on its part, needs to resist the temptation from indulging in the heavy-handed diplomacy it had engaged in the past. New Delhi ought to make its displeasure known to Oli in no uncertain terms. At the same time, India has to buffer its public image among the people of Nepal and get to be seen as the true friend of the Nepalis that it is. New Delhi should firmly tell Oli, and Prachanda who’ll succeed Oli, that the Madhesi issue needs to be solved to the satisfaction of the Madhesis. And that having the best of ties with India is in the mutual interests of both the countries.
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