Can Prachanda In His New Avatar Improve Indo-Nepal Ties ?

Can Prachanda In His New Avatar  Improve Indo-Nepal Ties ? PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images
Snapshot
  • Since he became the Prime Minister last week, Prachanda has displayed a marked departure from the rigid stand of his predecessor (Oli), stating that he will build on the traditionally close ties between India and Nepal.

The installation of Nepal’s Maoist leader Pushpa Kumar Dahal as the 39th Prime Minister of Nepal last week caused a little bit dismay in New Delhi. Because Dahal, better known by his nom de guerre Prachanda (the fierce one) from his days as the leader of Maoist insurgency that wracked Nepal from 1996 to 2006 , leaving more than 16,000 people dead, had often positioned himself against India in the past. Especially during his first nine month stint as Prime Minister in 2008-09 which ended on a bitter note when he resigned over differences with the then president over firing of the Nepal army chief who had refused to induct Maoist rebels into the country’s army.

But Prachanda, by his own admission, has mellowed down a lot over the last few years. He is no longer virulently anti-Indian like he was before. He has repeatedly stated in recent interviews that he has become “politically mature” and understands the “compulsions of competitive politics”. Before stepping down in 2009, he had launched a vitriolic diatribe against India, accusing it of “remote-controlling” the then president Ram Baran Yadav, who had overturned Prachanda’s order asking the army chief to resign.

However today the newly installed PM admits that he acted in haste and that his charges against Indian intervention were “inappropriate”. He has, since those days, gone to great lengths to emphasise the close cultural and religious bonds between India and Nepal while pointing out that Nepal does not have such ties with China. Even at the height of the blockade (from late September 2015 to early February 2016) of vital transit routes along the Indo-Nepal border by the Madhesis in support of their demands to amend discriminatory provisions in the country’s new Constitution that led to severe shortages in Nepal, Prachanda refrained from censuring India.

Prachanda’s refrain was in stark contrast to the then Prime Minister K.P.Sharma Oli’s accusation that India had sponsored the blockade. Oli, who was forced to resign late last month after his government was reduced to a minority, had consistently attacked India and tried to steer the country towards China and away from India.

Since he became the Prime Minister last week, Prachanda has displayed a marked departure from the rigid stand of his predecessor (Oli) on the demands of the Madhesis by promising to amend the new Constitution to include their demands. He has also promised to take all sections of society along with him. And he has said that he will build on the traditionally close ties between India and Nepal even as he will keep Nepal equidistant from both India and China.

The dapper Prachanda is no longer the fire-spewing revolutionary wanting to make Nepal an authoritarian communist country like China. In fact, within a few years after coming overground in 2007, he developed a taste for the good things in life. He drew flak for moving into a grand mansion with 15 bedrooms in Kathmandu, sporting Rolex watches, driving around in imported and high-end SUVs and wearing branded clothes. Prachanda has also been criticised for the proclivities of his Prakash, his son.

However, it is early and there is no guarantee that Prachanda will not indulge in the favourite game of many Nepali politicians of blaming India when the going gets tough for them. Nepal’s politicians cutting across party lines have displayed a penchant for unfairly accusing India of interfering in the internal affairs of their country whenever they face any crisis. Also, China has managed to position itself in a powerful position in Nepal, thanks mainly due to its economic might, and has been consistently working to push India out of Nepal.

China tried its best to keep Oli in power by pressurising politicians belonging to other parties not to withdraw support to Oli. While the resignation of Oli late last month was a significant setback for China, it is for certain that Beijing will use its might to force the current dispensation to toe its line and try to downgrade India’s influence in Nepal.

Also, at the end of the day, Prachanda is a communist. Though he has been making the right noises about India, New Delhi would be wrong to trust him entirely and take him at his word. Communists, as is well known by now, cannot be trusted.

Thus, it is imperative for India to be watchful and foil any trouble that Prachanda may be up to. At the same time, New Delhi has to step up its engagement with Prachanda and encourage him to solve the Madhesi issue. India also has to show more generosity towards the new dispensation and increase aid to Nepal, especially in the field of reconstruction of the millions of homes, schools, public buildings and bridges that collapsed or suffered damage during last year’s devastating earthquake.

Oli’s exit has served an important lesson to Nepal’s politicians: that being anti-Indian and trying to play China against India does not help their cause. New Delhi should, from now on and very subtly, serve periodic reminders about this lesson to Kathmandu’s feuding politicians.

Also Read:

1. Nepal: Oli’s Exit Good News For India

2. Nepal Crisis: China Helping Anti-India Oli Cling To Power

3. Blaming India Won’t Help Nepal’s Leadership

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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