Nepal’s Maoists Are Set To Be Ousted From Power: Why This Is Good News For India

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jul 06, 2024, 09:58 AM | Updated 10:00 AM IST

K P Sharma Oli and Sher Bahadur Deuba (Right)
K P Sharma Oli and Sher Bahadur Deuba (Right)
  • A stable government in Nepal, especially with the Nepali Congress as part of it, will be in India’s interests.
  • The days are numbered for Nepal’s ruling Maoists.

    With the Communist Party of Nepal–Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML), the major partner in the ruling alliance, withdrawing support for the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government, it is only a matter of time before Dahal loses power. 

    The CPN-UML and the Nepali Congress (NC) stitched a new alliance earlier this week to oust Dahal, who heads the far-left Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre (CPN-MC), from power. 

    Dahal has turned down calls by the CPN-UML to step down and said he will seek a vote of confidence in the 275-member Pratinidhi Sabha (the Lower House of the federal Parliament), where his party has just 32 seats. 

    Under Nepal’s Constitution, Dahal has 30 days to seek a vote of confidence. Till then, political uncertainty, intrigues, and governance paralysis will plague Nepal. 

    Week-Long Political Developments

    The ball for Dahal’s ouster and the coming together of the NC (the largest party in the Pratinidhi Sabha with 89 seats) and the CPN-UML (the second largest party with 78 seats) was set rolling on 29 June.

    CPN-UML chair Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli invited NC chief Sher Bahadur Deuba to dinner at his residence at Kathmandu’s Balkot. This invitation climaxed a few weeks of back-channel talks between leaders of the two parties. 

    Another late-night meeting between the two on 1 July firmed up a fresh alliance between the two largest parties in Parliament. 

    A draft agreement between the two parties said that Deuba and Oli would share power for the remaining three and a half years of the current Parliament's term, with Oli getting the first shot at the prime minister’s chair. 

    The two parties promised to provide stable governance — Nepal has had 13 governments in the past 16 years — and also address the Himalayan nation’s economic crises. But more importantly, the two agreed in principle to amend the country’s Constitution and change the present electoral system. 

    Of the 275 members in the Pratinidhi Sabha, 165 are elected directly under the first-past-the-post system, while 110 members are elected under the proportional representation system. This makes it nearly impossible for any party to win a majority. 

    The mix of direct elections and proportional representation is blamed by the NC and the CPN-UML for the perennial political instability that plagues Nepal. Both parties have decided to set up a high-power committee headed by a former chief justice of the country’s Supreme Court to review the electoral system. 

    Dahal (also known by his nom de guerre ‘Prachanda’), who led a decade-long insurgency that caused the deaths of over 17,000 people, has been outfoxed by his political rivals this time.

    Dahal contested the November 2022 election in alliance with the NC, but ditched the latter after the election to join hands with the CPN-UML and other parties to form the government and become the prime minister on 25 December 2022. 

    But less than two months later, in February 2023, he dumped the CPN-UML and stitched an alliance with the NC. He double-crossed the NC a little over a year later — in March this year — to join hands with the CPN-UML once again. And less than four months later, the NC and the CPN-UML have now come together to oust the opportunistic Dahal from power. 

    The two parties (NC and CPN-UML) started talks early last month, and two senior leaders from each party were deputed to negotiate a power-sharing agreement. 

    The NC nominated Ramesh Lekhak and Gyanendra Bahadur Karki, while Shankar Pokhrel and Ramesh Badal represented the CPN-UML. 

    Lekhak told Swarajya that, as per the agreement, which was attested by Deuba and Oli earlier this week, Oli will be the prime minister for the first 15 months of the Parliament’s remaining term, and Deuba will succeed him after that. 

    The NC will get 10 ministries, including Home, while the CPN-UML will get nine, including Finance.

    Of the seven provincial governments, the NC and CPN-UML will head three each, while Madhes province will get a government headed by a leader of a Madhesi party. 

    Why The NC And UML Joined Hands This Time

    Both the NC and the CPN-UML were miffed with Dahal’s political shenanigans and chicanery and wanted to teach him a lesson. 

    “It is outrageous that a party which has just 32 seats, or less than 12 per cent of the Pratinidhi Sabha’s total strength, has been playing off the two largest parties against each other to cling on to power. Dahal’s frequent misadventures needed to be ended,” NC spokesperson Min Bahadur Biswakarma told Swarajya over the phone from Kathmandu. 

    NC leader Prakash Sharan Mahat told Swarajya that a new power-sharing deal between the two largest parties was “necessary to prevent democracy from being undermined by political instability.” 

    Oli was getting increasingly unhappy with Dahal’s unilateral style of functioning. A few weeks ago, Oli had publicly criticised the budget presented by CPN-MC Finance Minister Barsha Man Pun and dubbed it a ‘Maoist budget’. 

    That’s because the budget made some unilateral tax changes and had terms like ‘janayuddha’ (people’s war) in it. A large chunk of budgetary allocations were made to the home districts of senior Maoist leaders. 

    Dahal refused to nominate Oli’s candidate to the post of chief of the Securities Board of Nepal, a refusal that angered Oli. 

    Also, Oli learnt that Dahal was planning to fill up coveted posts like that of the Chief Justice and governor of Nepal Rastra Bank (the country’s central bank) with his own candidates by keeping Oli in the dark. 

    CPN-UML general secretary Shankar Pokharel told Swarajya that Dahal’s sudden announcement last week of his bid to form a ‘national consensus’ government by including the NC in it had alarmed Oli. 

    “Dahal’s announcement was interpreted as an invitation to the Nepali Congress to join his government. He did it without our party’s knowledge and consent, and that was seen as a serious breach of trust by Dahal,” said Pokharel. 

    Dahal had told his senior party colleagues that he had the “magic numbers” to continue as prime minister till the next parliamentary election (in December 2027). 

    This also caused great alarm within the CPN-UML, which suspected that Dahal was up to some sinister game to engineer defections from some parties or reduce the strength of the major parties. 

    “Dahal’s ‘magic number’ boast raised a red flag and was very disturbing. We felt he was up to some major mischief and had to be stopped. We also realised that he had no intention of stepping down from the PM’s post and make way for our chairperson (Oli) to become the PM by the middle of next year, as had been agreed between the two parties (CPN-UML and CPN-MC) when we joined the government in March this year,” said Pokharel. 

    NC and CPN-UML leaders also learnt that Dahal was planning to sign an agreement to implement projects under China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) during the visit of Chinese Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sun Weidong, to Kathmandu early last week. 

    Top CPN-UML and NC leaders intervened and asked Dahal to back off at the eleventh hour, leading to Dahal aborting his plans (read this). 

    Oli, who was until recently perceived to be close to Beijing, had requested Dahal to hold back on signing the agreement until China agreed to fund a major portion of the BRI projects instead of giving Nepal loans at high rates of interest and with stern penalty clauses to fund the projects.

    But Dahal was secretly making plans to spring a surprise and sign the implementation plan agreement, and that would have presented a fait accompli to Oli.

    Oli was informed about Dahal’s plans by a senior NC leader, and an alarmed Oli warned Dahal of very stern consequences if he didn’t step back. 

    NC’s senior parliamentarian, Ram Hari Khatiwada, told Swarajya that Oli had informally agreed with NC’s position that taking more loans from China to fund BRI projects would endanger Nepal’s economic security and take the country into a debt trap. 

    “When it emerged that Dahal was planning to sign the agreement that would commit Nepal to BRI projects funded by loans from China, we were alarmed, and though we managed to stop Dahal from taking that disastrous step, we realised it was time to bring his misrule to an end. This realisation also dawned on the UML leadership,” said Khatiwada. 

    NC and CPN-UML leaders also got to know that Dahal was planning to use Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) chief Rabi Lamichhane, who is the deputy prime minister and home minister, to start fresh probes into corruption charges against NC and UML leaders. The RSP has 13 members of Parliament (MPs) and is part of the CPN-MC-led coalition government.

    “We learnt that the home ministry was planning to arrest a few key leaders of the UML and NC on graft charges. We had to halt this misadventure immediately,” said a senior NC leader. 

    Dahal, said a senior UML leader, had started interfering in the Nepal Army’s internal affairs and was trying to cultivate some senior officers to promote a clique in the army.

    “This misadventure by Dahal would have harmed the army, and it was widely felt by leaders of both parties (NC and UML) that Dahal had to be removed from power immediately. His opportunism and misadventures had made it necessary to divest him of power,” UML leader Damodar Bhandari, who was industry and commerce minister till earlier this week, told Swarajya

    Why Dahal’s Ouster Is Good News For India

    Though Oli, who has been perceived to be close to China, will become the next prime minister of Nepal, the latest political developments in the Himalayan nation are good news for India. 

    That’s because:

    • The NC, which has always been close to New Delhi, will become part of the ruling coalition once again. And it is expected that the NC-UML alliance will last until the next parliamentary polls. 

    • Oli has abandoned his earlier hostility towards India and has realised that without New Delhi’s cooperation and support, he will not be able to rule Nepal effectively and for long.

    • Oli has also accepted geopolitical realities — that Nepal cannot antagonise India and that good ties with India are necessary for Nepal’s progress. 

    • Oli had told his senior party colleagues recently that he realises the folly of opposing and antagonising India. He told them that Nepal needs to have good ties with both India and China but is in no position to play one against the other. 

    “We’ll burn not just our fingers but our whole body if we try such misadventure,” Oli is said to have told his party leaders. 

    • Oli has recently reached out to New Delhi and assured India of his support for improving ties between the two countries. 

    • India has always felt that, despite being outwardly friendly towards New Delhi, Dahal is more anti-India than Oli had been and has been surreptitiously trying to sabotage India’s interests in Nepal.

    • A stable government in Nepal, especially with the NC as part of it, will be in India’s interests. Political instability in Nepal has affected bilateral ties and injected a large dose of uncertainty in Indo-Nepalese relations. 

    • Indian intelligence agencies have discovered recently that India’s Maoists, who are now on the backfoot in the face of a renewed offensive by security forces, have renewed contacts with Nepal’s Maoists. 

    A few CPN-MC leaders had responded favourably to recent overtures by Indian Maoists and offered the latter safe shelters in Nepal in case they had to escape from Indian security forces engaged in anti-Maoist operations. 

    • New Delhi had also been unhappy with what was perceived as the Dahal government’s reluctance to step up cooperation between the intelligence and security agencies of the two countries. 

    Such cooperation is necessary to flush out and apprehend Indian fugitives who frequently cross the porous India-Nepal border and go into hiding in the neighbouring country. 

    Dahal’s eventual ouster from power is, thus, good news for India. And also for Nepal, which now stands to get a stable government. 

    Also Read: Forewarned By India, Nepal Steps Back From China’s Belt And Road Initiative 

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