Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is often criticised for his ‘indecisiveness’ but he was very busy before his five-day state visit to India, his first after assuming office on June. He expanded his council of ministers to 50 including around 20 ministers of state, 12 from his Nepali Congress and eight from the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists. The constitution puts a ceiling on 25 for the Council of Ministers but all the three Prime Ministers – K P Oli, Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Deuba – following the promulgation of the constitution have violated it.
Deuba also handed over a letter to party colleague Bimalendra Nidhi at the airport saying he would be acting chairman of the Nepali Congress during his visit to Delhi. A section of the party led by senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel is up in arm over the move, as Nidhi is a relatively junior person. Deuba knows his visit to Delhi will generate controversy at home over the cabinet expansion and Nidhi’s appointment.
Deuba’s visit to Delhi comes at a time when he appeared weak at home, especially after the constitutional amendment bill to address Madhesi grievances was defeated in Parliament that provoked main opposition leader K P Oli to demand his resignation on ‘moral grounds’.
Deuba realised that in post 2006 politics where Nepal had embarked on a radical course following Indian mediation, a visit to Delhi is as essential as being accountable to Nepali actors. Deuba nevertheless failed to secure Delhi’s ‘endorsement’ of the Nepali constitution promulgated two years ago. All that India said was that India is in favour of Prime Minister Deuba continuing a dialogue with all sides to enlarge ownership.
Yet Deuba may have got more importance than his two immediate predecessors – Dahal and Oli — during his visit. For Delhi, neutralizing or diluting China’s influence in Nepal is crucial and knows Oli is important in that process.