India and China are becoming deeply invested in Nepals future and its upcoming elections.
Nepal was not mentioned in our talks. This was partly due to lack of time… But it was really due to my not mentioning deliberately, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to Nepals then Prime Minister Matrika Prasad Koirala on June 29,1954,shortly after his meeting with Chou En Lai in New Delhi.
Nehrus deliberately not mentioning Nepal with China was meant to convey the message that Nepal was largely an Indian sphere of influence,and China had little stake in the kingdom. Nehrus letter to Koirala followed a draft of an aide-mémoire he had sent with a clause that read that in any matter under consideration of the government of India which may relate to Nepal,the government of India will consult the government of Nepal. And despite many ups and downs in bilateral relations,India continued to decisively influence Nepals internal affairs for many years.
But more than half a century down the line,Nepals fragility has become a major concern. India has lost the luxury of deliberately not mentioning Nepal with China. It is speculated that Nepal figured significantly during Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs visit to Beijing last week. Whether the election to the Constituent Assembly on November 19 will give much-needed stability to Nepal was perhaps an issue that did not skip the India-China meet. Indian and Chinese ambassadors in Kathmandu meet at least once a month to find a common position on Nepal. But India,as a decisive influence or an actor in Nepals political change and resultant problems since 2006,also gets a larger portion of the blame. Elections are no doubt an essential process in a democracy,but the non-participation of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) and doubts about the new CAs ability to deliver the constitution raise questions about its relevance.
The fact that the four major pro-republican parties the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M),Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML),Nepali Congress and the Madhesi Groups and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N),which has pledged to restore constitutional monarchy and the countrys Hindu status,are actively engaged in the poll process shows that the election represents the entire political spectrum. But given the CPN-Ms feeling left out and a huge but scattered group feeling Nepali actors have involved external players in a domestic process,there is the possibility of right- and left-wing extremist groups emerging in a post-poll scenario in the name of nationalism,as the polls will likely create a hung House and offer a more fragmented mandate.
The CPN-M called for a boycott,and a nationwide 10-day strike. Given the partys history of its members raising weapons during the insurgency spearheaded by its parent party,the UCPN-M,there is enough reason for people to be afraid. At least half a dozen poll meetings of UCPN-M chief Prachanda seem to have been obstructed by the breakaway group,with the UCPN-M asking its cadres to retaliate in any manner the situation might demand.
The CPN-M and traditional forces still favouring the erstwhile monarchy and a Hindu Nepal want the major parties to come to an understanding on the national agenda before the polls. The UCPN-M,Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML simply said in their manifestos that they will be willing to settle contentious issues through a referendum. But they failed to clarify what these issues are. The failure of the big parties to deliver a constitution during the four years of the previous CA has discredited them and made them unpopular. They have again come out with rigid and contradictory stands on federalism,governance and on whether Nepal will have an executive president or a PM. RPP-N chief Kamal Thapa is perhaps trying to take advantage of the situation as well as cashing in on Hindu sentiments. He began an 11-day tour on October 20 from Gorkha to Kathmandu. A week earlier,he had a meeting with Narendra Modi to solicit moral support for a Hindu Nepal and his pro-monarchy cause.
That the nomination of candidates,went smoothly was a big relief for the election commission. But its challenges begin now,with the electioneering and somewhat violent canvassing. The ECs data show voter numbers have dwindled to 12.1 million from 17.5 million in the previous CA election. That indicates either public indifference or a manipulation of the figures last time. It will perhaps take more than just the formality of an election to clear Nepal of its mess. Meaningful space for all sides is a necessary pre-condition to move ahead.