Next door Nepal: Breaking with the past

Delhi’s signal to the Madhes front marks a course correction

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire | Updated: June 5, 2017 12:07 am
Nepal crisis, Nepal, Madhesis, Indian express Photo for representational purpose

In the few weeks preceding his resignation as prime minister and as “caretaker” executive head, the one message Pushpa Kamal Dahal has tried to send out is that he is not “India’s man”. His government took a series of decisions that have significant political import for Nepal as well as India and China.

Ahead of the Beijing summit, Nepal joined China’s ambitious and strategic Belt and Road Initiative. Last week, Dahal approved a recommendation of the Poverty Alleviation Fund that China be given larger autonomy or freedom to decide and execute smaller developmental projects in 16 districts along the Tibet border, ranging from construction to developing small hydro-projects. This is a privilege that India alone has enjoyed so far. Dahal also decided to endorse a proposal of K.P. Oli, his predecessor in the PM’s office, to entrust the 1200-MW Budigandaki project to Ghejua, a Chinese company, without inviting tender.

The government in its budget statement said Nepal will follow a policy of “equal distance” towards its two neighbours. Dahal, soon after his visit to China in March, had stated in parliament that his actions will be a reply to those who started an “orchestrated campaign” that he had become prime minister as a part of “Indian design and interest”. The statement was aimed at Oli and his party, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist.

Dahal’s proximity to the Indian establishment and the latter’s role in bringing the Maoists from insurgency to the centrestage of electoral politics in Nepal is well known. But what Dahal has realised, especially when out of power, is that drifting closer to the northern neighbour gives him both a “progressive and nationalist image” as China is perceived to honour Nepal’s sovereignty more than any other country. China’s geo-strategic approach is not perceived in Kathmandu as detrimental to Nepali interests. That possibly is the reason why Nepal is now preparing to allow China, like India, to independently select development projects, in the border areas. It also conveys the message that Nepal falls into the joint “sphere of influence” of both neighbours in equal measure.

Meanwhile, Nepal’s politics continues to be fluid and uncertain. Dahal has claimed the successful completion of local elections in 283 places out of a total of 744 as a major breakthrough in the promotion of grass-roots democracy. The challenge for Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba, who succeeds Dahal as PM, is to complete the poll process in the rest of the country by June end.

In the meantime, India, which had been patronising Madhes-centric parties and openly extending solidarity when they boycotted the new constitution and the first round of local polls held last month, has changed its stance. It has asked the erstwhile United Democratic Madhes Front to participate in the second round of polls and seek redress for their grievances within the constitutional process. The Madhes leaders feel let down by the government.

The reasons behind India’s change of track are not clear. It may be New Delhi responding positively to the criticism in Kathmandu that India micro-manages Nepal’s internal affairs. Whatever be the reason, it marks a departure from the approach India has taken in the past decade-and-a-half. If it really leads to India withdrawing from Nepal’s domestic politics, the Nepali people are likely to welcome it.

However, a cosmetic review of its Nepal policy is unlikely to turn the tide in India’s favour. India will need to tell the leaders it has trusted and endorsed that unless they involve the people in the making of key political agendas, political stability is hard to come by. The new Indian ambassador, Manjeev Singh Puri, has often told Nepalis who have met him that India’s “vested” interest lies in keeping Nepal “stable and prosperous”. This, however, will require more substantial effort.

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  1. B
    Bihari Krishna
    Jun 8, 2017 at 6:13 pm
    Very good essment of the current status in Nepal's India- China relation. Prachanda tactically took those pro-China decisions at the end of his tenure to ensue his pro-India image before that. After all, he has to continue to live in Nepal even after he ceased to be PM and he could never go to the people by being seen as Indian stooge in Nepal. If Nepal's interest were to be uppermost for Prachanda, he should have taken those steps at the very beginning of his tenure. Instead he put his own interest of being seen as India's man in Kathmandu above it. Deuba too most likely follow the same footsteps. But there is an important lesson for India in it: The w of people of Nepal aspires to remain equally close to its two continuous neighbours and benefit from interacting with both socially and economically, and India could at best delay it but not deny it. However, the better option for India would be purposely help Nepal in this regard and be seen as a good friend of Nepal too.
    1. T
      Tilak Shrestha
      Jun 6, 2017 at 4:58 am
      India should stay away from the internal affairs of Nepal.
      1. E
        Employ Ment
        Jun 5, 2017 at 11:43 pm
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        1. M
          Jun 5, 2017 at 10:14 pm
          It's good that India making course correction in policy towards Nepal. Earlier India replaced Prachanda in place of KP Oli as PM. Nepal is under communist now, and Mao-Marxist-Missionary brigade is anti-national and Anti-hindu.
          1. S
            Seshubabu Kilambi
            Jun 5, 2017 at 7:58 pm
            Political compulsions mae madhes problem crucial for india
            1. P
              Jun 5, 2017 at 2:49 pm
              he is not a goody guy can not learn anything from Indian good politician. Everybody knows how many of us killed in his own billions war. #Moneymakerinnepal
              1. K
                Kamal Pasha
                Jun 5, 2017 at 12:08 pm
                The only frirndly country on the border of India is Bangladesh. India has been isolated by all of her border counties. Well done Modi.
                1. M
                  Jun 5, 2017 at 10:18 pm
                  Problem in B-desh is that it is the biggest hub for cow smug and cow slaughter in SA.
                2. A
                  Jun 5, 2017 at 11:28 am
                  Excellent article. I have a difficult time understanding Nepal's politics. It wasn't hard to understand India's at ude toward domination of Nepal. That's the only reason I see the closeness to China being a good thing. I was in Nepal during and after the earthquakes and experienced the horrible political games India pla on Nepal. No cooking fuel, petrol or diesel or medications, but electronics, cookware and horrible induction plates we had to cook with because there was no cooking fuel. Then to play politics Nepal had to give India so much of the timber. So sad.
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