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Next door Nepal: Two PMs, and a standstill

Despite Oli’s claim that he went to Delhi with no list and came back having totally repaired the relationship, the trip is being scrutinised within the governing coalition and by the opposition, with usual suspicions of “secret deals” in the air.

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire | Published: March 7, 2016 12:30 am
Nepal PM, Nepal PM K.P. Oli, K.P. Oli, K.P. Oli new delhi visit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi , PM Modi, Pranab Mukherjee, President pranab mukherjee, Nepal’s radical shift, radical shift, india news, nation news, latest news Prime Minister of Nepal KP Sharma Oli

Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Oli, quite often repeated during his five-day stay in New Delhi, and upon his return to Nepal, that his single visit to the “South” has brought bilateral relations back to normal, and that it was a remarkable gain both for Nepal and India. He also insisted the state honour accorded him was not given to an individual but to the elected PM of a sovereign state. Thus, this amounted to India shedding its reservations, recognising Nepal’s constitution.

Yet, towards the end, there were clear indicators that, along with the “traditional warmth”, curtness and coldness marred the visit — that all is not well in bilateral ties. The two sides failed to come out with a joint statement. There are no official reasons given, but Nepal wasn’t happy about India’s refusal to commend the constitution unconditionally. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that while the new constitution was a major achievement, more was needed to accommodate all aspirations.

At the same time, Oli found President Pranab Mukherjee closer to his point of view. Mukherjee, who was foreign minister in the UPA government overseeing Nepal’s radical shift in 2005, was full of praise for the end of the transition. According to a high-level Nepali delegate, Mukherjee was of the opinion that “Nepal’s constitution is its internal document, something that India has no reason to disagree or be dissatisfied with”.

But Oli was perhaps the only PM from Nepal to declare in advance that he wasn’t visiting Delhi with a “shopping list”. He thus gave no occasion to calculate the gap between demand and supply, a major yardstick normally applied to measure the success or failure of a prime ministerial visit. Yet, his visit and the end of the long blockade on its eve, initially gave the impression that his rigid pre-conditions had been accepted by Delhi. The blockade had ruined the economy of half a dozen Indian towns along the border along with that of Nepal. It generated hostility towards India in Nepal’s younger generation.

Despite Oli’s claim that he went to Delhi with no list and came back having totally repaired the relationship, the trip is being scrutinised within the governing coalition and by the opposition, with usual suspicions of “secret deals” in the air. Soon after his return, Oli was grilled by members of the high-level political machinery of the coalition.

What transpired in the 40-minute meeting between the two PMs is still secret. But there’s speculation that the growing anti-India sentiment in Nepal and Kathmandu’s perceived tilt towards China, as well as India’s keenness to contribute “massively” to post-earthquake reconstruction, dominated the talks. India’s concern about China’s growing presence in Nepal was visible as BJP leader Subramanian Swamy cautioned Oli about the consequences of such a “shift”. Swamy’s visit to Kathmandu, just before Oli set out for Delhi, was seen as a message from Modi.

Meanwhile, as the Nepali Congress, the largest party and main opposition, prepares for its general convention, its powerful central committee member Shashank Koirala has raised a political storm by demanding that the party review three issues — federalism, secularism and its status as a republic — if Nepal is to survive. It implies reverting to constitutional monarchy and a “Hindu Nepal”.

While Oli told the high-level machinery that no suggestion of a “Hindu Nepal” came from Modi, he failed to convince that his visit had removed all isunderstandings. It was hoped that, apart from finalising a police academy, some concrete measures for the time-bound execution of the major hydel projects would be announced.

India was also keen to construct an international airport. But, reportedly, there was no agreement.

Within days of his return, Oli decided to visit Beijing for a week, beginning March 20, although he has said he will not play the China card against India. China, however, has already sent the draft of the new extradition treaty, asserting that Nepal is being used by foreign powers and international NGOs to fuel the free-Tibet movement that has direct implications on its security.

How will India go forward in Nepal now? How comfortable will Oli’s coalition be?

His Delhi visit will be judged on these crucial points.


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More From Yubaraj Ghimire
  1. R
    Mar 7, 2016 at 7:21 am
    It is crystal clear that when a country is dependent its economy will be dependent on the dictats of the countries around. This is more difficult for a country like Nepal which is sandwiched between two larger economies that Nepal depends upon. China, knowing well that Nepal's relationship with India is somewhat damaged which may take years for restoration, will not hesitate to take full advantage of the situation. One of the aspect for economic guarantees, China has come out with a draft relevant extradition that is now given to the Nepal's administration, claiming that pro Tibet agitators and agitations in Tibet to be extradited to China. It will be tantamount to subjugation if Nepal considers signing the treaty. and will be a slap on the Indian face. In such an event the Nepal's relationship with India will nose dive to the bottom of the sea and salvaging it will be an onerous task and time consuming. In the long term, Nepal may confront an threatening environment from the Chinese to be a second Nepal bringing the w geopolitical of the region into confrontational zone. Having understood the intricacies of democracies, Nepal leadership must well understand that consutions drafted isolating the minority will end up in catastrophe, as witnessed in Sri Lanka. On the other hand India must shed her big brother posture, extend a helping hand to resolve issues and bring back Nepal to the realm of things. Failure on the Indian part is certain to bring in China closer to the boarders and Nepal will be added up as another pearl in the Chinese string. India's foreign policy towards her smaller neighbors entails a drastic review that will accommodate the aspiration of countries around.
    1. B
      Bihari Krishna
      Mar 9, 2016 at 2:57 pm
      There is one compulsion why it is in Nepal's tremendous advantage to sign the extradition treaty. India has been taking Nepal for granted as if it remains her "zamindari", the latest such crude example being India's topmost diplomat, foreign secretary, Mr.Jaisankar, visiting Nepal on the eve of Nepal's consution promulgation. Not only that his mission--telling Nepal not to promulgate the consution on the date already committed to the nation--took too much of Nepal for granted, what was equally abhorring was the way he, otherwise a trained professional diplomat, reportedly executed his misison. He was literally telling his counterparts around as if he was visiting his parental biraasat. That then was followed by a prolonged blockade that led to untold human suffering in a nation that had just been devastated by a mive earthquake. It is unbelievable that a "democratic" government in India would be possessed of such ruthlessness that would be more reminiscent of Hitler's rampage in Europe. While this is not the first time the Indians committed such atrocities against her landlocked neighbor, we know that this is not going to be the last either. Therefore, Nepal needs to have China as an effective countervailing force to help protect her sovereignty from rather frequent Indian aggression, and nothing would be more propitious for Nepal that to sign the proposed extradition treaty in exchange for urances of coming to Nepal's rescue when her sovereignty comes under Indian threat. Mr. Robert, I hope it makes sense to you too. If you happen to be familiar with Nepal's geopolitical difficulties, you should be fully commiserating with me in what I have to say about the extradition treaty.
      1. Jenny Zilga
        Mar 7, 2016 at 9:36 am
        There is a wide range of viewpoints within Indian government as always, however the hawks in India should have known better than pushing this during post quake relief efforts. If this was simply a spat between governments with geopolitics mixed in, there would be far less angst and bad publicity. Nevertheless, nobody responsible has lost their job, not those in Nepal nor in India, the rot of power politics that leaves the poor to out to die is plain to see on both ends.
        1. s
          Mar 7, 2016 at 3:43 am
          Nepali leaders should be mature enough not to make pak out of Nepal. Pak used the China card and still using and the condition of Pak for everyone to see. Moreover geographically Nepal is in a different situation than pak.