Deuba’s Nepal: The challenges he faces

Deuba needs to combine the decisiveness of GP Koirala and the dynamism of Prachanda, by amending the Constitution to incorporate the aspirations of the Madhes & Jan Jatis, as he becomes prime minister of Nepal for the fourth time

Written by SD Muni | Updated: June 9, 2017 12:50 pm
Nepal, Nepal Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, Nepal Congress Newly elected Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba smiles as he arrives for his swearing-in ceremony at the presidential building in Kathmandu, Nepal June 7, 2017. REUTER/Navesh Chitrakar

Sher Bahadur Deuba has become Nepal’s Prime Minister for the fourth time. He secured massive support in the Parliament; 388 out of a total of 558 persons voting. The Nepali Congress (NC) leader was the only candidate and should have been elected uncontested, but the opposition Nepal Communist Party (United Marxist Leninist- UML) decided to vote against him; it could muster only 170 votes.

His election was necessitated by the resignation of his coalition colleague, Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), who honoured his coalition commitment to the NC of sharing power, by vacating the post after nine months and initiating local bodies’ elections.

Prachanda could have refused to give up power by breaking with the NC and seeking UML’s support. It was good that he didn’t. Instead, he kept his promise to the NC as well as to the country.

Deuba’s first challenge is to maintain this political stability and consolidate the NC-Maoist coalition. It was this coalition that led to Nepal’s second Jan Andolan in 2005-06, whose goal was to create a ‘New Nepal’. But that vision was soon overtaken by instability and confusion as the NC-Maoist coalition broke down after the election of the first Constituent Assembly in 2008, unable to work out a mutual power sharing arrangement.

Subsequently, both Nepali Congress and Maoists have led governments in coalition with the UML. Such coalitions have kept them in power but not given Nepal much-needed stability and development. The NC-UML coalition did give Nepal its first republican Constitution in 2015, but this proved to be a divisive Constitution. It left out marginalised social groups like Madhesis, Jan Jatis, Dalits and women and left them dissatisfied and agitating.

That is why this NC-Maoist coalition has a better chance of giving Nepal much needed stability and development as these two major parties do not have a conflict of interest at the grassroots/constituencies level. Nor do they suffer from ideological or ethnic disagreements against the Madhesi and Jan Jati groups, like the UML does.

The UML, in coalition with the Maoists, eroded the Maoists social base in order to broadbase its own constituencies, which eventually forced Prachanda to walk out of the coalition in May 2016. Unfortunately, the UML doesn’t hesitate to invoke the social polarisation between upper castes Nepalis who live in the “pahad” — a metaphor for those who live in the hills and mountains — on the one hand, and those who live in the lowlands, the plains, also known as the “Madhes”, and Jan Jatis on the other.

Deuba, in his first statement as prime minister, has underlined three priorities; implementing the Constitution; accommodating the aspirations of the marginalised groups by amending the Constitution; and advancing the development of the people of Nepal.

All the three issues are mutually linked, particularly the one regarding implementing the Constitution while amending it. This hinges on the holding of local, provincial and national elections by January 2018. There may not be much difficulty in going ahead with the second phase of local elections on June 28. Some Madhes parties are agitating for an amendment to the Constitution as the pre-condition for participation, but they can be persuaded to give up this agitation if credible assurances are given to them that the amendments registered during Prachanda’s prime ministership after the local elections.

If both Deuba and Prachanda are to work sincerely, mobilising the required two third vote for amending the Constitution wont be impossible, even if it is difficult and challenging. Difficulties will be encountered in keeping the Deuba vote of 388 intact as some in the royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) like Kamal Thapa may ask for their ideological pound of flesh in the form of a Hindu State and/or greater share of power in the government.

There are also groups within the NC and the Maoists who have reservations about the extent to which Madhesis and Jan Jatis should be accommodated. A two-thirds majority in the existing situation means that Deuba only needs nine more votes to the 388 he already has – this may not be very difficult as there were 35 abstentions at the time of his election.

The UML which is expected to oppose the requisite amendments to the Constitution, failed to get its members to vote against Deuba’s election. Some small parties which abstained may be willing to strike political deals with the Deuba-led coalition. That’s why Deuba can very easily push the amendments to the Constitution, provided he has the political will and determination to do that.

What Deuba needs today is a combination of the decisiveness of his late leader G P Koirala and the resilience and dynamism of his coalition colleague and successor Prachanda.

Another challenge in front of Deuba, which he is acutely aware of, is to maintain a credible balance between India and China. India has publicly supported the NC-Maoist coalition and is expected to continue to do so. India must widen and reinforce its development cooperation with Nepal. Importantly, it should not let the unstated and sectarian agenda of a section of political stakeholders within the ruling BJP, around the revival of the Nepal monarchy and a presumed “Hindu state” vitiate wider national interests in the Himalayan republic.

Similarly, Deuba must engage actively with China, not only because of China’s assertive push into South Asia as a whole. But he must also remain careful and attentive to ensure that Nepal’s signature on the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) doesn’t mean that his country is dragged into a relationship of economic dependency with its northern neighbour nor is it allowed to become a strategic cockpit between India and China.

There is much Nepal can learn from the experience of China’s role in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and even Pakistan. In all these countries, China has resolutely pushed its strategic objectives as well under the cover of economic cooperation and infrastructural projects.

SD Muni is a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies & Analysis (IDSA), has been a professor Emeritus at Jawaharlal Nehru University and has been a former ambassador of India to Laos

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  1. H
    Jun 29, 2017 at 8:10 pm
    The posturing and parties of K.P.Oli and Sher Bahadur are different, but their policies are same. He will not take Madhesi, Tharu, Dalit and Janjatis on board. He will push for elections without amendment. The elections may be technically successful but the cons ution will fail.
    1. Mahendra Sakya
      Jun 13, 2017 at 8:19 am
      going by deubas past record, nepal is heading for confrontation and turmoil
      1. Gobinda Chhantyal
        Jun 11, 2017 at 12:39 am
        This is really well observed opinion on newly Deuba led coalition government and present situation of Nepal... If really Deuba did as above-mentioned spirit...his political height would be tough than now...
        1. Tilak Shrestha
          Jun 10, 2017 at 9:50 pm
          What a dumb idea and example. Girija ins uted systemic corruption and compromised with Maoist terror. Prachand started the Maoist insurgency against democracy killed 17,000 and destro our precious infrastructure. The Morcha threats and demand is divisive and anti-national. Our cons ution does not discriminate any citizens Madheshi or other. Nepal is made of over 100 ethnic groups. We are proud of our diverse cultures, ethnicity and languages. We must work to promote all and bring them all in the main stream. But Jatis are not nations. The doctrine that Nepal first must be divided into nations and s ched back as Sanghiyata with the right to secede must be understood and rejected. The Sanghiyata is not our aspiration, but imposed on us from outside through Maoists terror. There must be public debate and referendum. Let informed people decide. We must diversify our trade and transit. Chinese OBOR is economic diversification among neighbors, not a military pact.
          1. Dwarika Dhungel
            Jun 10, 2017 at 4:52 pm
            As usual, Prof. Muni has shown himself as so called Nepal expert and preacher to Nepali leaders on what they are supposed to do to serve the interest of those Indian politicians, bureaucrats and academia, claimed to be the propounders of 12 points Delhi agreements- source of all evils in today's Nepalese political situation. From this writeup, Prof Muni seems to be getting restless and nervous of emerging thinking in BJP on the need of reviewing Nepal policy designed by people like Shyam Sharan and supported by him (Prof. Muni). Therefore this article is nothing but the product of nervous mind of Prof. Muni. If not he should have analysed the post 12 points New Delhi agreement on Nepal in unbiased and academic manner rather than trying to create further rift between what he calls Pahadis and others. How far Mr. Deuba & Prachanda - like other corrupt Nepalese leaders including Girija Prasad Koirala, would listen to Prof. Muni Nepalese would watch very carefully and proactively act.
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