Soon after fortifying his home turf — more than a two-third majority in parliament, all the investigative agencies of the state under PMO, factional leaders within the ruling party reduced to non-entities — K P Oli seems to have undertaken a more difficult task. He has now set out to ask the international community to not meddle in Nepal’s internal politics.
On Wednesday, he asked Foreign Secretary Shankar Bairagi not to let European Union Election Observers Team get away with their recommendation to the Nepal government to do away with the reservation quota extended to “Khas-Arya” (equivalent of Brahmins and Kshatriyas in India) in the federal parliament and provincial legislature, along with other ethnic groups and minorities in the country. The government described the remark as uncalled for and a “direct challenge to the constitutional provisions”.
While the Nepalese Federation of Indigenous Nationalities, one of the largest beneficiaries of foreign funds, came out openly in favour of the recommendation made by the EU election observers team, leaders cutting across party lines denounced it as “meddling”.
In the past 12 years, Nepal has witnessed a “partnership” between international agencies and donors This partnership has benefited political parties including the Communist Party of Nepal-UML and its coalition partner, the CPN-Maoist Centre, the Nepali Congress and Madhes-centric groups. In 2006, the UNDP, EU and its member nations individually, besides India, had mobilised international support for the political course Nepal undertook and they have continued to expand their influence since.
Some of them have directly or through partner NGOs even funded and extended support to the secessionist movement in Tarai and the ethnicity-driven militant politics in the hills and mountains. UNDP is being accused of pursuing a policy of “negative discrimination” towards Khas-Arya in the name of empowering “oppressed” and marginalised groups. The EU team’s recommendation for negative discrimination towards Khas-Arya is not an isolated remark.
But Oli, armed with the massive mandate he secured, on a “development and nationalist plank”, may not even hesitate to tell the international community to back off. The warning to the EU election observers’ team is seen as a first sign of the shift in approach. Government officials, especially those in charge of internal security, believe that the EU approach has multiple aims: Open funding of conversion, fragmenting the majority Hindu community — dividing them into hill and plain Hindus and creating a divide between Khas-Arya and the others.
Oli is likely to undertake a three-day official trip to India from April 6 as the Narendra Modi government is trying to regain the goodwill it lost in recent years. The Indian National Congress had openly supported the Maoists who spearheaded a war against the Nepalese state in 2006. When took office in 2014, the BJP had accused the Congress of pursuing a “wrong” neighbourhood policy, without ever defining what the right policy was. But four years down the line, the INC plenary in Delhi last week turned the tables on the Modi government. Never before in independent India’s history has the country has been so diminished in its periphery, the plenary concluded.
While the loss of India’s clout and the proportionate growth in the influence of China is a direct fallout of the way New Delhi conducted its Nepal policy under both the UPA and the NDA regimes, the onus to mend ties lies more with India than Nepal. A tactical alliance with political forces is perhaps the most counterproductive policy for any democracy in the long run. India appears to have already indicated to Oli that the blockade in the wake of the earthquake was a mistake. But checkmating China or blocking its influence in Nepal seems easier said than done.
The anger against the EU, UN and western forces in Nepal and the political reward he got for “not succumbing” to the Indian blockade may encourage Oli to take independent action. But international donors are all pervasive in Nepal. They have set up offices in the supreme court, government and the voluntary sector, engaging with a large spectrum of people directly or indirectly. Oli needs to tread cautiously, but a retreat in the name of pragmatism at this stage, may take a heavy toll on his image of a nationalist.