Prime Minister K.P. Oli’s government in Nepal dragged itself back, last week, from the Himalayan abyss towards which it was skipping — but its suicidal urges are certain to cause friends of the country no small amount of concern in months to come. This time, the government was saved after Pushpa Kumar Dahal, the leader of Nepal’s Maoists, reneged on a deal that would have meant abandoning the alliance with the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), and forming a new government with the Nepali Congress’s Sher Bahadur Deuba. Persuaded by influential figures both inside Nepal and in India, Dahal came to the conclusion that the Maoists’ best interests would be served by continuing with a Left-led, Left-dominated alliance government. In time, the alliance’s friends have promised, Oli will be made to keep his promises to hand over power to the Maoists, junior partners in the alliance, giving Dahal a chance to become prime minister. The Congress is entitled to feel hard done by — it had agreed to a deal that would have given it second place in a Dahal-led government, even though it has twice as many seats in Parliament — but is likely consoling itself with the thought that the last word hasn’t been written.
A blame-game has begun, putting fresh strain on India-Nepal ties. The Nepal government has cancelled the trip of President Bidhya Devi Bhandari to India and recalled its ambassador in Delhi. But for Prime Minister Oli’s government, the crisis must be an opportunity for introspection: Instead of laying the foundations for the republic that ought be emerging from the country’s new Constitution, it has instead allowed its energies to be frittered away on crisis after crisis. He has, notably, failed to build bridges with the peoples of Nepal’s Terai plains, where large swathes of opinion are embittered over what they perceive to be political disenfranchisement in favour of mountain communities. Though the violent movement that tore apart the country last year has stilled, the government has singularly failed to build a genuine consensus on the way forward. Perhaps more important, the government’s record on rebuilding infrastructure destroyed in last year’s earthquake has been appalling, to the dismay of international donors and the country’s people alike. There has been growing anger, too, over everything from controversial ambassadorial appointments, to that old feature of government across the region — corruption.
India’s considerable equities in this situation are clear: a Nepal torn by ethnic conflict, or lapsing back into armed violence, will have serious consequences across the border, too. There’s little doubt, though, that heavy-handed diplomacy will prove counter productive. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s early efforts to push Nepal into an accomodation with the Terai leadership achieved little, other than to harden faultlines within the country, and embitter large swathes of public opinion against India. Prime Minister Oli’s eleventh-hour reprieve, almost certainly, will be followed by many more trips to the chopping block. New Delhi must allow events to take their course, even as it impresses on Nepal’s leaders the importance of playing by the rules.
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