Updated: May 13, 2021 8:30:11 am
The political churn in Nepal has taken yet another turn. Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli has lost the confidence of the country’s Parliament. The main opposition, Nepali Congress, headed by Sher Bahadur Deuba, is likely to stake claim to form the government but faces an uphill task in cobbling a majority. Deuba has to woo the faction of Oli’s party that voted against its own leader, which includes two former prime ministers. He may get the support of Oli’s former partner, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre headed by Prachanda. But crucial to his efforts to make it to the halfway mark in the House of 267 will be the support of the Terai region’s Janata Samajbadi Party. The JSP, perceived as pro-India, split down the middle in the confidence vote, one half abstaining in apparent support of the pro-China Oli, and the other half voting against him. With India seen as a prime suspect in any political turmoil in Nepal, the division in the JSP has triggered much speculation.
Delhi was miffed with Oli until not too long ago for playing the Beijing card, and for his sudden territorial spat with India in the middle of India’s own stand-off with the People’s Liberation Army in eastern Ladakh. However, since late last year, after a train of high profile visits by top Indian officials, Oli is seen to have somewhat distanced himself from Beijing, and he has not raised the border issue again. Even the anti-Oli faction of the JSP is reluctant to endorse Deuba as a prime ministerial candidate. Provided he stakes claim by the May 13 deadline, Deuba gets a month to prove his majority. Amidst all the uncertainty, Oli, who has the single largest number of votes in Parliament, and a supportive president, may be hoping still for a comeback, even though he has lost much of the popular support that saw him re-elected in 2018.
Nepal’s second wave of COVID mirrors India’s, with a huge surge in the number of cases. This is no surprise because of the open border and the close people-to-people contacts. Nepal’s health infrastructure is as bad, if not worse, than that of the Indian states which share borders with it. The country’s political instability is sure to distract from its anti-COVID efforts. India should make it clear that it is keeping out of the current jockeying for power. At a time when the Modi government needs to focus on handling the pandemic at home, it can ill afford to be drawn into the political uncertainty next door.