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Political Temperatures are running high in Nepal

By R C Saldi


Political Temperatures are running high in Nepal

The inevitable has happened in the tiny Himalayan nation of Nepal. After the dejure
split in the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), the dissident faction led by
yesteryears strongman, Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ has expelled Prime
Minister KP Sharma Oli from the primary membership of the party. “We axed
Oli for violating party statute and recommending dissolution of Pratinidhi
Sabha, the Lower House of Parliament”, they said in justification of their actions.

 

The dissidents had sacked Oli as Co-chair of the party two days after Parliament
was dissolved on 20 December and anointed veteran Madhav Kumar Nepal in
his place.

 

Oli camp did not indulge in any tit for tat action, not as yet. It is holding back its
fire. In a display of steel nerve, the beleaguered Prime Minister expanded the
445-member Central Committee, the policy decision-making body to 1199
members forum. While this move did send an assertive signal to the cadres, it
did not help his case before the Election Commission for recognition as the sole
NCP voice. To his relief, his bete noire, Prachanda fared no better with his
legitimacy claims.

 

The Election Commission poured cold water on Oli and Prachanda alike, ruling
that the two factions had not followed the provisions of the Political Parties Act,
2017 that govern splits. And refused to take cognizance of the post-split
actions. As a consequence, for the poll body, NCP remains intact as “a single
party, technically and legally” and Oli and Prachanda remain its Co-chairs- a
position they had assumed when Oli’s CPN (UML) and Prachanda’s CPN
(Maoist) merged in May 2018.

 

Not surprisingly, therefore, Oli and Prachanda are back at their strategy sessions.
They can be expected to draw their road map only when the Supreme Court
delivers its verdict on the constitutional validity of snap poll ordered by Prime
Minister Oli after Prachanda stole his thunder in the NCP parliamentary party.
The court verdict will not have an impact on Poll Body’s ruling on the status of
NCP since both issues are not on the same page. So, this pops up the question:
Will the Oli and Prachanda factions enter the fray as separate entities? If so
under what banners. Since both cannot fight under the NCP flag, will they seek
to roll back the merger by reviving their old outfits?

 

There are no short answers. Given the way, Prachanda has hit the streets with
demonstrations and protest marches, and the manner in which Oli is brazenly marshaling his resources, one thing is clear. There is going to be no dull moment in the days ahead before the ballot takes place as planned on 30 April and 10 May.

Well, much would depend on the verdict the Constitution Bench of the apex
court delivers. The hearings are in full swing with the Attorney General batting
for Prime Minister Oli and leading constitutional eagles contending that Oli’s
decision was morally indefensible and constitutionally ultra vires.

 

Against the backdrop of political turmoil in Nepal, there appears an upturn in its
relations with India. Frankly, it is a diplomatic feat unexpected of Oli
government, which had gone the extra mile to kick up a row with New Delhi
with a cartographic misadventure over the Kalapani border issue.

It is possible he had seen virtue in befriending India once again to ward off
pressure from the Dragon which wanted him to swallow his pride and patch up
with Prachanda. The political diplomacy the Chinese envoy conducted placed
in the public domain what hitherto was limited to the foreign office and diplomatic
circuit that China wants NCP unity at all costs. And, Oli, the master politician,
saw his opening for a new gambit in this blatant interference in domestic
politics.

 

Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali disappoint Oli with his three-day mission to
New Delhi (Jan 14-16, 2021). The visit went as scripted. He co-chaired the
India-Nepal Joint Commission with his Indian counterpart. S. Jaishankar
discussed a host of bilateral subjects of mutual interest ranging from
connectivity, tourism, and energy to develop partnership and capacity
building. and made a proforma reference to the Kalapani border issue.

 

His diplomat issue was in full display when he interacted with egg-heads at the
Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) in New Delhi. “Both sides have
agreed to resolve the boundary question through talks. No outstanding issue will
be allowed to become an irritant in an otherwise friendly relationship”. The
Gyawali-speak may not mean that Kalapani is securely on the backburner. The
wily Oli can make it a poll issue to secure his return to the driver’s seat in
Kathmandu. But what it means certainly is that Kathmandu will not let the issue
become a major irritant in bilateral relations.

 

Gyawali and his Prime Minister are more than keen on a Covid bailout from
India. Their concern was understandable because of the perception about the
Chinese vaccine, and of Chinese message that there is no free lunch. The tally of Covid 19 affected persons has touched three hundred thousand, and it is a big number for Nepal with a small population of thirty million.

 

Though India has not been hiding its annoyance with the Oli ways, it did not let
him down in combat the pandemic. The Joint Commission meeting
provided a perfect backdrop to announce vaccine supplies to Kathmandu. This
decision has fit in well with India’s vaccine diplomacy that has benefitted
Bangladesh, Bhutan. Sri Lanka and several other countries.

 

By all means, temperatures have come down in the India-Nepal relations. But
this is only some solace to Oli as he gets ready for the electoral battle while
factoring in the China factor. He appears to be once again befriending
Bamdev Gautam, a senior leader of the dissident group. Last year, he had
offered to step down in favor of Gautam and thus created division among the
ranks of his opponents. Gautam has just now announced a countrywide
campaign for NCP unity, dissociating himself from the anti-Oli agitation
launched by Prachanda. What prompts him to shift his stand? Your guess is as
good as mine. Any doubt!

 

No government in Nepal has completed its full five-year term since the
overthrow of the monarchy. Political parties are literally squandering away the
opportunity at their door-step to carve out a new future for the Himalayan
nation. People are getting increasingly disillusioned with their shenanigans.
Nepal, especially capital Kathmandu is currently witnessing two types of
protests: one against the dissolution of Pratinidhi Sabha, and the second a pro-
Monarchy campaign – demanding reinstallation of Monarchy.

 

 

At the forefront of the campaign ‘Bring Back Monarchy’ is the Rashtriya
Prajatantra Party (RRP). It is trying to garner support for its pro-monarchy
agenda by holding rallies and protest marches across the country. The short –
point is that the political atmosphere is really surcharged. And for the Election
Commission, smooth conduct of polls will be a herculean task even if the
Supreme Court gives the go-ahead. (Syndicate Features)

 

(Mr. R.C. Saldi is a senior journalist/columnist who had a long stint in Kathmandu))

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