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'Nepal thinks China can give them something'

By SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF
January 04, 2021 10:25 IST
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'This allows opportunities for (Chinese) entry into the domestic politics of Nepal, something that is also encouraged by Nepali politicians's willingness to play the China card (vis-a-vis India).'

IMAGE: Protesters affiliated with a faction of the ruling Nepal Communist Party protest in Kathmandu against the dissolution of parliament, December 29, 2020. Photograph: Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters

Fearing ouster from the Nepal Communist Party and losing power, Nepal's Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli recommended the dissolution of parliament and called for a fresh election in April.

This has led to turmoil in Nepal's politics. Oli's rivals in the ruling Nepal Communist Party say Oli had no right to dissolve the Parliament.

The Chinese Communist party rushed Guo Yezhou, vice-minister of the CCP central committee's international department, to resolve differences between Oli and his opponents in the Nepal Communist Party.

Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com spoke to Manjeev Singh Puri, India's former ambassador to Nepal, to find out why China intervened in the Nepalese political crisis and why India stayed away.

 

Why is Nepal's democracy floundering? Why can't Nepal learn from India on how to implement a successful democracy?

Nepal's democracy is obviously inspired by India.

The two main political parties, including the Communist party, had their birth in India.

So, there is no doubt that India is in their point of reference.

But Nepal has its own peculiarity and don't forget that Nepal had 250 years of monarchy.

Therefore, democracy came through a great deal of struggle.

People also had to be ready.

It is my belief that today in Nepal, people are quite empowered and are wedded to democracy even though democracy has its own frailties.

I think it is difficult to take away democracy from Nepal.

Why couldn't Oli bring unity in the Nepal Communist Party which was much needed for the country to become democratically stable?

This is day-to-day politics.

Mr Oli won an election in which his political party received a near two-third majority.

There is no issue of unity of Nepal, but this is about political parties and their unity.

The election win was predicated on a simple fact that he had done a deal with other senior leaders that includes one of them (rival Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda') where people say there was a power sharing deal.

PM Oli has gone back on that (deal) now.

In Nepal, going back on political promises is an old habit.

Political leaders have often committed various things to take advantage of it, come to power and then renege on it.

That is the nature of Nepali political culture and is exactly what has happened.

Consequently, he is unlikely to have majority in his own party and in parliament.

He has therefore played a heavy card and dissolved parliament stating that he will go to the people.

The constitution of Nepal does not speak about dissolution of Parliament.

It enjoins for parliamentarians to make every effort to form a government.

But, of course, the Westminster form of government does have precedence of dissolution of parliament.

So, what is happening now is politics.

Is Prachanda so strong in the Communist Party of Nepal that Oli feels threatened?

The Nepal Communist Party is a combination of parties on the left.

The Nepal Communist Party (United Marxist Leninist) which Oli headed.

Then there was the other Communist party which was the Maoist Centre led by Prachanda.

In the elections, certainly Mr Oli's UML was a dominant partner.

But the deal that was struck pre-election with Prachanda's party was about power sharing.

If I am not mistake,n it was 60:40 split (seat sharing) and Prachanda contested 40 per cent of the seats.

Within the UML itself there are leaders who are disgruntled with PM Oli as he has not done what he had promised them.

The situation is, therefore, not comfortable for PM Oli.

People used to say -- and I am a bit out of date -- in the central committee of Nepal Communist Party he didn't have a majority as there were many delegates who were not of his faction.

That is the nature of political threat to PM Oli.

IMAGE: A protester affiliated with a faction of the ruling Nepal Communist Party walks past graffiti reading 'Save Our Parliament' during a protest in Kathmandu against the dissolution of parliament, December 29, 2020. Photograph: Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters

How can China meddle in Nepal's politics?

Nepal has a 1,400 km border with China and we should remember this fact.

Nepal has a 1,850 km border with India.

We should also remember that Nepal is a part of South Asia.

India shares a unparalleled civilisational link with Nepal and there is no doubt about it.

But there is also a Tibet link with Nepal.

The question you are asking is not about links, but about geopolitics.

China has grown in the world and in Asia.

They have grown in financial capabilities.

People look at them as an investment source to do trade and business.

They think China can contribute some way or the other.

Nepal thinks China can give them something and so remains open to them.

This, of course, allows opportunities for (Chinese) entry into the domestic politics of Nepal, something that is also encouraged by Nepali politicians's willingness to play the China card (vis-a-vis India).

Nepal is a polity where (political) games are constant and politicians are in the business of playing games.

Till recently -- for at least last 15 years or so -- there was no political party which had absolute dominance in parliament and that allowed all kind of games to take place.

The Communist party, of course, has a certain kind of pre-disposition towards Communist parties all over the world and this includes China.

So there is kind of affinity and hence political foreign policy opportunity for China.

But the people of Nepal are linked with India, though, of course, geopolitics certainly has a place in Nepal.

How should India react to this crisis?

Our government has been very correct.

In Nepal if anything happens, the easiest answer is to blame India or to find some excuses and say India should do this or that.

They (Nepalese politicians) use India to detract from the real problem in their domestic politics or balance of power within Nepal itself.

So to disrupt things, India is roped in (this is how it works in Nepal).

This time it is not possible and very correctly the Government of India is saying this (crisis) is Nepal's internal issue.

Nepal is a vibrant democracy.

I wrote in a recent article that even COVID-19 has not kept Nepalese politicians and parliamentarians at home in the lockdown.

They continue with their games even in the lockdown and during difficult economic situations.

What will be good for India considering that Oli is seen as being anti-India?

We are all aware of that issue (border row) you are talking about.

But PM Oli has of late reached out to us.

He wished PM Modi on August 15.

Then we had senior (diplomatic) level visits from India to Nepal.

India continues to remain the biggest country in terms of trade and civilisational links which will remain.

For me, ties with Nepal will strengthen even more as we build economic links and our (road) connectivity, and trade ties.

We must also continue to strengthen our political links with Nepal.

We have been a source and inspiration for democracy in Nepal.

What is the problem between Prachanda and Oli?

They are eyeing the same job -- either the prime minister of Nepal or chairman of the Nepal Communist Party.

Currently, the Nepal Communist Party chairman is co-chaired, but you cannot have co-prime ministers.

So, the answer is quite simple and straightforward.

The crisis in Nepal is the battle for the (PM's) chair.

Are Oli's detractors right in saying that Nepal's constitution does not give the PM the right to dissolve parliament?

I am not a legal expert, but Nepal's constitution is a new constitution that makes a lot of reference to efforts among parliamentarians to try and ensure that a government is formed and that parliament lasts its full term of five years.

This is a legal decision which will be taken by Nepal's supreme vourt.

Prachanda and Madhav Kumar Nepal said Oli has made several mistakes and that is why he was being removed from the post. Can you specify what mistakes Oli has committed?

If the political leaders of Nepal had concentrated on governance, many things would have been different.

After all, Nepal remains a poor country even though It has done reasonably well in recent years.

PM Oli had a unique opportunity having won such a large mandate (to focus on development).

For the first time in recent memory in Nepal there was non-fractured polity.

Yet instead of focusing on governance, the focus continued to be on politics within his party and outside his party.

So, the political games continued to be played though you did not need to play without focus on development, governance and providing better life for the people of Nepal.

This (lack of development) had something got people up in arms.

For last year or so you had demonstrations, agitations on several subjects linked with governance.

Whether it is medical, education or other things, people are agitating against the government.

That is what is giving an opportunity to Oli's opponents in his party and outside to go against him.

Because if people were satisfied where would his opponents have the opportunity to take him on.

Take the case of COVID-19.

Nepal is a hugely remittance dependent country.

Remittance comes to Nepal from all over the world, but particularly from the Gulf and ASEAN.

Those countries certainly have taken some kind of hit.

Today, though there may be some kind of rise in remittance, but in time COVID-19 will certainly have a negative impact (on Nepal's economy).

This was an opportunity for governance and do something what could be done to better lives of people of Nepal.

But instead politics was played.

Isn't it a sad situation?

It is.

Nepal is not a small country by European standards.

It is a large country with 30 million people.

The PM could have focused on good governance for which he had the political mandate and tremendous change in the lives of the people of Nepal and development could have been brought about in Nepal.

But at the end of the day, not governance and development, but politics around personal power remained at the fore.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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