Future Left Govt in Nepal can’t afford Himalayan blunder
The political climate is all set to change in Nepal with the country’s Left alliance Maoists and Communists certain to form a Government in Kathmandu.
The Nepali Congress alliance of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, comprising Madhesi parties and former royalists, is not likely to pose a serious challenge. The first part of Direct Election has given huge margin in favour of the Communists and Maoists combined and chances are high that Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli — a Nepalese politician, who served as the 38th Prime Minister of the country from October 2015 to August 2016 — will occupy the chair of Prime Minister.
Oli’s return cannot be seen as a loss of face for India’s Nepal policy. The politics is not static. Earlier Oli was dogmatically opposed to India as he had led a protest against the Indian blockade, and against the Madhesis. He used the card of Indian interference in Nepal’s sovereignty to move away from India towards China. Throughout his election campaign, Oli continued to reap advantage by criticising India’s policy towards to the Himalayan Kingdom.
For long, he tried to instil anti-Bharat sentiments and continued to engage with China. The October alliance between the two Left parties was calibrated by China. During the Deuba regime in the last six months, some of the agreements inked during the Oli regime between Nepal and China was scraped. Looking at the trend, China was keen to assuage the drift between the two Left parties to help form a communist government.
After the Doklam crisis, China is getting more aggressive in creating strategic challenges for India in Nepal.
The restoration of peace and democracy in Nepal has several tales to tell. It is required to understand the dynamics of the new structure and its longevity. The elections held in two phases on November 26 in 32 pahadi districts and on December 7 in the remaining 45 were very significant, being the first under the 2015 Constitution of Nepal. Earlier this year, local government elections were held in three phases. These elections marked the culmination of the process that started in November 2006 with the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) to set up federal structure.
Nepal has now formally transformed into a federal democratic republic. The House of Representatives consists of 275 members, of which 165 would be elected directly under the first-past-the-post system while the remaining 110 will come through the proportional representation system.
Therefore, the formation of a Left government cannot be ignored. Under the new system, the PM will remain seated for at least two years and it is during this period no confidence motion will not be applicable. It is important to point out that the term of PM is of five years.
Challenges for Oli
Now the moot question is how to maintain peace and political stability in the Tarai areas. The discontent among the Madhesis and others are still un-addressed. Now that Oli and the Left alliance have bagged a majority, it will be interesting to see how they handle the contentious issue of Constitution’s amendment that the Madhes-based parties are demanding. The amendment, among others, is aimed at giving the Madhesi/minority population greater political representation. It is perhaps not lost on Oli that all the top leaders of Madhes-based parties — Upendra Yadav, Mahanta Thakur, Anil Jha and Rajendra Mahato — have been elected and his all-conquering Left alliance has fared poorly in Province 2, with a dominant Madhesi population.
The political rigidity will bring forth unrest and violence like 2015. Merely pleasing China will not pave the way for Oli. Last time Oli committed many mistakes. Soon after he became the PM in October 2015, he decided to diversify Nepal’s dependence on Indian fuel, medicines and other commodities by signing an agreement to purchase one-third of the landlocked country’s petroleum needs from China. Both Kathmandu and Delhi knew that it was practically impossible to implement such a trade deal, considering 85 per cent of its trade passes through Nepal.
Yet another major factor that has resonated with the voters is Oli’s handling of relations with India and China. When New Delhi imposed an undeclared border blockade against Nepal in 2015-16, Oli signed watershed trade and transit framework agreements with China. For the first time, Nepal could now import its oil from China and use Chinese roads, railways and ports for third-country trade.
Issue of Kalapani between Bharat and Nepal
Kalapani is a region close to Nepal and the Himalayan country has been staking claim over the disputed territory for years. Kalapani is a 35-square-kilometre area in the Uttarakhand’s Pithoragarh district.
Uttarakhand shares an 80.5-km long porous border with Nepal and a 344-km border with China. Kalapani is considered the origin of Kali River that flows from Nepal and enters Uttarakhand. In fact, both the nations are also working on a joint hydropower project, Pancheshwar, on the river on the Indian side.
Above Kalapani, there is no demarcation (of the boundary) between India and Nepal till China border. This could lead to problems in the coming time. Nepal has been claiming its right over Kalapani and calling it a part of its Darchula district. After Doklam, Bharat is very concerned about Kalapani dispute. It may provide an opportunity for China to flare up the issue along with a Communist government in Nepal.
Chinese Rail route in Nepal: Will it work?
China under the “one belt one road” system is trying to woo Nepal through building networks of rail and roads. But it looks grand on paper; the moment it comes down on the ground, it tells a pathetic story. The Chinese rail route is nothing more than “the showcase for Nepal”. Trade through China to Nepal has many technical as well practical problems. First, building such a railway track across the tallest mountains of the world would be a very costly affair. This is over and above the steep environmental and socio-economic challenges to be faced especially by Nepal. The Chinese railway line has now reached Shigatse in Tibet. From here, it has to cross a crucial 564-km stretch in the high altitude region to reach the Nepal border for a further journey across the Himalayas. Globally, there is no history of container freight movement at such altitudes. The train travel time from China to Nepal will be almost a month.
Second, the Chinese economy is in trouble. Is it temporary or fleeting has to be analysed? The cost of goods will face double taxation: one in Tibet and another in Nepal. Therefore, the price of oil or any goods from China will have unimaginable price which will be difficult for Nepalis to bear.
Third, Chinese industries are located almost Southeast of China. Distance from Kathmandu would be more than 2,500 km. China is a not fool. The goods train from Nepal will return to China without any goods? Nepal does not produce anything substantive to deliver. One way trade does not move in any part of the world. Whereas, distance with Indian oil refinery in Bihar to Nepal is maximum 200 km. India has 15 transit points on its border with Nepal, along with five transit routes to and from Bangladesh and Bhutan.
Bharat has always stood up with Nepal in the moment of crisis. New Delhi was the first responder after the devastating April 25, 2015, Nepal earthquake, with the Modi Government mobilising resources and manpower to ensure relief reached the spot within hours. Besides, India and Nepal are seen to share a special relationship, with an open border and Nepalese nationals living and working in India, besides being welcome to serve in the Indian Army.
The political system in Nepal has achieved a major success by creating a federal democratic structure. But Oli’s second term will be difficult if he sticks to his anti-Bharat stand. Prachanda, another Maoist leader, had tried to move on the same route but had to ultimately change his formula to survive in Nepal politics. Oli needs to learn from his predecessor. Nepal’s trade and social structures are connected with Bharat. It cannot breach India’s friendship for China’s inducements. The Modi regime is working on “One culture and two nations theories”, which is very effective for both the countries.
Time will be the best judge to weigh the political acumen of Communist leaders in Nepal.
(The writer is Head of the Department of Political Science, Central University of Haryana)
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