Nepal in turmoil

| Updated on December 21, 2020

Under pressure Nepal PM Sharma Oli

Pragmatism by India is more advisable at this stage than proactive involvement

Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s surprise move this Sunday to dissolve the Lower House of Parliament, apparently as a manoeuvre to counter the discord within the ruling party and a challenge to his leadership, has precipitated a Constitutional crisis. The President Bidya Devi Bhandari has signed off on the Cabinet recommendation to dissolve the Nepalese Parliament and called for fresh elections in April-May, next year. While the decision has triggered pro-democracy protests and local newspapers have variously described the move as “treachery” and “coup de grace on Parliamentary democracy”, several petitions challenging the move have been filed in the Supreme Court. Although the Nepalese Constitution does not have a clear provision about House dissolution, the spontaneous eruption of street protests and anger against the move doubtless creates pressure on the judicial proceedings. An adverse decision on the dissolution of Parliament by the Supreme Court would bring the focus back on President Bhandari. And given the loss of credibility in this Constitutional office, further chaos is expected in the days to come.

It has emerged that the dissolution was triggered by reports of no-confidence against the Prime Minister by MPs led by his party co-chair and rival Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda”. It was also simultaneously aimed at preventing disciplinary proceedings against Oli by the most powerful members of the Nepal Communist Party Secretariat namely Prachanda, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhalanath Khanal et al. In either case, this is yet another instance of Oli’s remarkable survival skills. He has sought to redesign Nepalese nationalism on an anti-India pitch, using a slew of issues. In May and June, coinciding with China’s incursion into Indian territory and a heightening of tensions between India and China, Oli chose to show a patch of contested territory as part of Nepal in a revised map. He leveraged anti-India sentiment in the wake of the border blockade in 2015, in the process silencing detractors while also cultivating China.

India has, in the meantime, rebooted its diplomatic outreach with a series of high-profile visits to Kathmandu including the Army Chief Manoj Mukund Naravane, R&AW Chief Samant Goel and the Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla. The efforts have borne fruit with resumption of air travel between Delhi and Kathmandu this month as also fast-tracking of the railway line between Kathmandu to Raxaul in Bihar. However, given the political turmoil that looms over Nepal, India should adopt a strategy of detached pragmatism rather than proactive involvement. A fresh popular cry for democracy presents an opportunity for India to showcase its historical partnership in Nepal’s transition to democracy. Nepal is organically linked to India’s anti-colonial struggle with icons such as BP Koirala having spent years in prison with Jagjivan Ram and Rajendra Prasad. It is also a link that morally elevates the Indian engagement in Nepal beyond the scuffle with China for strategic influence in the Himalayas.

Published on December 21, 2020

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