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Oli: Oli has played a chess move to save his position; impact on Nepal to be seen

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The dissolution of Parliament and the announcement of mid-term polls in April-May 2021marks a new phase of political turmoil and uncertainty in Nepal. Faced with a no-confidence motion from his own parliamentary party colleagues, Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli quickly pre-empted this move with the solid backing of President Bidya Devi Bhandari.

The president herself had been under attack with rumours of an impeachment motion against her, given her unstinted support to PM Oli in the swift promulgation of several ordinances that strengthened the position of the prime minister, particularly in making appointments to constitutional bodies, including the all powerful anticorruption authority. There has been widespread condemnation of Oli’s moves in Nepal, by political leaders, constitutional experts and the media.

Over the last few months, Nepal has been facing multiple crises. The poor handling of the Covid pandemic and its economic fallout, the internal dissensions within the ruling party, the street agitations by those in favour of the monarchy and a Hindu State, protests by the opposition Congress party — all reflected the failure of the Oli regime to make progress towards the goal of Samriddh Nepal, Sukhi Nepali.

Chinese efforts to facilitate a patch up between the two factions of the Nepal Communist Party were unsuccessful. As long as the Chinese were supporting Oli, things were fine but when Oli realised that China was more interested in the NCP remaining united rather than in the continuation of his leadership, his strategy changed. From a time when he was playing the anti-India nationalism card symbolised in the new map of Nepal, Oli changed tack and started making overtures to India.

India responded positively by sending a series of visitors, including the chief of RAW, the army chief, the foreign secretary and, most recently, the head of the foreign affairs cell of the BJP to Nepal in quick succession. Given her core interests in Nepal, India did not want the long hiatus in India-Nepal cooperation to continue, particularly in view of the expanding Chinese footprint.

The fallout from Oli’s constitutional coup remains unclear. Challenges against the dissolution are now pending before the Supreme Court but when and how the court will act remains uncertain. Within the ruling NCP both factions are planning their respective strategies. While seven ministers belonging to the Prachanda-Madhav Nepal faction have resigned, two erstwhile Maoists remain; there are rumours that other ex-Maoists are waiting in the wings to join.

A split in the NCP seems likely though given that all levers of power are now in the hands of Oli, he may attract more members than anticipated. Nepali Congress, the main opposition party, is expected to start a street agitation against Oli’s move, though there are voices that are keener on preparations for the next general elections rather than a restitution of Parliament where the communists had a two-thirds majority.

However, if past precedent is any indicator, there is no certainty that elections will be held during the current time frame in which case Nepal would be faced with another grave constitutional crisis. This would indeed, put a question mark on Nepal’s new Constitution adopted in 2015 amidst considerable tumult. Should this happen, many of the old issues of federalism, secularism, republicanism could be reopened, ushering in another phase of conflict and turmoil and prolonged instability in the country. India has historically supported movements for democracy and progressive change in Nepal.

Nepal’s security and stability is in our interest. Prolonged instability will make Nepal vulnerable to inimical influences, including from third countries and actors. Though in the short term it may lead to a weakening of the communist force in Nepal, the longer term implications for democracy in Nepal are worrisome. India has thus far not commented on recent developments on the grounds that these are internal matters of Nepal.

It is important to monitor the situation and evolving developments; however the touchstone for our policy should be to support the democratic aspirations of the people of Nepal. Oli, who has lost support within his party, has made a chess move to save his own position. The longer term impact on democratic process in Nepal remains to be seen.

The writer is a former envoy to Nepal

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