Analysis

Diplomatic blunder

Bindesh Dahal

Bindesh

PM KP Sharma Oli has dropped a diplomatic bombshell on Sunday whose repercussions the country will feel for a long time.

Speaking at a programme commemorating the birth of influential communist leader late Madan Bhandari at PM’s official residence Baluwatar, Oli said that plots have been hatched in India to topple him. He said, “We published an official map incorporating our territories. We even made the map constitutional. An environment has been created to push the narrative that the PM is about to be changed in a week or a fortnight. You may have heard the debates in India. That country’s state mechanism is unusually active. There are many activities in hotels in Nepal. The embassy is very active here.”

Thus, Oli has directly accused India of trying to depose him. He even gave the example in recent history when he was replaced by Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” after he managed to ink trade and transit deal with China following the Indian blockade during his first tenure as the PM.

It is an open secret that India engineers regime change in Nepal (remember India’s Former President Pranab Mukherjee’s interview on Aljazeera). But an incumbent prime minister explicitly claiming the fact is unprecedented in Nepal’s history. This statement will further worsen the relationship between two countries that has become frosty after India inaugurated a link road at Lipulekh which falls in Nepal’s territory.

Oli’s statement should be understood in the context of bitter infighting within his party NCP. Because of Oli’s arrogant and inflexible attitude mixed with utter mismanagement, the ruling party has been drawing flak across the political spectrum. There were preparations of ousting Oli from the post before coronavirus pandemic hit the country. But he was able to defeat the efforts of his rivals with one after another strategy.

Feeling that he had been cornered, Oli first threw the health card. He went to have kidney re-transplantation and was able to delay the secretariat meeting. After regaining health, pandemic turned out to be a good pretext for him to lengthen his tenure. But his government proved to be an utter failure in properly managing pandemic response. Then he threw the card of ordinances to facilitate splitting of parties. But that too backfired and he had to withdraw these ordinances.

Thus, Oli has been throwing everything at the rivals and the latter have scrambled to prepare counter-strategies. He floated the names of Bamdev Gautam and Madhav Kumar Nepal as his successor only to ditch them later. The map came as another strategy for Oli to cling to his post. He was able to burnish his nationalist credentials and also manage to stir people’s emotions.

But rival factions in the NCP have seen through this emotive move and have been asking the PM to resign from his post. Not willing to face the rivals, Oli had been providing different explanations to be absent from the Standing Committee meetings. He attended one of the meetings in which Prachanda and former PM Madhav Kumar Nepal criticized him for his failure in running the government and the party. To teach them a lesson, he has now thrown another “nationalist” card by pointing out Indian efforts in toppling him. By implication, he is trying to paint his rivals as Indian agents.

Dragging another country to suppress intra-party struggle sets a dangerous precedence and ultimately harms the interest of the country.

But dragging another country to suppress intra-party struggle sets a dangerous precedence and ultimately harms the interest of the country. If indeed plots have been hatched against him in the Indian embassy, he should summon up the Indian ambassador and ask for a clarification. But his statement is for public consumption and is one of the tactics to deflect attention from the utter mismanagement of the government which has put party in a tight spot.

Through this controversial statement, Oli has managed to further alienate India. At a time when India is hurting from a bitter border dispute with China, it does not suit Nepal well to put salt on its wounds.

Lack of dialogue with India after the constitutional amendment is worrying. The government should not think that it has done its duty by issuing the map. There should be a sincere effort to have diplomatic dialogue with India to remove that country’s troops from Kalapani. However, Minister of Foreign Affairs Pradeep Kumar Gyawali seems to have raised his hands in surrender by saying that India is not willing to sit for talks.

Now that Oli has damagingly excoriated India, that country will hesitate to initiate dialogue with Nepal. But surprisingly India has not taken any substantive action against Nepal post-fracas. If we look from the Indian side, Nepal has staked its claim (rightful, of course) on the lands that India has been using for the last 60 years and even incorporated them in Nepal’s political map. In India’s eyes, this is an attack on Indian sovereignty. But India has not done anything formally besides issuing statements.

Is it because it has learnt its lessons from the ill-advised blockade in 2015? Or is it refraining from opening a salvo against Nepal at a time when it is engaged in border dispute with China? Are there other powers who have asked India not to take any action against Nepal? How much is China involved in Nepal to act as a shield against Indian aggression? There are no easy answers to these questions.

Oli

Nonetheless, Oli’s misadventures in matters diplomatic will cause an irreparable harm to the country. It appears that Oli may have been bold enough to irk India because he gets unwavering support from China. Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi made hectic parleys with incumbent party leaders when it seemed that Oli was about to be ousted. But we cannot say for sure that China will keep propping up Oli given its treacherous history vis-a-vis Nepal (remember the lack of meaningful support during Anglo-Nepal War and even during Indian blockades).

The scribe believes that Oli may have been emboldened to poke into India’s nose with the support of the Americans who want to make Nepal a geopolitical playground to check the rise of both China and India. That must be the reason why Oli is all for bringing Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC) in Nepal despite bitter opposition within his party.

But the level of animosity against MCC in the country seems to have taken away Oli’s American prop. Oli’s rival Prachanda in a virtual workshop programme with Communist Party of China this month said that Nepal will not accept any programme which is under US’s military alliance. Leaders like Bhim Rawal and Jhala Nath Khanal too have been against the MCC saying that it is a part of US’s Indo-Pacific Strategy which aims to contain China. It is difficult for the much vilified MCC to get parliamentary ratification. One can be certain that rejecting MCC will estrange Nepal from the west.

Given this scenario, Oli and NCP appear to be steering the country to a ditch. Alienating democratic countries like India and the US and embracing authoritarian China with its barely credible history of support will spell disaster to the country which is not self-reliant. Misusing international relations to score a victory in domestic politics does not herald a bright future.

Published on 29 June 2020

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