How Modi visit left Nepal’s politics in a massive mess
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Nepal visit has once again stirred the political pot in the Himalayan nation. The Left alliance of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre) — which was going strong just a while ago, is now on shaky ground and almost in tatters. Also, Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is no more the unwavering “nationalist” he was being hailed as before the Modi avalanche hit the Himalayas.
Hardly hours after Modi left Nepal, Oli was uncharacteristically apologetic. Addressing Parliament on Modi’s visit, Oli accepted his government’s weaknesses in handling the visit. Even though he reiterated that the relationship between the two nations cannot remain strained forever, he nevertheless “praised the patriotic people of Nepal” for “keeping tabs on the government and its lapse so that such things don’t repeat again and past mistakes are corrected”.
He added that he had “taken the concerns of media and intellectuals very seriously”.
Speaking in Parliament, PM Oli evoked Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un summit, scheduled in June this year, as an example of how nations must mend ties, but he certainly was concerned about the dent in his “nationalist” image and the anger the visit had generated in Kathmandu.
The delay in unity
The Oli-led UML and Prachanda’s Maoist-Centre fought the elections together with the promise of merging the two parties and forming a single communist bloc in Nepal. The election promise is still unfulfilled and, post Modi’s visit, looks doubtful. The long and uncertain wait for the merger has frustrated the supporters and workers of the parties and various morchas. On the occasion of Communist Party’s formation day, April 22, which also happens to be the birth anniversary of Lenin, the two sides were caught in skirmishes and raised slogans against each other. The Maoist-Centre supporters accused the UML workers of showing arrogance by not putting Lenin’s picture on the podium. They were also unhappy that Prachanda was not welcomed with equally distinctive words as was used for KP Oli. The programme began only after the organisers hung an image of Lenin along with KP Oli’s picture and Prachanda was introduced elaborately.
Since the elections, both Oli and Prachanda have been telling their supporters that the unification is just a matter of time. Firstly, it was due before Oli’s India visit. Then there were news that the merger would happen before PM Modi’s return visit. A month ago, Oli and Prachanda had signed a seven-point unity agreement and formed a team of top leaders to resolve the issues related with the merger. But since then the enthusiasm has evaporated and the merger, as one Maoist central committee leader told in confidence, is a non-agenda, that is, they have even stopped discussing it in the meetings.
Modi sharpens the divide
As soon as Modi landed in Nepal’s Janakpur, the cracks between the two parties began to show. While Prachanda kept a low profile throughout Modi’s stay, his ministers too gave a miss to all state programmes. Nepal’s minister of energy, Barshaman Pun, did not attend the inauguration of hydropower project Arun III.
His associate complained that he was not invited. Later the Maoists leaders boycotted the civil reception given to Modi in Kathmandu. It is learnt that Oli is cancelling the political appointments made in recommendation by the coalition partner Maoist Centre. He has even started to ignore suggestions offered to him by Prachanda.
Will Prachanda pull out?
By now it is almost clear that the UML’s top leadership is not very sure about Prachanda’s leadership. Ever since the UML was formed in the 1990s, it seen Prachanda and his party as rivals. Even during the People’s War day, the Maoist cadres had often attacked the UML leaders and workers in places of their influence. Curiously, even today UML’s website has a link to the names of 490 of its cadres killed by the Maoist-Centre activists. The page reads: “The number of victims of the conflict is several times higher than the workers killed during the party’s struggle against the Rana regime, Panchayat system or the monarchy.”
Similarly, the Maoist leaders too are increasingly becoming weary about the merger. The way the leaders are being sidelined is seen as a warning for future. According to the central committee leader, mentioned earlier, that the youth wing of the party – Young Communist League – and most of the intellectuals and the foreign department of the party are against the unity. However he says, at the end, Prachanda will have the last say in the matter.
It is not clear yet what is in Prachanda’s mind, but it seems he is ready to give some more time to his comrade Oli to put his house in order. Oli and Prachanda are ambitious and both need each other. But both of them should also keep in mind that the delay in unity is not taking them anywhere.
If the merger isn’t hastened, it will only accelerate the split. And the takeaway for Oli is, national chauvinism, red or saffron, is like the djinn of the Arabian Nights, easy to evoke, difficult to control.
This article was first published on 15 May 2018 on dailyo.in