Thursday, January 28, 2021

Political turmoil in Nepal: What next?

Image credit: elwatan.com

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Nepali politics is in a tailspin after the unexpected dissolution of House of Representatives by President Bidya Devi Bhandari on the recommendation of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli-led Council of Ministers. The Supreme Court (SC) of Nepal is hearing several writ petitions filed against the government decision and rival faction in the Nepal Communist Party as well as the opposition parties have launched protest programs against the government's "unconstitutional" move.

What next? Will fresh elections take place as announced and reiterated by PM Oli? Or will the SC pass the verdict to reinstate the House? What to make of Pushpa Kamal Dahal "Prachanda" and other leaders' suggestions that Oli is about to take the country backwards in cohorts with regressive forces?

It is widely accepted that the current political turmoil is not merely homegrown but a byproduct of geopolitical maneuvers by relevant foreign powers. Realistically speaking, Nepal's strategic location makes it difficult to wield sovereignty claims. In this background, India's Former Ambassador to Nepal Shyam Saran in his recent article hinted at "moves to bring in a non-controversial political figure as Prime Minister", replacing Oli. Whether India will have a role in this regime change is not clear.

Saran may have his own sources of information but one should keep in mind that he certainly does not represent the Indian establishment. Insiders in Indian politics are aware that Saran had tried to canvass among civil servants against Modi government just like the famed group "The Resistance" in Donald Trump administration in the United States. So, he is not privy to government secrets and in this case may just be airing word on the street.

That said, Saran's information is not totally off the mark. Insiders say that headhunting for a non/political figure to tide over the current crisis is in full swing. A section of people have been approached for the topmost post with conspiratorial hints of a kind of putsch (Constitutional coup has already become a buzzword after disbanding of the parliament). Pacts between civilian government and armed forces also are said to exist to deal with any emergency situation and extraneous geopolitical players have mediated to broker that deal. But these pieces of information are nigh impossible to verify independently.

Anyway, Saran's next sentence "Oli is bound to resist this" puts paid to possibility of anyone replacing Oli or President Bhandari. Oli has proved his political survival skills and acumen for realistic analysis on various occasions to be replaced easily. If both neighbors wish for a stable government in Nepal, they have to make do with Oli as the executive head. Oli might even exploit China's flexible attitude to ideology and India's Hindu nationalists' desire in Nepal. He has already endeared himself to the US by advocating the Millennium Challenge Corporation projects in the country so much so that today only he criticized the Speaker of House of Representatives for hindering ratification of MCC into law.  

The recently concluded visit of the Chinese delegation also is said to have dropped hints about propping up a force (not constrained to any political ideology) that can ensure stability (to safeguard China's security) in the country if the current impasse continues. Even if there is war of words in Indian and Chinese media regarding loss and gain of influence in Nepal, both countries' common interest is served in political stability of their common neighbor. In fact the two countries have jockeyed for influence in Nepal to prove a point to faraway powers that are in control of their immediate neighborhood. Otherwise, how can these Asian giants exert influence for example in Africa or South America? In this situation, they may agree to implement the 2+1 model in Nepal to fortify their security interests at a time when the US has been advancing its strategic interests.

Bearing in mind this security interest of both the neighbors in the form of stable Nepal, a hint for the immediate future is divined in Oli's tactics of filling his loyalists to the vital posts. The first amendment to Constitutional Council Act and the subsequent appointment of Prem Kumar Rai as the chief commissioner of the thoroughly weaponized Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority reflects a somewhat similar development in Bangladesh in 2007. If push comes to shove, Oli may take a leaf from Sheikh Hasina to bring stability to the country and even chart the phenomenal development course.

Sher Bahadur Deuba, President of principal opposition party Nepali Congress, seems to have got this message which somewhat explains his reluctance in firing on all cylinders against Oli's "unconstitutional" move despite constant goading by his own party leaders.

Only time will tell whether Dahal-Nepal faction continues with the confrontation or seeks to patch things up in the face of Oli's unbending stance.

Published on 1 January 2021

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