Thursday, September 23, 2021

India factor and Jana Andolan III in making


Earlier, I wrote an article in this online news portal on January 12, questioning whether we are poised for another round of people’s movement or Jana Andolan III. I compared earlier two Jana Andolans to predict the possibility of having a third one in the future.

When the parliament was dissolved on 20 December; political parties were in disarray over whether to launch a joint movement against the Oli Government or to fight a legal battle inside the court room over unconstitutional dissolution of the parliament. Even though politics was in a chaotic situation, the prevailing conditions resembled close to the situations of Jana Andolan I and II, making possibility for a third round.

Stalling Jana Andolan III

However, in February the court overturned PM’s decision to dissolve the parliament. The court verdict help to slow down or stall the pace of people’s movement as it diverted public attention from mass movement to somewhere else. The Civil Society Movement that argued for Jana Andolan III also fizzled out.  

Currently, intense court battle is waged over the dissolution of the restored parliament. Actors and characters are basically the same. We may have to wait a couple of months before the court comes up with its verdict. The verdict will either be favourable or unfavourable – depending on which side of the camp you are in. However, what is sure is that, irrespective of the court verdict, the country is poised for Jana Andolan III. It is inevitable now.

Some people may question how could be a mere ousting of Oli Government be Jana Andolan III? Mass movements are supposed to have a grandeur objective than kicking out a PM from the chair. If the court restores the parliament and helps the appointment of Sher Bahadur Deuba as the next PM, could it be termed a mass movement?

The second time dissolution of the parliament within a span of six months together with indiscriminate trampling of the constitution by the Oli Government has revealed serious flaws in the constitution that is supposed to be “the best constitution in the world”. This needs to be corrected. The court order to reinstate parliament will not only kick out PM Oli from power, even the President will join him for the exit door. This is where I see the possibility of overhauling the FDR constitution. Hopefully, Jana Andolan III may not be violent as earlier andolans, but definitely it will lead to a new political settlement.         

Internal and external conditions

Drawing upon past experiences, there are internal as well as external conditions that need to apply before triggering a mass movement. The internal driving factors include mass discontent with the regime, high degree of political polarization, the regime determined to quell public protest using security force per se, bad governance, rampant corruption, poor condition of the economy, instances of natural misfortunes like earthquakes, floods, landslides etc.

The external driving forces include growing isolation of the country in the international arena, air of change in international politics and, more importantly, cooling of relations with the neighbouring countries – to be specific, cooling of relations with India.

In almost all major political changes in Nepal, either by design or default, India has been a decisive factor. Saving India, currently all other factors are propitious for a mass movement. The humanitarian crisis triggered by coronavirus pandemic and the government's failure to tackle the pandemic has triggered massive public discontent with the regime. The economy too is in tatters. The major sources of forex, namely, foreign employment, tourism, export and foreign grants have plummeted resulting in massive increase in public debt. The security forces (army, police) have outnumbered civil servants, the employees in the state-owned enterprises and school teachers. Do we need more army or school teachers for development? Answer to this simple question will unfold the complexities of our political economy.

The country is also being gradually isolated in the international arena. This is explained by different countries pulling their embassies or scaling down their operations. The INGOs and NGOs have also reduced their scale of operations. Because of global pandemic, apart from health related issues, there is going to be sharp reduction in foreign assistance from the North to the South.

India factor

The successful launching of Jana Andolan III rests on specific responses from India. Recent events speak of change in winds. Besides, Prof SD Muni’s regular comments, recently we have seen a spate of articles, writings and commentaries coming from intellectuals and former dignitaries from India. First, we had former ambassador Mr Ranjit Rae writing about a wide scale public perception in Nepal that the Oli Government is propped up by India. This is followed by a response from Ministry of External Affairs, India commenting Nepal’s political crisis as purely an “internal matter”. Former Ambassador Rakesh Sood bluntly blamed Oli government for cooling India-Nepal relations. Jyoti Malhotra assumes “a complex game afoot” between India and Nepal at a time when “PM K.P. Oli has been mauling the constitution and twisting its clauses and conventions so as to hang on to power”.

This time even our politician, who use to take pro-India stand, Dr Baburam Bhattarai is critical of India. He writes that India is in tacit understanding with Oli government to derail Nepal’s constitution. He opined that the Oli government is in collusion with Hindu monarchical forces in Nepal, RSS in India and a faction of Janata Samajwadi Party led by Mahant Thakur which is being lured by India to join hands with Oli. Finally, another former ambassador to Nepal, Shyam Saran suggested “India to remain fully engaged with Nepal at all levels and across the political spectrum.” This is in contrast to “internal matter” stand taken by the establishment. Definitely, these views are going to shape public opinions in India.  

Change in stand

After the failure of Chinese diplomatic team to patch up disputes within the NCP in Nepal, there is a clear shift in Oli Government’s tilt from China towards India. The indicators like visits by high level Indian delegates together with withholding of publication of students’ course books containing news map of Nepal, and a communist PM’s sudden love for and dedication to Hindu religion shows Oli regime wooing India for its support.

The intensification of coronavirus pandemic may contribute Oli government to hold onto power for a while. In the pretext of controlling the virus, it is using harsh lockdowns to contain political demonstrations. In the long run, this is not going to work. Instead, it is going to backfire or add fuel to the fire.  

Vaccine diplomacy

The ultimate test of Oli government's survival rests on the availability of vaccines from India. If it is able to secure vaccines from India, the propitious conditions for Jana Andolan III may fizzle out. If the government cannot secure vaccines from India, that clearly signals eminent danger. This could be the single reason why a ceremonial Madam President too is in a vaccine begging spree - writing letters to the heads of the state for supporting vaccine procurement. In fact, donation of one million doses of vaccine from China has complicated vaccine diplomacy.  

Meanwhile, PM Oli is insistently calling opposition forces to join his government to shape it out as a national government for holding elections. He is far more critical of his friend, now turned into a foe, Mr Madhav Kumar Nepal than anybody else in the opposition. Recently, PM Oli could be seen keeping busy addressing the nation one after other in a row, as if he is participating in an election campaign. These events only signal PM Oli’s shaky position than his strengths. Though he has assured vaccines to everybody before elections, “no vaccine-no vote” campaign is already out. The fate of Oli government and also the triggering of mass movement hangs on the availability of vaccines.

Published on 1 June 2021