As Nepal goes for another change of guard at the top, it is once again India’s lot to get drawn irrevocably into its interl politics. Such developments are inevitable, given the Himalayan kingdom’s geo-strategic location between India and Chi. But outgoing Prime Minister and leader of Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) Khadga Prasad Oli has bluntly accused India of ‘conspiracy’ in the toppling of his government. Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ is all set to take over as the new PM, with the Nepali Congress and Madhes-based parties throwing their weight behind him. There is some constitutiol grey area in the formation of another new government now, with 18 months remaining in the second constituent assembly’s term and the requirement to hold elections within this period. After Oli refused to recommend dissolution of the 601-member assembly, President Bidhya Devi Bhandari will first seek a consensus-based government under provisions of the new constitution. With Oli’s CPN-UML resolved to sit in the Opposition, she may next be forced to go for a majority government as the new alliance has more than 360 votes. The Maoists and the Nepali Congress have already worked out a deal, under which Prachanda will lead the government for the first nine months and hold local elections; Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba will then take over for the next nine months and oversee elections to the provincial assemblies and parliament.
Though New Delhi has been protesting it has nothing to do with the changing political winds in Nepal, its open support for agitating Madhes-based parties had queered the pitch with the Oli government during its nine months in power. The new constitution which came into effect in September last year, declared Nepal as a secular, federal, democratic republic. But there have been persistent agitations that the constitution does not do justice to the country’s bewildering ethnic, caste and linguistic diversity. The Tharus and Madhesis in southern Terai bordering India have protested that Nepal’s seven new provinces have been drawn up so as to subdivide their homelands and reduce them into permanent minorities, as well as cut into their constitutiol representation. A five month-long blockade by the Madhes joint forum provoked the Oli government to accuse New Delhi of fomenting the trouble. Before long, its rhetoric took an overt anti-India and pro-Chi tone. In the constituent assembly — Oli took credit for signing trade deals with Beijing, thereby ending trade dependence on a single tion (read India), and that Nepal is now ‘land-linked’ instead of ‘land-locked’. As for the 36 rounds of talks with the agitating Madhesi Morcha which remained deadlocked over demarcation of the proposed seven provinces and making the constitution more inclusive, Oli dismissed the demands as lacking sufficient justification.
Oli submitted his resigtion to the President on Sunday last just before facing a trust vote, with his government reduced to a minority after alliance partners Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre), Madhesi Jaadhikar Forum (Loktantrik) and Rashtriya Prajatantra Party pulled out support last week. When Prachanda’s Maoists withdrew support, it did so on the grounds of ‘poor performance, failing to speed up quake reconstruction, repeated failure to implement the new constitution, and fulfilling the demands of Madhes-based parties’ by the Oli government. Calling for tiol unity, Prachanda has alleged that several ministers in the Oli government were undermining the constitution with secret royalist and anti-federal agendas. It is still unclear whether the Madhesi Morcha will join the Prachanda-led government, but it will surely put much in store by the Maoist-Nepali Congress understanding ‘to resolve dissatisfactions over the new constitution and reservations put up by Madhesis, Tharus and other communities, through political understanding’. While India will have a lot of expectations riding on the new regime in Kathmandu, it remains to be seen how well the ultra-Left Maoists and the Nepali Congress pull together. During Prachanda’s first term as Nepal PM in 2008, he was perceived as anti-India, even though the angry CPN-UML has now labeled him as ‘India’s dummy’. Be as it may, New Delhi cannot afford to be seen as high-handed, meddling and manipulative by a neighbor whose citizens move and work freely on this side of the border.