China Influencing Nepal & Oli ‘Holding On’: What Should India Do?

It’s not yet known if there are consultations in India over the new developments & what approach Delhi might adopt.

Updated08 Jul 2020, 08:52 PM IST
Opinion
5 min read

Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, and the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) co-chair, Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, have been engaged in one-on-one dialogue over the past few days, to defuse tensions, after the party’s standing committee demanded Oli’s resignation from both the posts of the PM and party chairman.

Consensus between the two seems elusive, as even the Tuesday meeting (7 July) between the two ended without any decision. It seems that the two Communist leaders are seeking to bring in a strategic equilibrium for the sake of party unity, as neither faction of the CPN wants to be held responsible for a split in the party, which will invariably weaken its position.

There have been blame-games and a war of words between the two factions of CPN represented by Oli on the one hand, and the ‘Prachanda’ Madhav Kumar Nepal group on the other.

While PM Oli has blamed Prachanda and others for conspiring to bring in impeachment motion against the President, who clearly sided with Oli to prorogue the budget session of the parliament in order to avoid a no-confidence motion, Prachanda has pointed at Oli’s intention to bring in an ordinance to split the party and join hands with the Nepali Congress (NC).

The Demand For KP Oli’s Resignation

Why is it that after having demanded his resignation from both posts, Prachanda has been trying to reach some kind of agreement with Oli? At the heart of the problem is the agreement reached between the two leaders before they joined hands to fight the last elections – in which together they secured a comfortable majority. Prachanda has claimed that the power sharing arrangement between him and Oli was not honoured by the latter. But the 20 November 2019 agreement between the two gave Oli a comfortable five years to be the PM.

But the Prachanda faction has now demanded Oli’s resignation for failure to govern.

Even before the map row with India, Prachanda had demanded Oli’s resignation, citing the inability to deal with the COVID pandemic, and governance failure. The dispute over Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura – which was adopted in Nepal’s new map –presented the Oli government the unique opportunity to divert the internal party feud to a nationalistic agenda, and unite the entire country over it. But it could not save him from facing the imminent threat and challenge from within his own party.

Of the 41 standing committee members, 33 have demanded his resignation.

The ongoing standing committee meeting was postponed to give time to top leaders to reach an understanding. The parleys between Oli and Prachanda have, however, been inconclusive so far, with both sticking to their positions. PM Oli has categorically refused to step down.

Snapshot
  • Communist Party of Nepal’s (CPN) standing committee demanded PM KP Sharma Oli’s resignation from both the posts of the PM and party chairman.
  • The PM’s party co-chair, Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, has since been engaged in one-on-one dialogue with him over the past few days, to defuse tensions.
  • There have been blame-games and a war of words between the two factions of CPN represented by Oli on the one hand, and the ‘Prachanda’ Madhav Kumar Nepal group on the other.
  • The Prachanda faction has now demanded Oli’s resignation for failure to govern.
  • China, especially since 2015, has been playing an active role in determining outcomes in Nepal’s internal politics.

Growing Chinese Influence In Nepal

Is the mid-way route possible? Both Oli and Prachanda have resisted taking extreme steps. While a split in the NCP seemed inevitable just a few days back when Oli even met with NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba – possibly to seek the latter’s support in case of a party split – the second generation leaders of the NCP have been active to stop it, and have urged Oli to seek agreement through some compromise with Prachanda.

On the other hand, Prachanda, who took a strong position and rebuked the PM for his remark that India and some leaders in Nepal were trying to ‘dislodge’ his government, now seems to be working on accommodation and rapprochement to generate a mid-way end to the impasse.

It cannot be said with certainty that Prachanda will be able to convince the PM to give up at least one post by the end their talks either.

The standing committee meeting was rescheduled for Wednesday, 8 July, and is expected to decide whether to oust the PM from both positions. This could further be delayed due to lack of agreement between Oli and Prachanda.

Meanwhile, the ‘China factor’ seems to be weighing heavily on Nepali politics yet again. The Chinese envoy to Nepal, Hou Yanki, was seen running through a series of meetings in the last few days with the Communist leaders.

Like earlier in April when China played a key role in saving the NCP from a virtual split, this time around too it has expressed concern regarding the political rift. The Chinese ambassador held a meeting with President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Sunday, 5 July, and immediately met former PM and senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, and inquired about the intra-party dispute. She also met another senior leader Jhalanath Khanal.

While going completely overboard in making statements against India, PM Oli has maintained silence over growing Chinese activities in Nepal. 

China, especially since 2015, has been playing an active role in determining outcomes in Nepal’s internal politics.

For Now, The Chinese Are ‘Calling The Shots’ In Kathmandu

Since the 2015 blockade from India in the wake of the Madhesh Movement that came immediately after the devastating April earthquake in Nepal, the Communist Party has maintained a stronghold in the country. PM Oli is perceived to be a nationalist leader as seen recently, when the entire country threw unprecedented support behind him to adopt a new map – including the three territories claimed by India. Prachanda, who is seen as a replacement for Oli, also does not enjoy very good relations with India.

Soon after becoming the PM after the end of the civil war, the Maoist party chief took anti-India posturing, and when he had to step down over the Katawal row, he had said that it was at the behest of a ‘foreign master’ implying India.

Nepali leaders have resorted to such rhetoric in the past to gain public sympathy. 

Prachanda has also stood against the American MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) grant to Nepal, which has been seen as his effort to please China, who views MCC as being opposed to its own BRI initiative with Nepal. Nepal signed the BRI in May 2017. The BRI commitments were made between August 2016 and May 2017, when Prachanda was PM for the second time.

Also, Prachanda untied his coalition with the NC before the last elections, a partnership that India was perceived to be behind then. Thus, the Maoist merger with the then CPN-UML itself was a step contrary to Indian advise.

It is unknown if there are consultations in India over the new developments, and what approach New Delhi might adopt in the near future. 

But for now, it is the Chinese that are calling the shots in Kathmandu, and Oli is determined to hold on to his position.

(The author is a Nepali journalist, researcher based in New Delhi. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

Liked this story? We'll send you more. Subscribe to The Quint's newsletter and get selected stories delivered to your inbox every day. Click to get started.

The Quint is available on Telegram & WhatsApp too, click to join.

Published: 08 Jul 2020, 08:35 PM IST
Stay Updated

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!