Nepal: a steep Left towards Beijing?

Nepal: a steep Left towards Beijing?

A Leftist alliance comprising the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) is poised to form the next government in Nepal. The alliance has raced ahead of the Centrist Nepali Congress-led coalition in the just-concluded elections to parliament. It will be some days before Nepal has an exact picture of its new parliament. Of the total seats in Nepal's federal legislature, 165 are decided on a first-past-the-post basis, with another 110 determined by proportional representation.

Having won the first-past-the-post seats convincingly, the Left coalition is expected to take most of the proportional representation seats, too. Provincial elections were held alongside parliamentary polls and that, too, saw the Left alliance win handsomely. The clear mandate that voters have extended the Left will give Nepal a measure of political stability that has eluded it for long. Since the restoration of democracy in 1990, Nepal has seen shaky governments come, collapse and go. It has witnessed 10 governments over the past 10 years. The strong mandate will provide the Left alliance government with a strong foundation to last.

However, many in Nepal and outside are sceptical of the Left alliance surviving its full term. The leaders of both the CPN (Maoist) and the CPN (UML), Pushpa Kamal Dahal (aka Prachanda) and K P Oli, respectively, are highly ambitious leaders and, till recently, they were bitter enemies and rivals. Their unity is recent. In fact, the rank-and-file of the two parties were taken by surprise when the alliance was announced. Will Dahal and Oli be able to set aside their long-standing rivalry to provide Nepal with the stability and good governance it so badly needs?

The Nepali election result will evoke some concern in India. Oli, who is expected to become the next prime minister, projected a decidedly pro-China image during the election campaign. In fact, during his last stint at the helm, there were rumours that Delhi, which was upset with his bonhomie with Beijing, engineered his exit. There is some concern in India that his likely return as prime minister will see Nepal tilt towards China again. However, this is a simplistic reading of Nepali politics. Anti-India rhetoric is undoubtedly useful in winning votes in Nepal. But once in power, leaders adopt a pragmatic approach and seek equidistance between the two Asian giants. This is the path that the new government in Nepal will likely follow. Meanwhile, India must welcome the new government and offer all support to ensure Nepal's stability, security and economic development. Both sides have made mistakes in the past and hopefully, lessons have been learnt. India should be supportive of Nepal's quest for a stable and secure future.  

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