What does Oli augur for India-Nepal ties?

In the recent parliamentary and provincial elections in Nepal, the first under the country's 2015 Constitution, the Left alliance of K P Oli's Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda'-led Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) have registered a magnificent victory, winning 174 out of 275 seats in parliament and also securing majorities in six states.

The Nepali Congress has won only 63 seats in parliament. The Federal Socialist Party of Nepal and the Rashtriya Janata Party have bagged 16 and 17 seats, respectively.

True, while the formation of an alliance between the CPN-UML and the CPN-MC had increased the prospect of  the Prachanda-Oli Left alliance winning a comfortable majority in view of their combined political strength, it is equally true that this alliance carried out an election campaign focused on the development of Nepal. Prachanda and Oli succeeded in capturing the imagination of the people of Nepal with their promises.

The failure of the Nepali Congress to project its strong leadership with an effective election manifesto and other factors played a vital role in the party's loss in the elections. Moreover, the outcome of the elections reflects the prevailing belief among the Nepalese that the only the Left alliance can end the nearly 30-years long political instability in the country and lay the foundation for a strong, stable and developed Nepal.

In this context, it is appropriate to recall that ever since Nepal adopted a multi-party system in 1990, not a single government could complete the full term of five years. This acute political instability and a decade-long Maoist insurgency almost halted economic development in the country.

Even the 2006 comprehensive peace agreement between the Government of Nepal and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and the first Constituent Assembly of 2008 failed to end the political turmoil, with Nepal having had 10 prime ministers in the last nine years.

The earthquake in April 2015 and the protest by the Madhesi people in the south of the country against the new constitution adopted by the Constituent Assembly (CA)-II in September 2015 further obstructed the way for the democratic process to take shape. But, before it was too late, the Oli government amended the constitution in January 2016, providing greater representation in government bodies on the basis of the proportional inclusion of Madhesis.

Though all the demands of the Madhesis with the regard to the new constitution have not been addressed, they, like people of other parts of Nepal, also believe that it is only through their effective political participation that a new Nepal accommodating the interests of all sections can be built.

While the international media was closely observing the parliamentary and provincial elections in Nepal, India, which enjoys historical and cultural ties with the Himalayan state, had its own reasons to see that the roots of democratic institutions are strengthened in the country.

One reason was the fact that since India shares an open border with Nepal, instability there of any sort has a direct bearing on India's security. New Delhi, therefore, hopes to see that these elections ensure political stability and promotion of democratic forces in Nepal. India also wants to see that the new government of Nepal takes steps to protect the interests of people of the Madhesi region, who have close cultural and family ties with the people of Bihar and UP.

China's influence

India is concerned about China's increasing presence in Nepal. In fact, Beijing's role was crucial in bringing Prachanda and Oli together. This became further evident from the Left alliance's anti-India stand during the election campaign.

In an oblique reference to the 1950 treaty of peace and friendship between Nepal and India, Prachanda and Oli said that 'unequal treaties' would be abrogated if their alliance came to power. Oli also announced that the Left coalition government would revive the Budhi Gandaki Hydro Project with China, which was cancelled by the incumbent government.

In the past, too, Oli has expressed anger at the presence of Indian media, following the April 2015 earthquake. Subsequently, in September 2015, Nepal accused India of supporting the Madhesis protesting against the new constitution. In March 2016, Oli secured major projects under the framework of China's Belt and Road Initiative.

Some experts have therefore suggested that India would have rather wanted to see the Nepali Congress back in the saddle, rather than a K P Oli-headed government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Oli days after the election and invited him to visit India.  

Although the Left alliance has won with a sizeable majority, they have not yet been able to sort out all the wrinkles, including who should be prime minister so far, although the balance is in favour of Oli and Prachanda has indicated he would be happy being made the chairman of the alliance.

With Oli set to become prime minister, it will be interesting to see how and to what extent the Left alliance becomes able to serve the interests of the people of Nepal and what policy it adopts towards India-Nepal ties.

(The writer is Research Fellow, Chennai Centre for China Studies)

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