Delhi's opportunity in Nepal stability

Delhi's opportunity in Nepal stability

Delhi's opportunity in Nepal stability

With the Communist Party of Nepal “United Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) and the CPN-Maoist Centre reaching agreement on unification, the prospects of Nepal's new government have brightened. CPN-UML chairperson Khadga Prasad Oli was sworn in as prime minister last week at the head of a minority government. While his government was expected to win an upcoming vote of confidence with the Maoist Centre's support, there was a bit of apprehension given Nepal's unpredictable and power-driven politics. The CPN-UML and the Maoists had contested the November general elections as a Left alliance. With the two merging now, Oli's government will enjoy stability. Hopefully, this government will serve its full term. Nepal's democracy has for years been highly unstable; governments have fallen within months of their formation. The lust for power animates all political parties, which means that allies turn into antagonists within weeks. Oli is Nepal's 41st prime minister. The last time he was prime minister it was Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal's withdrawal of support that brought down his government. His biggest challenge will be to ensure that history doesn't repeat itself.

As challenging will be the task of crafting Nepal's relations with its giant neighbours, India and China. During his last stint as prime minister, Oli's proximity to China drew Delhi's ire. Additionally, it was during Oli's term that the Madhesi agitation culminated in an economic blockade, which the Oli government blamed on India. Not surprisingly, India-Nepal relations soured. Oli's return to the helm has triggered unease in Delhi, especially following his statement that his government would deepen relations with China in order to gain more leverage with India. He has also said that he would revive the Budhi Gandaki hydropower project, which was awarded to a Chinese company but was subsequently scrapped by his predecessor, Sher Bahadur Deuba.  

China's rapidly growing influence in India's other neighbours has undoubtedly clouded India's perception of Nepal. Thus, Delhi tends to tag governments in Kathmandu as pro-India and anti-India and, as per this classification, Oli has fallen under the anti-India category. If Oli is leaning towards China, it is because the Narendra Modi government has tended to be rather overbearing in its dealings with Kathmandu. Should India respect Nepal's sovereignty and make a determined effort to not step on Nepal's toes, it can expect a more confident Nepal to reach out to India. After all, geography and culture make India and Nepal natural allies. Nepal is keen to improve infrastructure in order to boost its economy. India must extend it a helping hand. It must match the Chinese in swiftly executing projects. Else, Beijing will be Kathmandu's preferred partner.

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