It is crucial to build bridges
Nepal must keep both India and China in good humour.
The 38th Prime Minister of Nepal Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, the Chairman of Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist), will 'balance between India and China', believes Editor of Nepal Times, despite his pro-Beijing propensity (a compulsion due to the Madhesi blockade of Nepal in 2015), thanks to the successful persuasion by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who led an Indian delegation earlier this month. Swaraj had parleys with not only leaders of CPN (UML), which has 121 members in the 275-member Parliament, but the top brass of CPN (Maoist Center) including its Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Dahal. There are 53 Maoist MPs. The oath-taking ceremony was administered by President Bidhya Devi Bhandari at her official residence in Sheetal Niwas, Kathmandu on Thursday. Oli apart, Lal Babu Pandit and Tham Maya Thapa, too, sworn in as Minister for Population and Environment and Women, Children and Social Welfare respectively.
While both Oli and Dahal repeatedly expressed their eagerness to befriend Beijing more than New Delhi (still fresh in the memory being Oli's anti-India theatrics), political pragmatism compels the new regime to keep both the neighbours in good humour Until recently, Oli was openly extending an olive branch to the top brass of Communist Party of China, emphasising on treating China as its most trusted neighbour. The general secretary of his party Ishwar Pokharel, too recorded a landslide victory from Kathmandu-5, defeating his Nepali Congress rival Prakash Sharan Mahat. Pokharel in an interview to a Kathmandu daily in the second week of December 2017, took up cudgels for treating the two countries as friends "A true Nepali can never be anti-Indian or pro-Chinese. A true Nepali keeps Nepal's interest at the core. It is rather biased understanding and an attempt to smear us by painting this alliance as pro-Chinese and anti-Indian. We will conduct our foreign policy keeping in Nepal's interest at the core. We are firmly convinced that just by whipping up anti-Indian sentiments is not going to elevate us, rather we elevate by serving Nepal's interest. Our relations with India will be excellent. We are keenly aware of the security concerns of both India and China. We will ensure that Nepal won't harm the interest of both the countries. But we will always look for Nepal's interest", he stated with a clear vision.
The border between Nepal and China is of 1,236 kilometres, while that between Nepal and India stretches to 1,700 km. Moreover, Nepal's ties with India are much older than with China. The Nepali language is essentially Indian, a point formidably argued in the late 1970s by the late Satyendra Narayan Mazumdar, deputy leader of undivided Communist Party of India in the Rajya Sabha between 1952 and 1956 and a renowned scholar on national and linguistic questions. Mazumdar's views, published as an article in the now-defunct theoretical fortnightly of CPI, were a stern rebuff to the then Indian PM Morarji Desai, who made a statement that Nepali is a foreign language. Linguistic affinity apart, India sheltered prominent Nepali libertarians in their struggle against feudal oppression of the now-buried Kingdom of Nepal.
Oli's problems are more internal than external. His immediate imperative is the implementation of the Constitution, which is increasingly contested by many groups, as the first South Asian state to incorporate proportional representation in the law-making body. The PM in new Nepal has before him an uphill task of building and consolidating a consensus among various sections of the society on key provisions, including the republican character of the country and the relations between the Centre and provinces. Otherwise, the discontent among dissidents is bound to escalate Institutional assurances like setting up of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to ensure justice to war victims remain on paper due to the absence of consensus among major political parties. Moreover, people are sick and tired of politicisation of the judiciary and growing corruption that have polluted sections of three main political parties.
If the PM is to reverse the poverty-stricken economy and move towards a drastically reduced economic disparity, he has to build bridges with India. Geography, religion, political history, and culture tie Nepal to India, which no amount of Chinese aid can replace. Oli needs to balance Kathmandu's ties with New Delhi and Beijing instead of tilting to one side or playing one against the other. But this may be a showbiz balance as the severe shortages of food, medicine and fuel owing to near five-month blockade at the India-Nepal border in 2015 "gave the government an incentive to diversify its relations through closer ties with China". In addition, the blockade caused many of the ruling elite in Kathmandu to cast a suspicious eye toward India, believing that the government in New Delhi tacitly supported the blockade, according to a Stratford exercise. Skeptics keep reminding Oli of commitment to Article-36 of the Constitution that specifies: "Every citizen shall have right to food; every citizen shall have right to be safe from being at risk of life due to food scarcity; and every citizen shall have the right to food sovereignty in accordance with law."
(The views expressed are strictly personal)