By Maila Baje
Maila Baje has always been intrigued by the ease with which Khadga Prasad Oli could shed his ostensible ‘pro-Indian’ tag and win plaudits as a ‘nationalist’ prime minister.
Within the post-Madan Bhandary Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist quartet, Bam Dev Gautam sought and temporarily retained the nationalist mantle. But his personal ambition drove him to the background. For whatever reason, Jhal Nath Khanal did not draw the geopolitical spotlight in such a way. It looked like Madhav Kumar Nepal and Oli – when they were allies or adversaries alike – were almost flaunting their competition for the good graces of the southern establishment.
It becomes irrelevant to discuss whether Oli’s transformation is entirely unaffected or whether it is personal, political or event-driven. The perception that India has been out to dislodge a prime minister who refuses to toe the southern line has persisted among enough Nepalis.
That reality seems to be reflected in New Delhi’s response to Oli’s very public accusation of Indian complicity in Nepal’s latest political affairs. The seriousness of Oli’s charge was underscored by the venue where he made it so openly. Addressing a national security conference, Oli not only said India was behind the withdrawal of support by the Maoists to his government but also that New Delhi was in a palpably celebratory mood over the turn of events.
Ordinarily, the Indians could have shrugged off Oli as just another in a line of politicians who have sought the proverbial last refuge of scoundrels. New Delhi’s early reaction, at least, suggests that it has been stung by our prime minister’s outbursts.
India did nothing to destabilize the Oli government, a ‘high-level’ source was quoted as saying in New Delhi. Not only that. “[Oli] could not deliver and the coalition government fell down. The fact that he still wants to stick to power despite not having the numbers in Parliament is totally undemocratic,” the source was quoted as saying in a leading Indian daily.
Significantly, the anonymous source went on to add that Chinese officials in Kathmandu were busy trying to win over members in each political party to save the Oli government. It would not be irrelevant to juxtapose here Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal claim of having received credible information that Beijing would be pleased to see him as Oli’s successor.
This very public display of Indian-Chinese rivalry in Nepal’s internal politics mirrors the unrestrained contention between the Asian giants in the aftermath of New Delhi’s botched bid to secure membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. The subsequent eagerness of some sections in India to extrapolate the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling on the South China Sea to China’s historical claims on other disputed territories is portentous for us.
The Chinese have no doubt raised the stakes. Although they have not asserted so publicly vis-à-vis Nepal, the mandarins up north are votaries of a tradition-driven foreign and security policy that considers us the last tributaries to the Qing dynasty. If the Chinese signal a readiness to maintain their skin in the game by, say, trying to bail out the Oli government in the legislature, the Indians, for their part do not seem likely to back down. Amalgamation of the Tibet-Taiwan planks into a coherent diplomatic narrative challenging the ability of a rising China to become a ‘responsible stakeholder’ would have local ramifications.
The propensity of our political leadership to trivialize such grave concerns in their public pronouncements no doubt continues to infuriate many Nepalis. Yet there might be some promise here, especially if our leaders succeed in precipitating a decisive outcome from this long-running turf war between the Asian behemoths.
A bright spot in the yard
By Maila Baje