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Nepal: post blockade political dynamics and elections

By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
It is unfortunate but true that in any political discourse in Kathmandu Valley, the expression “post blockade” politics often comes out from many people including those who were considered friendly to India.
If one were to project the chances of the parties in the coming elections from the results of the local body elections, the leftist alliance of the UML and the Maoists (MC) may come out most successful with a clear majority though not a two third majority to make structural changes in the Constitution.
One party that has gained most is the UML led by K.P. Oli that fought successfully the local body elections. This has given them an opportunity to go to the polls at the provincial and national level with supreme confidence. There is even a talk of the fourth leader Bam Dev Gautam becoming the Prime minister as the other three top leaders Madhav Nepal, Jhalanath Khanal and K.P. Oli have already been prime ministers. There has been no official denial from the party on the prospects of Bam Dev Gautam as yet but to me it appears to be too early to make such predictions.
What has made the UML the likely winner in the coming elections besides the electoral arithmetic that would give them a lead? First is the organisational capacity of the party and credit goes to the Secretary Ishwor Pokhrel who has organised the cadres extremely well at the grass roots level. The second is the popularity of the former Prime Minister K.P. Oli who is riding high on a nationalistic platform (read anti Indian) and people are openly accusing India of interfering and getting the inconvenient Oli from the prime ministership! Oli is seen as a victim of “Indian interference.” Third are the successful efforts of the leaders of UML to galvanise the Nepali speaking rural masses by anti India nationalism while the democratic groups led by Nepali Congress have failed to convince the masses that anti Indianism is not nationalism.
Above all, the UML has been helped more by the factions within the Nepali Congress itself with the failure of all the democratic groups to come together in this hour of crisis. The party was clearly outwitted by Dahal who while remaining with the coalition government made overtures to the most successful party the UML. He was willing to play a subordinate role for his party to accept a 60-40 division with 60 in favour of UML, just to remain in power. It is too early to say whether the leftist coalition will last the five years but it surely has no choice but to go along with the UML unless it makes another U turn and joins the Nepali Congress in course of time!
Gagan Thapa who is one of the popular younger leaders of the Nepali Congress mentioned in an interview that though they were surprised by the emergence of the leftist alliance, they have successfully adopted a different strategy to succeed in the elections! But one does not see any new strategy from the Nepali Congress on the ground. The factions are continuing with independent agenda.
There is also the failure of leadership in the Nepali Congress. Sher Bahadur Deuba does not seem to have full control of the party and is not decisive either. He agreed to the Jhapa seat being taken by the RPP with Rajendra Lingden as the candidate while one of their top leaders K.P. Sitaula was denied the seat though the latter was sure to win. He changed his mind and allowed Sitaula to contest thus antagonising the RPP. Khum Bahadur Khadka who had a criminal record for corruption is being encouraged to throw his weight around while he should have been marginalised.
The biggest failure of Deuba has been his inability to get the two important Madhesi groups the RJP and the FSF-N into the democratic alliance. The two Madhesi groups have come to an understanding in sharing the seats in province number 2 by themselves and the candidates have already filed their nominations. The result is that all the three parties the Nepali Congress, the RJP and the FSF-N will be getting a lesser number of seats in province no. 2 both at the provincial and the national levels in the coming elections than what they would have had if they had fought the elections together. Some are blaming Bimalendhu Nidhi, a senior leader of the party and a former Deputy Prime Minister for the failure though the Madhesi leaders who have suddenly become too ambitious after the local body elections in claiming a larger share than what they deserve are equally at fault.
The problem is the democratic groups who should have joined together to meet the leftist challenge have failed to see the larger picture and fallen a prey to petty jealousies and short term gains. As said earlier, the leading democratic group-the Nepali Congress is equally responsible in not being able to stitch a “grand democratic alliance” as the leftists have done.
A common view mentioned by those opposing the leftist alliance is that it was at China’s initiative that the left groups have joined together. This view is far fetched and there is little evidence to show that China triggered the alliance though, China will not be unhappy over the alliance. Here is an opportunity for China and already the media is talking about a rail link from Kyirong to Rasuwa and then on to Kathmandu! There is also a view that if Oli comes back to power china’s influence will grow. These are pure speculations and it is too early to predict such developments.
There are saner voices which see the danger of too much involvement of China. One analyst said and I quote-“the tendency in Nepal, particularly after the blockade to see everything that has to do with China (is seen) with rose tinted glasses while espying conspiracies in every Indian initiative. Let us most certainly look to benefit from China’s stellar rise. But we also don’t want to make the mistake of jumping off from prying pan right into a fire”
Once when they come to power the UML cannot continue with the antagonism they are displaying now towards India. The left alliance manifesto has a very ambitious agenda and even if it has to implement a quarter of all that is said, it needs the help and cooperation from India. It is hoped that the UML leadership would sooner than later realise the need to have good relations with India for mutual benefit.
(SAAG)

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