BY M. R. JOSSE
TAMPA, FL: Reading the tea leaves entering the new year 2018, it appears that political stability and tranquility in Nepal – and in the wider world – will prove elusive.
Though the process of constituting the Upper House has finally and reluctantly been initiated, the foot-dragging by the government and the Election Commission on a set of urgent post-election issues/technicalities has raised doubts about whether the popular verdict of the elections will be respected.
Omens hinting at such an unhappy state of affairs were ubiquitous and thick on the ground from the very moment it was clear that the Nepali Congress-led combine was on the way to decimation, crushed by the Left Alliance’s triumphant electoral juggernaut.
The sense of optimism and hope that had been enkindled in many a Nepali heart by the successful conclusion of the three sets of elections in the year just over has largely dissipated, not least because of myriad overt and covert efforts to prevent UML chief K.P. Sharma Oli from speedily donning the mantle of prime minister of the in-coming government.
Significantly though, Oli, after referring publicly to last ditch attempts by “foreign lobbies” to prevent a UML-Maoist Centre coalition from taking office, asserted confidently that such plots would fall by the wayside.
Yet, only a congenital optimist will believe all will necessarily be fine and dandy between UML and Maoist Centre comrades in a future coalition – where the latter will obviously assume a subsidiary role.
Indeed, the Long March to the pre-poll goal of “merger” between them is likely to be a rocky one given the embittered relations that have subsisted between them for years. Superimposed on that wobbly base is the possibility of a clash of super egos – aided and abetted by the machinations of foreign forces, not excluding India’s nefarious RAW, whose chief reportedly slipped quietly into the country the other day.
There is, then, the question of differences in “ideology” – if you subscribe to the theory that the UML and the Maoist Centre remain true to their versions of Marxism-Leninism and have not actually morphed into a bunch of political operators who are, basically, pragmatists and/or propagandists, if not merely opportunists.
Outside the Communist pale, one can hear the raucous and divisive claims and counterclaims of assorted political parties and their henchmen for selection as members of the Upper House, for being included in the proportionate quota, while such potentially explosive issues as names of provinces, their capitals and other contentious issues fester and simmer below the surface.
Behind the ‘purdah’, as even a child in Nepal knows, there is India, the 800-lb gorilla in the room to take cognizance of.
This is an India that has taken a political beating at the polls. Now it is licking its wounds at the drubbing that its client the NC-led alliance took, uncertain as how to make up for vanished space in Nepal – ‘lost’, in her view, to an increasingly expansive China.
Rather than recognizing that it was her own policies and hubris that brought about such a turn of events, India, oddly enough, seems keen to take on a puissant China: her efforts to expand all manner of ties with Taiwan is revealing.
Note should be taken of a mea culpa, of sorts, by Madeshi journalist Prashant Jha in the Hindustan Times wherein he has disclosed that India in 2015 had urged Madeshi parties to promulgate a constitution for an independent Madesh!
Incidentally, Oli recently visited Rasuwgadhi, on the Nepal-China border, to announce its future upgradation to an international border crossing, the entry point, no less, of the projected rail connection to Nepal from Shigtaze in Tibet – an event that, incidentally, triggered a belated congratulatory phone call to Oli from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Of course, Modi has hardly been a stunning success as far as his foreign policy goes, rooted in the absurdity that India’s acquiescence – in this, the 21st century – is mandatory for countries in South Asia to cultivate relations with China!
Apart from Nepal, he has had serious setbacks in Sri Lanka and the Maldives; the past week saw another: exemplified in a trilateral dialogue in Beijing between the foreign ministers of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan, on which occasion the door was formally opened for Afghanistan’s entry into the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor programme.
Turbulence and instability are thus clearly indicated on the Sino-India relations seas.
IN US TOO
In the United States, too, 2018 is destined to be a turbulent year, no less so than 2017. According to many, 2018 will not offer any resolution to the prickly Russian interference in US presidential elections issue which dominated 2017.
In the past year, after a halting start, the Republican-controlled Congress did notch surprisingly far-reaching conservative achievements, among them, a long-promised rewriting of the tax code, drilling in the Arctic and a series of life-time appointments to the judiciary.
In 2018, the Trump administration is likely, as some predict, to finally move forward with a long-promised programme to rebuild roads, bridges and other infrastructure – which, in my opinion, could curb tendencies to over-extent involvement overseas.
North Korea will remain front and centre of the Trump agenda, as will attention to ties with China and Russia, the two principal interlocutors for the United States. Relations are likely to be a mix of arm-wrestling and hand-shaking, even as Pyongyang develops missiles its claims are capable of striking anywhere on the American mainland.
As a year for mid-term elections, 2018 will obviously see across-the-board political tussles between the Republican and Democratic parties.
Though the focus will largely be on domestic issues, America’s role in the world and the reverberations of Trump’s decision recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will surely continue to be manifest, even as the consequences of what many experts see as Trump’s disinterest in leading the West and courting a historic break with Europe are hotly debated.