PRAKASH A. RAJ
Nepali Congress, the grand old party of Nepal was reduced from the largest to a third place as a result of parliamentary and provincial elections held in November-December this year. Rashtriya Prajatantra party (RPP) a pro-Hindutva party, supporting constitutional monarchy could win only one seat in first-past-the-post or direct elections to Nepalese Parliament. Two Madhesbadi Parties, Rashtriya Janata Parishad and Forum did win a handful of seats, almost all of which were in Province Number 2 in eastern Terai. Almost two thirds of the seats were won by an alliance of two leftist parties, CPN-UML, ideologically similar to CPM in India and CPN (Maoist Centre) similar to many Maoist parties in India. The major difference between the Maoist Centre in Nepal and the Maoist parties in India is that the Nepalese Maoists signed a Comprehensive Peace Accord and participated in formation of government after elections for constituent assembly (CA) and for parliament in 2017. Nepal is now a communist country with likely election of a communist President and vice-president, Prime Minister, Speaker of House of Representatives and chief ministers of six out of seven federal states. A two thirds majority in Parliament would enable the leftist alliance to amend the constitution as it wishes. In view of weak opposition likely to win seats less than a third of total membership, such an outcome is a possibility.
No SAARC country has a communist government. The ruling party and in neighbouring country India is “Hindu nationalist” BJP which forms part of NDA alliance. It rules in eighteen of twenty-nine states in India including UP and Uttarakand which have open border with Nepal. The people of UP bordering Nepal have close ties with Madheshi people living in Parasi, Rupandehi and Kapilvastu districts of Lumbini Zone. The people of Seti and Mahakali zones, both in the hills and the Terai have close linguistic ties with people across the border with Uttarakhanda state and UP. While BJP swept these areas in elections held in 2017, an entirely different outcome was seen in Nepal where the communists emerged victorious in the adjoining areas. It was only in the Province 2 in Madhesh that that the communists failed to win. The state of Bihar in India across the border from Nepal is ruled by Nitish Kumar which is an ally of BJP. India now has a President, vice President, Speaker of Lok Sabha and Prime Minister belonging to BJP whereas in Nepal all these posts were won by the communist alliance of CPN(UML) and Maoist Centre.
SD Muni, the left leaning retired Professor of JNU commenting on the election results comments that an important aspect of the Nepal elections has also been the rout of regressive forces that wanted Nepal to become a Hindu state under a constitutional monarchy (Spotlight, December 17,2017). While it may be possible to agree with his conclusion about election outcome in Nepal in 2017, perhaps the learned Professor could also explain how is it that BJP is the ruling party in his own country and has not only President, vice President, Speaker and Prime Minister and chief ministers in a number of states. Perhaps he doesn’t think it is regressive. It may be remembered that the learned Professor along with Shyam Saran, the Foreign Secretary of India at the time of signing Twelve point Accord and Sitaram Yechury whose party CPM was supporting UPA government of Manmohan Singh played a significant role which was a contributing factor in making the victory of left alliance in Nepal a decade later in 2017.
India’s Nepal policy formulated by NDA alliance whose major partner is Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself could be considered responsible for victory of leftist alliance in Nepal in 2017. When Nepal’s new constitution was promulgated by elected constituent assembly in September 2015, India merely ‘noted’ it and didn’t welcome it. According to Indian viewpoint it was not adequately inclusive, addressing the concerns of Madhesis living in the Terai. There was an undeclared blockade lasting more than five months which made Nepal suffer. It was this suffering that translated to votes for left alliance.
In spite of close relations existing between Nepal and India, it was wrong for India under UPA Government under Manmohan Singh to have brokered Twelve Point Accord at New Delhi. It was an interference in Nepal’s internal affairs. Similarly, undeclared blockade against Nepal in 2015-16 was also an interference in Nepal’s internal affairs as it envisaged to make Nepal more inclusive. It is for the people of Nepal to decide how to make it more inclusive and solve its internal problems. When Nepal decided to let the Chinese construct the Kodari Highway in 1961, there were concerns in India about its impact on security of India. There are now seven highways envisaged to be constructed from Tibet to Nepal one of which from Keyrong to the Indian border will be the shortest road linking the Gangetic Plains in India. Before declaration of Nepal as a republic which was a direct result of India’s brokerage of Twelve Point Accord that led to abolition of monarchy in Nepal, the Chinese had considered monarchy as one of the institutions that they could trust. This is amply illustrated by cordial relations between King Birendra and Gyanendra with the Chinese. When monarchy was abolished, the Chinese needed reliable friends and the such parties as CPN (UML) and CPN(Maoist Centre) fulfilled the criteria for being reliable allies. It could therefore, be hypothesized that Chinese influence in Nepal has increased in recent years, eventually contributing to victory for leftist alliance. The policy followed by the Indian government is largely responsible for this state of affairs. India’s security interests have reasons to be concerned in view of open border between the two countries. The situation has changed in the past three decades, especially after “brokerage”. Many Madheshi parties had advocated “one Madhesh” in all of Terai extending from Mechi in the east to Mahakali in the west which is no longer possible due to demographic change after considerable migration from the hills in the past three decades. The district of Jhapa situated just west of the strategically important “Chicken’s Neck” has a majority of population who are migrants from the hills. It may be remembered that the standoff between Indian and Chinese in October took place just a few kilometers northeast of the “Chicken’s neck’. The conflict between India and China took place just few kilometers from this strategically important point in October. Escalation of conflict in the future may result in Chinese capture of this “Chicken’s Neck” corridor dividing Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Sikkim, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh from the Indian mainland. It seems unlikely that India’s strategic ally, the United States will intervene on India’s behalf. India will be on its own.
Indian Prime Minister Modi congratulated both KP Oli of CPN(UML) and Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the Maoist Centre about their victory in elections. However, it was after a long silence. It remains to be seen how the Indian government reacts to new leftist alliance government in Nepal.
The biggest loser in Nepal’s elections
PRAKASH A. RAJ