By Maila Baje
Having left on a high-profile visit to New Delhi indicating that a cabinet reshuffle was imminent, ruling Nepal Communist Party co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal returned home conceding that Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli had the final word on the matter.
While Dahal was busy meeting with top Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Oli candidly quashed reports of any impending ministerial reorganization. Our premier was evidently wary of what he considered this unwarranted encroachment upon his prerogative. He went on to accuse those spreading such rumors with attempting to destabilize his government.
Interestingly, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa ‘Badal’, too, rejected such reports with considerable vigor. The obvious explanation would be that Thapa, whose performance has come under much criticism, wants to save his job, even at the cost of undercutting his one-time supreme commander.
Technically, though, you can’t accuse Thapa of anything bordering on disloyalty. There are no Maoists or Marxist-Leninists in the unified communist party. Dahal may be sharing leadership of the organization with Oli. But Oli is the prime minister. And as a party member and minister, Thapa would be well justified in aligning himself with Oli.
Even after making allowances for the factionalism and expediency inherent in our politics, it is hard to divorce this episode from broader developments, primarily on the geopolitical front. Why Dahal should visit India on an overtly official and bilateral undertaking – with more than inferred sanctification from his hosts – at a time when the Oli government is managing relations reasonably well is, well, intriguing. (The term ‘well’ being espoused entirely from Nepal’s perspective.)
And why Dahal should be publicizing his ensuing visit to China – again with palpable glee in the Indian media – adds to the mystery. Unless the Indians are more worried about Oli than China when it comes to Nepal.
The volatility of international dynamics has left China and India carefully choreographing their moves vis-à-vis one another, which has only added to Nepal’s precariousness. How do you strike a balance between two powerful neighbors who themselves aren’t sure about each other with regard to the world’s increasingly impulsive yet exclusive superpower?
Uncertainty over Chinese-backed projects in Nepal amid international anxieties over the Belt and Road Initiative, the organization of the BIMSTEC summit in Kathmandu, the opening of Chinese ports to Nepal, the withdrawal of Nepal from BIMSTEC military exercises and its participation with China in similar maneuvers are closely linked developments. If we start losing sight of ourselves in our eagerness to accommodate others, there will be ample opportunity for action – all to our ultimate detriment.
Returning home, Dahal told reporters that Indian leaders sought a stable government and prosperity in Nepal. Would they have said anything to the contrary even if they wanted to? Dahal also reiterated that his visit was aimed at reminding the Indian leadership of the need to implement existing bilateral agreements promptly and effectively. And he needed to fly to New Delhi to reiterate what Nepalis have been saying since 1950?
Six months into office, this government is under siege. It has itself to blame for much of its woes, given its early smugness and insouciance. Still, the challenges Oli faces are arduous and have been accumulating for over a decade. Wouldn’t we be doing ourselves a great favor if we heaped on the government only the blame it truly deserved?
Reshuffle decoy and regional dynamics
By Maila Baje