Himalayan Kingdom and the Great Game

By KS Tomar 

In diplomacy, it is always heartening if the immediate neighbor has friendly relations and does not play in the hands of bigger power; this is true to Nepal after the defeat of Pro China communists led by Ex Prime Minister K.P. Oli, who brought Indo-Nepal ties to the lowest ebb.

The fast  turn of events in Himalayan Kingdom preceding general election and results announced by Nepal election commission strongly indicate that a five party alliance of NC, CPN-Maoist Centre, CPN-Unified Socialist, Loktantrik Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janamorcha is certain to retain power in Nepal.

Nepal, a country of 30 million people that is squeezed between China and India, has seen 10 government changes since the abolition of its 239-year-old monarchy in 2008.

Nepal’s president last Sunday called on the country’s political parties to try to form a new government within a week after last month’s inconclusive national election. The ruling alliance, led by the Nepali Congress party of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, and the main opposition Nepal Communist Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) party need the support of smaller groups to form a new government.

United States in Himalaya

The United States has already taken financial initiatives to strengthen its foothold in Kathmandu to isolate China which has been trying to block it through Nepali dispensation.

Deuba’s Coalition government took a different stand as the US normally provides financial assistance as free aid or grant whereas China’s Debt Trap Policy puts the borrowing nation under huge liabilities and starts dictating terms which has already ruined countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka and dozens of poor nations in the world.

To improve Nepal’s economic situation, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) had signed, in 2017, a $500 million pact with Nepal to expand Nepal’s electricity transmission infrastructure and improve its road maintenance regime but the previous Oli government tried to block it.

Setback for China

It will be a big setback to China which has been encouraging communists led by Oli but he failed to deliver in these elections. People have rejected his party, CPN (UML) and Nepal elections commission has announced details of seats won by all parties for 165 seats in the house of 275 whereas remaining 110 posts will be calculated on the basis of the Proportional Representation system.

Nepali congress has emerged as the single largest party with 57 seats followed by 44 of the CPN (UML), 18 of the CPN (Maoist Centre), 10 won by the CPN (Unified Socialist). Similarly, the Janata Samajbadi Party Nepal, Rastriya Prajatantra Party and Rastriya Swatantra Party have won seven seats each while the Loktantrik Samajbadi bagged four constituencies followed by three of the Nagarik Unmukti Party, and one each by the Rastriya Janamorcha Nepal, Nepal Workers and Peasants’ Party and Janamat Party.

The five party alliance has won 85 seats  out of a total 165 seats of parliament in the general election held on Nov 20, that was jointly led by Nepali Congress Chief Sher Bahadur Deuba, and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) of Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’.

According to experts in Kathmandu, Deuba needs around 10 more to form the government and smaller parties are waiting IN wings to support new government like CK Raut-led Janamat party having seven seats , Nagarik Unmukti Party (People’s Freedom Party), four seats and Independents numbering 20.

Challenges before the New Prime Minister

As per analysts, It is an established fact that China has been exploring the deteriorating ties between India and Nepal that took its roots in 2015 when a blockade was imposed by the Modi government to create pressure to help over fifteen lakh Mededhis residing in Terai region of Nepal for the right to get citizenship.

Now China will be on the back foot as the new government will be keen to improve ties with India which is bad news for China.

Second, China had started interfering in internal affairs of Nepal and completely won over the Oli faction of communists who had come to power by defeating Nepali Congress 2017. Now the new government will face no hurdle in strengthening and repairing the old ties with India, a foremost task of the new government.

Third, Chinese President Xi had made personal efforts to woo Nepal during the Oli regime and visited the Himalaya Kingdom twice which resulted in huge announcements of financial aid running in billions of dollars. Experts say that investment by China in Nepal has a twin objective:

First, large scale investment with good returns and thereby weaning away Nepal from India. It also helps to change the politics in Nepal in favor of China. Second, the open border of Nepal with India can facilitate the smuggling of Chinese goods to India on a large scale.

Deuba may check these initiatives without offending China which has allured Himalayan Kingdom in Debt trap. But Xi is bound to be disappointed as Oli has let him down and failed to win the confidence of voters in these polls.

Fourth, the former Chinese ambassador to Nepal had openly lobbied to save the Oli government and tried to pressurize the Prachanda faction. But the move proved a big flop as with Nepali congress and two other parties, Prachanda ensured a humiliating defeat for Oli. Now such lobbying may not have much scope as the Oli party has been relegated to the background in elections.

Prime minister Narendra Modi has visited Nepal half a dozen times so far which reflected India’s eagerness to cement strained relations which saw some change in dynamics even during the short span of coalition rule headed by Deuba. India did contribute to help Nepal during the pandemic crisis which was purely on humanitarian basis and common people appreciated the gesture.

Karamveer Yojna may be implemented

Experts say that Deuba had put execution of the Karamveer project on hold to recruit 28000 Youths from Nepal in the Indian army. The Indian army chief had threatened to withdraw these posts but the Indian government refrained from it to protect old ties hence the ProJet may be implemented after the new government is installed in Kathmandu.

In Final assessment, normalization of ties between Nepal and India is strategically essential to checkmate China which has already created a huge trouble on the Line of Control and the Deuba government can be trusted in view of its past positive initiatives.

KS Tomar is a senior political analyst based in Shimla, India. He has also served in Kathmandu representing a reputed Indian English News Daily.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times  

Images courtesy of (Image: India TV News), (Image: Wikipedia) and Provided

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