As promised, Prime Minister K. P. Oli embarked upon an official visit to India only after the opening on February 6, 2016 of the Birgunj-Raxual border point, which remained closed for 135 days. The opening was as dramatic as the beginning of the blockade which started soon after of the promulgation of the new constitution. Frustrated by the prolonged protests that caused immense suffering to Nepalese and did some harm to India as well, local businessmen and residents chased away a handful of protesters. Interesting fact about the opening is that the blockade was lifted soon after Rajendra Mahato,Sadbhavana Party chair,spoke in favour of lifting the blockade, saying the blockade totally failed to exert pressure on the government to address the issue of Madhes as intended, but instead people suffered from supply disruptions. Soon after this observation of Mahato, the main supply point was opened, paying absolutely no attention to the reservations of other Madhesi leaders. There is no point now delving into what made Mahato,the aggressive one among the lot, to suddenly soften his stand and appealed for opening the Birgunj-Raxual point because it has done us no harm and paved way for Oli’s six-day visit to India, which commenced on February 19,2016.
Many people have much opinion on this visit to India, some terming it successful and some branding it an unsuccessful one. It will be worthwhile to make an attempt here to delve into the positive as well as some disappointing aspects of the visit. Covering a wide range of issues, the two countries signed a seven-point deal, which included energy trade, transit facilities, cultural exchanges, road construction and post earthquake reconstruction support. The two prime ministers also inaugurated the 400 kv Muzaffarpur-Dhalkebar for supply of Indian electricity to Nepal. We have started receiving 80 mw power, which will increase to 600mw by December, as per the deal. On the whole, the agreements reached have basically to do with coordination and execution of previous pledges between the two countries. India is expected to expedite execution of committed projects. Both sides will have to be careful to make sure that inordinate delay in project implementation is avoided. All said and done, it would be unfair not to term the seven-point deal a positive outcome of Oli’s visit. In the mean while, many in Nepal are not prepared to agree with his claim that the visit was highly successful in that it cleared the misunderstanding that had surfaced after the promulgation of the constitution. Many of us still believe that confusion still abounds between the two sides on some major issues because Indian side still believes that constitutional issues will have to be resolved through political dialogue and by taking all sections of Nepal. A 40 percent cut in Indian annual grant to Nepal, as stated in the union budget for 2016\17,is a serious setback at a time when the country needs lots of resources. Since Nepal’s inability to spend has been cited as the reason and some other South Asian countries also have suffered similar cuts, let us not try to delve much into it from the standpoint of the visit. Further, in a major departure from the tradition, no joint communiqué was issued at the end of the visit, which could be an indication that India’s reservations about some constitutional provisions continue to persist. Deep K. Upadhyay, former minister and NC leader and currently serving as Nepal’s ambassador to India, squarely blamed the lack of interest from the Indian side, as the reason for the no issuance of a joint communiqué at the end of the visit. This act of India at the end stained an otherwise reasonably satisfactory visit of our prime minister. As far as constitutional issues and Madhesi agitation is concerned, things are not that simple, many have begun to believe. moreover, with inflation at seven year high of 12.1 percent and government failing to regulate the derailed petroleum market even weeks after resumption of normal supply from India, people are beginning to blame the current dispensation more than India for the mess they are in today. It is difficult to say whether the Oli-led government will get enough time to check the level of inflation caused by the gap between demand and supply and other anomalies because there are reasons for people to believe that a new arrangement will be made to implement the new constitution, addressing the Maddhesi concerns, after the thirteenth General Convention of Nepali Congress scheduled to be held during March 3-6 in Kathmandu. Interesting also is the fact that more than 50 percent of his deputy prime ministers have gone on record differing with him on constitutional issues as well as matters of national importance.
From General Convention stand point, all is not well in NC. The fractured party looks further divided. The two rival factions of the party are working hard to announce key candidates. Compared to the establishment side, currently led by acting president Ram Chandra Poudel after the sad demise on February 9, 2016 of NC president Sushil Koirala, the Deuba faction is said to be more comfortably placed as far as picking candidates for different posts is concerned. While Poudyal is trying to get him endorsed as the sole candidate of their side for the president, there are other aspirants also in the group, which, if left unresolved, may help Deuba grab the top job in the party in his third attempt in about a decade. It may be recalled that his two unsuccessful bids previously were against G. P. Koirala and Sushil Koirala. Hope the two factions make their candidates public before the General Convention commences on March 3.Whatever may be the outcome of the intra-party competition, it is almost certain that things will not remain as they are now from country’s governance angel. Whoever runs the show in the country will have to work without wasting time to resolve the Madhes agitation and make sincere efforts to galvanize the ailing economy. It has been made crystal clear by both India and Madhesi leaders that the first amendment to the constitution has not provided the total solution and therefore some more work will have to be done taking into confidence the agitating leaders. Let the improvement in the security situation in Terai after the end of the blockade and general strike not give any room for complacence because the situation could again take an unpleasant turn anytime.
Maximum assistance and trade-related concessions will have to be extracted from both emerging global economic powers (India and China), maintaining a balanced position in dealing with them on issues related to development cooperation and assistance. Opening up of border points with China should be expeditiously carried out and top priority should be given to the execution of projects where India has made the commitment but work is yet to get off the ground. Our leaders have to understand that people cannot be fooled forever with sweet talks and that they want an effective government and a committed leader who can deliver the goods in a specific time period to bring about meaningful change in the country. If the parties and the government continue to operate in a stereo type fashion as has been the case so far, change in leadership of a party and the government is meaningless. Indeed, the country is in dire need of sincere, visionary and committed leadership.