Before discussing Prime Minister Oli’s visit to China, it would be unwise not to touch upon the thirteenth National General Convention of Nepali Congress which concluded electing Sher Bahadur Deuba as the party president.Deuba defeated Ram Chandra Poudyal by a wide margin of more than 500 votes in a run-off, which was held after none of the three candidates managed to secure more than 50 percent votes in the first round.Expectedly,Sasanka Koirala got elected as party general secretary and very surprisingly Krishna Prasad Sitaula,a third candidate for the party president, got only 324 votes in the first round. Equally astonishing was the victory by 8 votes of little-known Sita Devi Yadav over well known Chitra Lekha Yadav,a close associate of Deuba,for the post of treasurer.Deuba camp took full advantage of the rift in the establishment side and also managed to show till the end that he was the only candidate from their side for the post of party president. This camp was ahead in organizational matters and nothing was left to guess and gossip because they wanted Deuba to be elected President of Nepali Congress with a comfortable working majority in the central committee. Their investment basically in the form of hard work and dexterity gave them the return they expected.
Exactly a month after his official trip to India, his first as head of government, Prime Minister Oli flew for Bejing on March 20, 2016, leading a huge team consisting of ministers, secretaries, lawmakers, businessmen and journalists. Unfortunately for Oli, the use of a private airline (The Himalayan Airlines) partly owned by one of the major donors of the UML party has been controversial. People are questioning his decision in using the airline that has yet to come into operation and is co- owned by a person who is known to be very close to him. Countering argument of some Oli loyalists that he has done no wrong in using its services because it was for free, observers opine that people holding public offices are forbidden from receiving expensive gifts because they are no different from bribes. Further, many prominent people have criticized Oli for taking along so many people seemingly against Nepal Government’s earlier decision that state and official visits should not include more than 25 people. Prime Minister’s Office and Foreign Ministry officials are now engaged in a blame game for the swollen size of the entourage that is likely to cost the government Rs.150 million. In these difficult times, one would definitely expect a leader of his stature to show at least to his cabinet colleagues, If not the whole lot of leaders and bureaucrats, how people can be austere, for example by cutting the size of the delegation and taking scheduled flight of any airline, to save scanty resources that are so desperately needed elsewhere in the country.Indeed,by bulldozing earlier decisions and doing away with some norms and ethics, Oli missed an opportunity to set high moral norms and standard for others of his size and weight to follow in times to come. Any saving that may have resulted from the free use of the aircraft is far outweighed by his lack of adherence to basic norms and values and complete neglect of government’s earlier decision.
About a month after sealing a 10-point deal with India, our Prime Minister succeeded in getting a 15-point joint statement issued, which states that China will strengthen connectivity between the two countries by constructing necessary transport infrastructure including a railway network in Nepal. This joint communiqué was preceded by a 10-point agreement between the two countries which included a transit and transport treaty. With the signing of this treaty, the landlocked nation Nepal will have access to sea from China, reducing Nepal’s total dependence on India for trade and transit. Although it may currently not be very feasible for us to rely much on Tianjin port, the nearest port which is 3300 km away from here as against Kolkata port in India which is only 1000 km, with development of infrastructure and enhanced connectivity between the two countries, this port in China could account for sizeable portion of our international trade in times to come. Recent unpleasant happenings between India and Nepal forced our government into this much needed arrangement with our neighbor on the north. There is no reason why India should be unhappy, as apprehended by some in India and Nepal, with this arrangement because it is not at all going to be at the expense of India and may on the contrary contribute towards reducing congestion at the busy Kolkata port, to the great relief of authorities there, if some portion of our trade is routed through Tianjin port. Kolkata port authorities should be happy to see this happen at the earliest. Moreover, economic relations between India and China are on the rise and Mr. Modi,prime minister of India, has shown deep concern about his country’s huge trade deficit with China, which stood at 38 billion dollar in 2014.It may be worthwhile to mention that bilateral trade between the two amounted to a meager 0.20 billion dollar in1990.In fact, China and India should encourage and implement trilateral projects, preferably in the field of water resources,guarrenting market and the needed capital. The two emerging economic powers could make use of Nepal as a transit point in trade. It is encouraging that China has shown interest in hydro power sector. In fact, China can help us generate hydro power to satisfy Nepal’s internal demand as well as that of energy-hungry India, which has ambitious plan to remain secured from the stand point of energy availability, not taking too long a time. It is highly unlikely, therefore, that India will wait for decades for us to harness our water resources and export power there. We have to move really fast, seeking assistance and cooperation from every corner.
Despite Oli’s failure to sign a concrete agreement on fuel supply and storage facilities as expected and hoped, signing of a 10-point deal and issuance of a 15-point joint communiqué, which also contained encouraging words about the recently promulgated constitution of Nepal, are the positive developments of the trip, which appears reasonably successful. Expectedly, on his return from a week- long trip to China, Oli proclaimed that the visit was successful in that meaningful agreements were reached with China to lay the foundation of long- term bilateral economic ties for prosperity and development of Nepal. He had every right also to claim that unhindered access to sea through China as part of the transit transportation agreement for landlocked Nepal was one of the important achievements of his visit. The two countries signed several notes of understanding related to transit transportation, infrastructure, energy, trade, banking and investment. After this reasonably successful trip and basically to put these agreed upon ideas on an implementation track, it is natural for Oli to expect continuity of this government with a very poor performance record. Supply of petroleum products is still disrupted, inflation is at double digit level and earthquake victims are yet to get relief. Oli was right in criticizing all the concerned officials for failing to impart momentum to the task of reconstruction and rehabilitation through the Reconstruction Authority headed by a little known person hand- picked by him.Further, with drastic fall in rice production, followed by disappointing wheat output this year(eight year low),food inflation is likely to swell. There are reports that prolonged drought is likely to cause famine in the impoverished far western hilly districts such as Achham,Baitadi,Bajura,Dadeldhura,Bajhang,Doti and Darchula,which have not received rainfall since August last year. An acute food crisis is looming in this part of Nepal where farmers depend almost entirely on rain from the sky for farming. People there are prone to diseases such as cholera and typhoid that befall them time and again.
As far as continuity of this dysfunctional government is concerned, much depends on NC party, more specifically its recently-elected president Mr. Deuba, who is most likely to be elected leader of the parliamentary party also. Indeed, he is under pressure from a section of his party to make moves for the change. Although Deuba has repeatedly observed in recent days that he is in no hurry to dislodge the current dispensation to grab power, it looks like it will be difficult to resist for long the pressure to dislodge the present government about whose poor performance people kept quiet just because the nation was in a difficult position due to the blockade. Let us hope the election takes place without much intra-party squabbles. Most probably, some moves will be made after NC chooses its parliamentary party leader.
It may be remembered that, irrespective of who comes to power, unresolved political problems have to be resolved and concrete actions should be taken to move this nation towards prosperity. People are not going to be satisfied with well- intended and beautifully worded deals and agreements that often do not see the light of implementation, let alone providing the promised benefits. This time, however, let us not completely brush aside Oli’s claim that his recent visits to India and China have opened up new avenues for bilateral and trilateral cooperation for accelerating Nepal’s development and uplifting the level of leaving of Nepalese. Let us hope most of what is listed in the two ten-point deals signed with our two neighbours within a span of one month gets implemented without making people wait for decades to see some positive results. The tag of disfunctionality stuck to this government has been torn a bit by China visit, complete removal of which requires speedy implementation of different provisions of the two deals.