Prachanda Is The Right Choice For India In Nepal

For Delhi, Prachanda Is The Right Horse To Back While Keeping Deuba In The Stable.

Feb. 26, 2024, 8:53 a.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL. 17, No. 15, March.10,2024 (Falgun,27. 2080) Publisher and Editor: Keshab Prasad Poudel Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75

Prachanda's adept balancing act and strategic positioning continue to shape the trajectory of Nepal's political future, with implications that extend beyond its borders

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) has completed 13 months of his third term, by far the most successful in leading Nepal with the Maoist party with just 32 seats. A seasoned and balanced Nepali journalist billed Prachanda’s tenure as ‘firm, polished, and people-oriented’. About the power-sharing formula that has become a staple in coalition politics, his assessment was different from that of a senior Nepali Congress parliamentarian who, out of the three options – two-one-two; two and a half and two and a half; and Prachanda doing full five years – while not favouring the first option, was hugely critical of it. So was the journalist.

The figures indicate the number of years of premiership. The first set relates to Prachanda and Deuba doing two years each while Madhav Nepal would get one year. The second is minus Madhav Nepal. The parliamentarian said on any major coalition issues, the Big 3 were former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba (NC, 89 seats) and Prachanda and former PM Madhav Nepal of the United Socialist (with only ten seats and not recognised as a national party) ignoring Janata Samajwadi (National) Party with 14 seats. He went on to suggest that both Nepal and Yadav should share a year term, however wobbly the arrangement. The wily former Prime Minister KP Oli (CPN UML 80 seats) who did not honour power-sharing with Prachanda is determined to ensure Madhav Nepal does not become PM for even a day. Incidentally, Prachanda and Deuba have happily shared power earlier.

Astutely, Prachanda, while firing salvos at NC, indicating their alliance has not been rewarding for his party, is also suggesting that the option is open of returning to the CPN (UML) fold, a homecoming for which Chinese leaders will give their right arm and a contingency India will dread. This warning keeps alive the Prachanda premiership for five years. But nothing is done till everything is done. Prachanda’s scorecard shows the right boxes are ticked: corruption, the people’s biggest concern, has been emphatically addressed with top guns or their wards in jail or on bail. Also being investigated is the Pokhara International Airport which involves China trying to inveigle Nepal into its BRI debt trap. It will turn out to be another white elephant like Matale Airport or Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka.

China’s bullying of Nepal is legendary turned into in-your-face warrior diplomacy by former Ambassador Hou Yanxi who took Kathmandu for a royal ride. Nepal was browbeaten into accepting the One China policy at the drop of a hat, a former Nepalese diplomat told me. While Tibetans were cowed down in Kathmandu and Pokhara, China has closed down the border in the north since the pandemic. Chinese have indulged in salami-slicing in nine places on the Nepal-China border.

A former Madhesi MP informed me that border pillars have been removed, water sources diverted and dual-use villages constructed. Encroachments are reported at Dharchul, Mustang, Gorkha, Sindhulpal Chowk, Rasua, and Solukhumbu. He said the Government maintains silence, especially the ruling Communists. Ambassador Chen Song and other CPC leaders like Sun Haiyan are brazenly criticising India for “not being a friendly neighbour and not so beneficial for Nepal”. Nepal mildly smacked China for violating diplomatic norms.

President Xi first visited Nepal in 2019 resulting in the 20 agreements none of which materialised. In 2016, the Trade and Transit Treaty with China following the blockade resulted in China granting access to seven sea and land ports for third-country trade and commerce and promised of alternate source of petroleum. Not a litre was provided. India built a pipeline from Motihari to Amlekhgunj and provided Nepal with its fuel requirements in full. The rail link from Kirung to Kathmandu first mooted in 1973 was followed by a feasibility study in 2018-20. Total silence prevails on Chinese connectivity projects. India submitted the preliminary feasibility report on a rail link with Kathmandu two years ago, Funding has to be worked out.

Nepal can sell power to India to the order of 452.6 MW plus 108 MW with an additional 10,000 MW in the next ten years. This will redress the trade balance. China exported USD1.7bn worth of goods in 2022 while it imported USD5.11 mn and has just reopened some border trade posts. Protests were launched in the first week of February about BRI and the Chinese-built Pokhara airport. When I was in the VIP lounge of the Pokhara airport on 27 November 2023, the carpets were soiled with water leaking. It is also the only airport in Nepal with an aerobridge.

But what’s the use, since there are no international flights? Prachanda has managed foreign relations deftly balancing US and China and India and China.

Kathmandu issued a statement that criticised Israel’s humanitarian breaches in Gaza as well as called Russia’s war against Ukraine an aggression that must stop. Further, he asked Russia to stop enlisting Nepalese nationals into its army. The villain of the piece is India’s flawed Agniveer which has shredded the strategic strand in India-Nepal relations. Still, for Delhi, Prachanda is the right horse to back while keeping Deuba in the stable.

(The writer, a retired Major General, was Commander, IPKF South, Sri Lanka, and founder member of the Defence Planning Staff, currently the Integrated Defence Staff. Views are personal)

Source and reproduced from Daily Pioneer

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