Nepal needs Delhi attention

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Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has plunged his country into multiple crises. The ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) is on the verge of a split. There are serious differences between the NCP’s co-chairpersons, Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, a former prime minister. While the two are engaged in a power tussle, Oli’s policies and style of functioning are to blame for the rift. Amajority of the NCP’s Standing Committee members and Central Secretariat members want Oli to step down as prime minister and party co-chairperson. As prime minister, Oli has failed Nepal on multiple fronts. Under his leadership, corruption has soared and the economic situation has deteriorated. His inept handling of the Covid-19 crisis has deepened public anger. Massive protests have roiled Nepal in recent months. And despite mounting calls for his exit, he continues to cling to power. Instead of addressing the issues, he has sought to deflect attention away from his own failures to blame others – his rivals in the NCP, opposition leaders, and India. His government recently issued a political map that included territory India has controlled for many decades. This and his anti-India rhetoric have plunged bilateral relations to historic lows. As is his wont, Oli is busy externalising the blame for the troubles he has unleashed on his party and country.

Although Nepal has been spared the worst health effects of the pandemic so far, public frustration with the government is growing. In mid-June, groups of middle-class youth took to the streets in Kathmandu and other cities to protest perceived government apathy, incompetence, and corruption. So determined is Oli to cling to power that he has prorogued parliament to avert a no-confidence motion against his government. Meetings between him and Dahal have failed to yield any result. He is reported to be in favour of declaring a health emergency in Nepal. In the guise of fighting the pandemic, Oli plans to assume extraordinary powers to keep his opponents in check. Oli’s politics of brinksmanship is responsible for the mess that Nepal is in today. The Chinese embassy in Kathmandu, which facilitated the formation of the NCP two years ago, is working overtime to mediate between its rival factions. Any solution it comes up with will benefit China alone and perhaps the politician it props up in Kathmandu, not the people of Nepal or their democracy.

Corruption has long been a problem within the Nepali state, and even before the pandemic, the NCP, which took power in 2017, was widely seen as lacking initiative to combat it. The corruption issue has continued to dog the government amidst COVID-19 after a healthcare procurement-related scandal emerged in early April. Nepal must wake up to the fact that their country’s excessive embrace of China in recent years comes at a heavy price. China’s control over Nepal’s economy, foreign relations and politics has grown enormously. According to reports, the Chinese have taken control of several villages along the Sino-Nepal border. Developments in Nepal have serious implications for India’s national security. New Delhi will have to handle the situation in Nepal with a lot more sensitivity and subtlety than it has hitherto displayed.

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