Next Door Nepal: Red versus rest

By Yubaraj Ghimire (9 October 2017) –  The coming together of like-minded people or political parties driven by a common ideology and principles would generally be taken as a welcome move. But a sudden declaration last week by three prominent left parties that they will contest the federal and parliamentary elections scheduled for November 26 and December 7 as allies and that the alliance is a precursor towards the formation of a single communist party has triggered skepticism. In response, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, also the chairman of the Nepali Congress (NC), has initiated a move to bring together all non-left parties to counter the communists.

Nepal has been through political instability, frequent change of government and political equations in the past 11 years. This is not for the first time that the Nepal Communist Party (Maoist Centre) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist have come together — they have joined hands to form a government in the past. What no one anticipated were the moves to form a single party. When Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal and CPN-UML chief K.P. Oli announced the pre-poll alliance and subsequently the merger move on Tuesday, even cadres and mid-rank leaders were taken by surprise. Why did such a move come without enough debate in the party ranks? And why was the alliance and merger plan made in such a conspiratorial manner?

The first response to the tremor, expectedly, was felt in Delhi. The government of Nepal, especially the Prime Minister’s Office, was expecting that New Delhi will officially announce the date of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Kathmandu in less than two weeks — the third in three years and the first after the Indian blockade made him unpopular in Nepal — ostensibly to lay the foundation of the India-funded 900-MW hydro project. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Nepal in October 2016 was called off at the last minute as the Oli-led government that China considered very friendly had quit three months before, following the defection of the Maoists to form a new coalition government with the NC. The Indian establishment as well a section of the pro-India political class in Nepal had hailed the formation of the NC-CPN (Maoist Centre) alliance as indication of New Delhi’s success in promoting democracy and its own interest in Nepal. Two months ago during Deuba’s state visit, Modi had heaped praise on the maturity of Deuba and Dahal, ostensibly for pursuing the political equation that India had helped to construct and pulling the rug off Oli’s feet.

When Dahal ditched Deuba and joined ranks with Oli, it marked the failure of India’s Nepal policy, yet again. This is, arguably, New Delhi’s biggest diplomatic failure since it brought the Maoists to the centrestage of Nepali politics. Not only was the monarchy, the oldest cultural and diplomatic link between India and Nepal, sacrificed for this purpose, but the oldest democratic force of Nepal, the NC, a party that was active in India’s freedom struggle, was forced to play a secondary role, having told by India to back Maoist agendas with reservation. In fact, the NC, all along believed that a constitutional monarchy and democratic forces working together was the best guarantor for Nepal’s independent existence and economic stability. That belief was at the core of the constant refusal of B.P. Koirala, the legendary founder leader of the party, to launch a pro- democracy movement in the country. Instead, he gave a call for national reconciliation in December 1976. Throughout his political career, Koirala followed the mantra that “my neck is tied with the king”. Is Koirala’s prophesy coming true? The NC has never been so weak and confused in its seven-decade long existence.

Following the Maoists and their agenda under India’s mediation has forced the NC to go on the defensive. New Delhi’s assessment that the Maoists “are the real representatives of Nepalese people” has been proved wrong as the party, 11 years after joining the peace process, has accepted the status of a junior ally in the CPN-UML led Left alliance, content with 40 per cent of seats as against 60 per cent seats to the UML.

The new Left alliance may not officially assume an anti-India posture, but their worldview is fairly well-known. The Chinese ambassador to Nepal recently stated that Beijing wants to be the biggest stakeholder in Nepal. But all these issues will take time to become clear.

While the future of the three former prime ministers — Oli, Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai — together in one single party is still unclear, they at least have similar pasts. All three had begun their political career by practicing a politics of “annihilation of class enemies” — Oli in the 1970s and Dahal and Bhattarai in the 1990s.

This article first appeared in The Indian Express.

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