Left Wins Nepal Ballot – India Need To Treat Cautiously

By Rattan Saldi (19 December 2017) – Nepal was completely draped in Red, barring a few spots in the Terai region bordering India as results trickled in after the maiden election to Parliament and Provincial Assemblies under the new Constitution adopted two years ago.K.P. Sharma Oli is the best bet

The Left Alliance of Maoist Centre and Communist Party of Nepal (UML) has stormed into power dethroning the Nepali Congress- led government. All three tier elections, as mandated under the new Constitution are now complete since new local bodies are already in place. The Federal Parliament and Provincial Assemblies are expected to be constituted shortly after the New Year Day, much before the deadline of 21st January.

The overriding majority the Left Alliance enjoys in Parliament and Provincial Assemblies should bring stability to Nepal after a long period of turmoil. It may however signal a cautionary signal for New Delhi since the CPN – UML leadership has been whipping up anti-India rhetoric from the days of Madhesi led blockade at the border with India in late 2015. Its growing proximity towards Beijing is well known. On its part, China has been increasing its influence in Nepal both in its internal affairs and in matters related to development. Several infrastructure projects are currently under discussion between Kathmandu and Beijing to kick start President Xi Jinping’s One Belt One Road initiative in this part of Himalayas.

In the run up to the ballot, CPN (UML) Chairman K.P. Sharma Oli had promised to let the Chinese return to the 1200 Megawatt Budhi Gandhaki Hydro Power Project. China’s Gezhouba Group had bagged the work but the outgoing Deuba government scrapped the deal last month after a Parliamentary Committee found irregularities and lack of transparency in the contract. Located in the central and western region of Nepal along the Budhi Gandaki River, the project was granted to the Chinese over a year ago by the then Maoist-led government, headed by former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Prachanda.

The election to Parliament and Assemblies was by and large peaceful but the transition from unitary to federal form of government is not without hiccups. The seven provinces in Nepal have been delineated under the Constitution but these are only numbered one to seven and their names are yet to be decided and their capitals identified. Unless these are constituted, National Assembly would not be formed and without the National Assembly being in position, election of the new Prime Minister is not possible. Consensus still eludes among various parties on the methodology for electing members of National Assembly by Provincial Assemblies and Heads of \municipal bodies.

Nepal has witnessed a prolonged battle of wits after the country was declared a federal, democratic, socialist, republic in 2008 following the overthrow of Monarchy. The first Constituent Assembly could not deliver a statute despite its extension for two years. The Second Assembly (elected in 2013) approved the Constitution in 2015 after a long political tussle and hard bargaining amongst divergent interests in a multi-party, multi-ethnic milieu.

Left Resurgence –NC Poor Show

The Left’s resurgence and poor show by Nepali Congress (NC), which has held formidable sway for nearly five decades are a result of multiple factors- first and foremost being the October decision of the Maoist Centre to desert the NC and align with CPN (UML). This alliance consolidated the Left vote bank. K. P. Sharma Oli stuck to his nationalistic rhetoric, while the Left Alliance raised the old bogey of unequal treaties with India. Abrogation of 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty with India formed a clear plank of their manifesto.

Maoist supremo Prachanda and Sharma Oli spoke of the need to review the Treaty before, saying that many Treaty provisions are humiliating for the Nepalese; people at large bought their argument.

The Trade and Transit Treaty signed with China during Oli’s visit to Beijing as Prime Minister was used as another stick to whip up sentiment against New Delhi as the Alliance leaders claimed that this Treaty would change the status of Nepal from India locked to land linked country.

The Left also projected economic prosperity and stability as its main plank in their manifesto which perhaps appealed to the people, who were disgusted with long years of political instability and the lowest growth rate.

The Nepali Congress has to blame itself for its rout. Its first undoing was lack of coherence and unity of purpose among most of its leaders. This trait was in full display during electioneering. And it became Grand Old Party’s weak point. Moreover Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba could not finalize seat sharing deal with Madesh centric parties. It gave an edge to the Left Alliance.

Prachanda Factor In NC Rout

Prachanda’s betrayal of Deuba contributed no less to the NC losses. From all accounts, Deuba was caught unaware by Maoist supremo’s decision. Probably he did not expect Prachanda to ditch him on the eve of general elections. Only last year, Prachanda had dethroned Oli and formed a new coalition government with the NC. Now he joined hands with Oli, dumping Nepali Congress. Well, there are no permanent friends or foes in politics. There are only permanent interests.

For the present, the gainer is CPN (UML), no doubt. It has tightened its stranglehold over the countryside, gained control of majority of local bodies and has swept the Federal Parliament and Provincial Assembly elections. Yet, the Nepali Congress and the Madesh centric parties cannot be written off. Not entirely, certainly. They have got a fairly good share of the vote in Proportional Representation election vis-à-vis the Left. It shows that they have takers for the policies and the ideology they represent.

The government formation is likely to take some time; K.P. Sharma Oli is the best bet to be in the saddle. Maoist Centre and the CPN (UML) are now on a unification mode. They have set up a seven member Party Unity Coordination Committee to work out the modalities of merger.

Immediate task before the country is setting up of the National Council or the Upper House of Federal Parliament as envisaged in the new Constitution. The 59 – member Council would have eight members from each of the seven Provincial Assemblies and three members would be nominated by the President. Identifying State capitals, constitution of Provincial Assemblies, devolution of economic and other powers to states and local bodies and sharing of taxes among the three tier new dispensation are amongst other priorities.

Message To India?

Well, Delhi will do well to redefine its priorities towards the Himalayan Nation. In fact, in the light of its experience with the Nepalese Left, particularly after the country became a Republic in 2008, it is advisable for India to tread cautiously with its neighbour despite centuries of shared history and culture. One thing is clear though in mutual interest. The India-Nepal relations must continue to be at an even keel with both countries remaining sensitive to each other’s concerns, security including.

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