New Delhi’s blessings to Prachanda

1234— By Kalyani Shankar —

Will Nepal find stability in the new regime of Pushpa Kamal Dahal? Will the Maoist leader known as Prachanda be able to steer Nepal better than he did when he was Prime Minister eight years ago? Will Indo-Nepal relations be back on track? It all depends on a lot of things including how he handles the two big neighbours – China and India and how the two neighbours look at Prachanda’s regime.

Dahal, the Chairman of CPN (Maoist Centre) became Nepal’s 39th Prime Minister on August 3 heading a coalition with the Nepali Congress. His first innings as Prime Minister in 2008 was short lived. Although Prachanda was known for his anti India stance, he begins his current term with the blessings of New Delhi. NCP leader D P Tripathi played a vital role in the back channel negotiations with the Nepal leaders. The result was that Prachanda replaced K.P. Sharma Oli. Experts feel that Delhi-Kathmandu ties that had reached the bottom during the Oli regime might be back on track with Prachanda’s return to power.

Prachanda has many challenges including completing the peace process and implementation of the new Constitution. He also has to pay attention to governance and improving the economy. Above all continuing the recalibration in Nepal’s foreign policy while remaining sensitive to the concerns of both India and China is vital.

Prachanda has repeatedly stated in recent interviews that he has become “politically mature” and understands the “compulsions of competitive politics”. He told this writer last year that he had committed some mistakes like not making G P Koirala the President, sacking the army chief and not being able to adjust to competitive politics and he will not commit these mistakes again. He is also not virulently anti Indian as he used to be which is why New Delhi supports him now. Also his first foreign visit this time will be Delhi. In 2008, he went to Beijing first.

Since he took over, Prachanda has displayed a marked departure from that of his predecessor Oli and has promised to amend the new constitution to include the Madheshi demands and take all sections of society along with him. He has begun well by deputing his Deputy Prime Minister Bimalendra Nidhi of Nepali Congress as his special envoy to Delhi this week to assure of his cooperation. This is in tune with his declaration that he will build on the traditionally close ties between India and Nepal and keep Nepal equidistant from both India and China. At the same time, another Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Krishna Bahadur Mahara of Prachanda’s Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre) visited Beijing to remove the anxieties in Beijing over the fate of projects connecting China and Nepal signed by Oli.

Nidhi’s four- day visit was to assure New Delhi of Prachanda government’s cooperation and also aimed at normalising and improving Nepal’s relations with India, which were at an all-time low since the promulgation of the new Constitution in Nepal last September. He met all the top leaders including President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, Home Minister Rajnath Singh among others. His mission was to prepare the ground for Prachanda’s proposed visit to New Delhi next month, invite President Pranab Mukherjee to Nepal, sort out some tricky issues and iron out differences.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi responded graciously and offered what could be a balm to the souring relations between India and Nepal India’s help in reconstructing the earthquake-battered country. Modi assured Nidhi that “India is fully committed to support the government and the people of Nepal in the post-earthquake reconstruction efforts.” Significantly, India is the largest donor to Nepal’s post-earthquake reconstruction efforts. Prachanda, had sent a message to Modi, admitting errors in the past, reaffirming his commitment to friendship with India, promising efforts to forge an inclusive constitutional settlement, and seeking closer development cooperation.

He had sent a long list of agreements he wants to sign during his visit in September. He had conveyed his desire to speed up development works in Nepal with Indian assistance rather than focusing on political and diplomatic matters. He had suggested that works on the long-delayed Pancheshwor Project on Nepal-India border be moved forward at the earliest. Modi responded by striking a personal rapport “Please tell the PM that while the government will of course welcome him, I will personally welcome him to India,” according to Nidhi.

Nidhi had also explained to the Indian leaders the Prachanda government‘s roadmap ahead. He had explained that since the Constitutional amendments cannot be done without Oli’s support, they had only two options – either to persuade Oli to come on board or mobilise the support of all other smaller parties to vote in favour.

Three high-profile visits in the next few months — President Pranab Mukherjee’s to Nepal and Prachanda as well as Nepali President Bidya Devi Bhandari’s India visit — had been confirmed.

While South Block has extended support which is indeed a welcome measure to get the Nepal policy on track, what eventually happens depends more on Nepali politics and the internal power play. Nepal’s leadership is weak and unstable, subject to factionalism and corruption. While Prachanda has to deliver, New Delhi too should continue its support to the new regime. South Block should also see that a stable Nepal is indeed in the interest of India.

(This article was originally published in The Free Press Journal on Aug. 29, 2016)

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