Tracing India’s role to Install Prachanda as Nepal PM


1234–By Kamal Nayak

 India successfully deployed the policy of carrot and stick to set the stage for Maoist leader Puspa Kamal Dahal’s walk out of Nepal’s coalition government under KP Sharma Oli. For carrot, Dahal was offered the post of Prime Ministers to replace Oli. For stick, Dahal’s fear of prosecution of war crimes was played to obtain the objective. Once Oli’s ouster was secured, India stopped, as agreed with Dahal, raising the issue of prosecution in war crimes. This article is an analysis of media stories on Nepal’s political event surrounding KP Oli’s resignation and Puspa Kamal Dahal’s election as Nepal’s Prime Ministers.

Background

Change of governments in democratic political system takes place in regular intervals. In parliamentary form of democracy, since the leader enjoying the trust of the majority members of parliament is elected as the Prime Minister and thus the head of the government, losing this trust of the House means the prime minister has to quit from the office. In Nepal, where change of governments is so frequent with the country having seen 24 governments in the last 26 years, prime ministers coming and going and ministers joining and leaving offices is not at all a strange sight.

In this usualness, something unusual was noticed this year at the ouster of Prime Minister KP Oli, who resigned as Nepal’s Prime Minister on 24th July, barely after nine months in office. Prime Minister Oli did not explicitly blame any country or force for orchestrating his exit, but in Nepal, speculations were rife that India plotted a situation in which Oli’s coalition partner Maoists were forced to walk out of the government. In obtaining this objective, India seems to have successfully used the policy of carrot and stick.

Under the policy of carrot, Maoist Chair Puspa Kamal Dahal was promised the seat of Prime Minister, ensuring his comeback in the office after seven years since 2009, when he had resigned from the high office as his bid to sack Nepal’s Army Chief had been invalidated by the President. Under the policy of stick, India employed a strategy to play on Maoist fears of war crimes. As a symbolic test of this stick, Nepal’s human rights records were questioned by India in the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva. This policy finally paid off and Dahal walked out of the coalition with CPN-UML and KP Oli.

This article assesses newspaper stories from India and Nepal covering KP Oli’s resignation and Puspa Kamal Dahal’s inauguration as Nepal’s Prime Ministers.

The information trail

KP Oli’s resignation

India’s newspapers and media outlets, for which Nepal hardly has remained a priority for any political news, were abuzz with “celebratory” coverage at KP Oli’s resignation from the position of Nepal’s Prime Minister.

Oli came to power in 2015 October when Nepal was burning in crisis[i]. Forty six people had already lost their lives in Madhes region during protests against the constitution that was promulgated on September 20. Just trying to rebuild from the rubbles of 7.1 magnitude earthquake same year in April, the country was crippling under an economic blockade that was imposed in support of the protesting political parties. Still, Oli had managed to calm the protests by using minimum force, lead the amendment of the constitution on two issues raised by the protesting side although major demand of redrawing the federal boundaries were not addressed. In fact, these demands are so contentious that they are yet to be resolved. In February, India reviewed the blockade and lifted it, and also welcomed Prime Minister Oli for an official visit[ii].

India reviewed its mistake and quietly corrected it by withdrawing the blockade, but its hostility towards KP Oli remained for reasons beyond explanation. The media has blamed Oli of tilting towards China, refusing to listen to Indian advice and failing to solve the domestic political problems.

In these circumstances, Oli’s resignation was projected in India as the comeback of Indian influence in the Himalayan country[iii]. The Hindustan Times further disclosed that India was, right since the beginning of KP Oli government, patiently nudging Maoist leader Dahal to stand against Prime Minister Oli, and in July 2016, it finally succeeded in doing so[iv].

After being designated (not yet elected, but was certain to be elected) as the Prime Minister of Nepal, Dahal chose the Hindustan Times for his first exclusive interview[v]. In the interview, the certain to be elected prime minister categorically accepted his past mistakes. He said he overestimated the political mandate of 2008 elections of the Constituent Assembly. In these elections, Dahal’s Maoist party had come largest, paving way for his election as the Prime Minister. According to Dahal, by refusing to accept Nepali Congress leader late Girija Prasad Kiorala (GPK) as the first president of the Republic of Nepal, on the basis of a gentlemen’s agreement the duo had, and by trying to sack the Chief of Staff of Nepal Army Rookmangud Katwal, he had made serious errors. While animosity with GPK had faced Dahal off with a strong opposition, his attempt to change the army leadership was nullified by the President, requiring Dahal to resign from the office of the Prime Minister. Dahal’s fall from the political top started at his point. In 2013 elections, his party came only a distant third. The implied meaning of the confession, therefore, was that he deeply regretted the mistakes which reduced him to a leader of a much smaller party.

In the second interview, given to the Times of India the next day, Dahal has attempted to appear a little more balanced. He said he would put the desire of Nepali people supreme while signing agreements with India, but he still tried to appeal to the Indian sensibilities based on the “uniqueness of [Nepal’s] relationship with India[vi],” a phrase which may have been used to explain or even deceive the “special relationship” or the relations of “roti and beti” that the Indians harp on to claim patronage over Nepal.

A political comeback was essential for Dahal to find a solution to conflict era crimes so that he would not be prosecuted in the future for murders, rapes and property captures, including the recruitment of child soldiers in the Maoist army he led from 1996 to 2006[vii].

In Nepal’s Transitional Justice process, the issues of war crimes are discussed. Rape, forced disappearance and murder after hostage-taking are described as prosecutable crimes by the laws on Truth and Reconciliation commission[viii]. What has been forgotten is the use of child soldiers by the Maoist side, which is a more serious war crime. For this, what better evidence than the identification of 4009 child soldiers, repatriated from the Maoist cantonments in 2010 by the United Nation’s Mission to Nepal (UNMIN) is needed?[ix]

It is believed that India has promised Dahal it would not raise these issues in international forums as it had, marking a policy departure, started doing recently in Geneva[x]. It can also be extrapolated from this event that India was trying to play on Dahal’s weakness to “nudge” him away from the coalition with KP Oli.

As soon as Oli resigned, another assessment appeared in another Indian daily, The Times of India this time, declaring Oli’s fall as good news for India[xi].

India’s triumphalist reaction over Oli’s departure and Dahal’s ascend was noticed by several Indian commentators right away. MK Bhadrakumar wrote for Asia Times[xii]:

“..triumphalism in New Delhi suggests that it played a decisive role behind the scenes. The power-sharing deal between Prachanda [Dahal] and Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba, a foxy seasoned political weathercock who is close to India, envisages that he would rule as prime minister for some 10 months whereupon the latter will take over.”

He compares the mood in New Delhi with the one two years ago when Delhi rejoiced in similar fashion the election of Maitripala Sirisena, defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa as the president of Sri Lanka.

Further insights on how India could have played a major role in plotting agaist Nepal’s Oli government have been trickling down slowly in the Indian media. In the Millenium Post on 26th August, exactly one month after Oli’s resignation, Kalyani Shankar[xiii] revealed that Dahal had obtained Nepal’s prime Ministerial seat with the blessings of New Delhi. She further wrote Nationalist Congress Party (of India) leader D.P. Tripathi played a vital role in the back channel negotiations with the Nepal leaders.

Much earlier, immediately after Oli resigned, a revelation of India’s two-pronged approach to facilitate the change of Nepalese government had surfaced[xiv]. According to this plan, India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary S. Jayashankar were working for a long time behind the scenes to “ensure a change of government as well as ensuring that the Madhesis get their constitutional rights”. This policy was to be mellow and discreet but attain the objectives in contrast to Oli’s high-pitched “anti-India tirade”, concluded the news[xv].

It appears that India was still doubtful about Dahal coming back in Nepal’s Prime Minister’s office. After all, India’s relationship with Dahal, despite the latter’s use of Indian soil to wage the armed conflict in Nepal, was full of ups and downs[xvi]. While Dahal had received support from India for his insurgency, he was also disliked for his “anti-India” attitudes. But Nepali Congress, the largest party in Nepal’s parliament, played a role in convincing New Delhi that there was no option other than making Dahal prime minister if breaking Maoist alliance with Oli was the primary objective, declared Biswas Baral, Nepal’s noted foreign affairs columnist[xvii].

Secret negotiations between the leaders of Nepali Congress and Maoist party were held in Kathmandu at the behest of India. Key individuals to this power-play, from NC’s side, were Bimalendra Nidhi, Amaresh Singh, Dip Kumar Upadhyaya, and Ramesh Lekhak. From the Maoist side, negotiations were participated in by Puspa Kamal Dahal himself, Barshaman Pun, and Krishna Bahadur Mahara.

A deal was reached between the two parties according to which Dahal would become Prime Minister for nine months and then make way for Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba[xviii]. A seven-point agreement was made public to justify the rationale of the new coalition. The power sharing deal has been kept discreet.

Puspa Kamal Dahal Takes over

On 4th August 2016, Maoist Chair Puspa Kamal Dahal was elected as the 39th Prime Minister of Nepal. One of the first steps of Prime Minister Dahal in office was to secure the trust of both India and China, Nepal’s giant neighbours. He sent his two deputy Prime Ministers to the two countries as his special envoys. Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Bimalendra Nidhi was sent to India where he met with several political leaders, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At the end of the visit, Nidhi declared that all differences with India were cleared[xix].

He never said what the hurdles or differences were. But it was not difficult to see through the fact that the two sides were happy to see KP Oli out of Nepal Prime Minister’s office. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Dahal is scheduled to visit India during 15-17 of September, his first official visit as Prime Minister keeping up with Nepal’s diplomatic tradition of making India first destination of their foreign trips. What was surprising was the dates of this visit were released in New Delhi on 21st of August[xx]. Equally surprising was that the Indian media outlets, which broke the news of exact dates of Dahal’s India visit, began their stories on Kathmandu dateline. Two days later, on 23rd August, Nepal’s cabinet endorsed the visit dates.

Oli is still popular

Indian media seems to want the readers/watchers to believe that Oli’s fall was essentially a result of his unpopularity. This is only a partial truth. In a divided polity like Nepal’s, one would easily find Oli-haters. But visiting main cities like Nepalganj or Kathmandu or Pohkhara or a small village in Panchthar like Chyangthapu or Birgunj at the border which was the hotbed of the Terai protests immediately reveals that Oli is by far the most talked about and liked among the existing Nepali leaders. Standing up to India has become one of his strongest political attributes that Nepali people seem to appreciate. I don’t know how much Oli himself likes to be identified with this rather new attribute for him.

Endnotes:

[i]Prime Minister KP Oli‘s address in the parliament responding to the questions raised during the debate on No-Trust motion against his government, July 24, 2016. Oli announced his resignation at the end of the speech.

[ii] “Not Proper To Visit India Until ‘Border Blockade’ Ends: Nepal PM.” Press Trust of India, January 26, 2016. www.ndtv.com/india-news/not-proper-to-visit-india-until-border-blockade-ends-nepal-pm-1270336

[iii] Jha, Prashant. “Nepal PM Oli’s departure marks an Indian comeback.” Hindustan Times (New Delhi), July 24, 2016. www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/prime-minister-oli-s-departure-marks-indian-comeback-in-nepal/story-SlfKmL3xkCWZDHO0IPDPwI.html

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Jha, Prahsant. “China’s main concern in Nepal isn’t India, it is western powers: Prachanda.” Hindustan Times, July 26, 2016. www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/china-s-main-concern-in-nepal-isn-t-india-it-is-western-powers-prachanda/story-P2MX8x84LIg8fZjncjs2dK.html

[vi] Pradhan, Keshav. “TOI exclusive: Nepal will decide what’s best for it, Prachanda says.” Times of India (New Delhi) July 27, 2016,

[vii] Baral, Biswas. Oli’s Endgame in Nepal: Mixed Blessings, Persisting Perceptions.” TheWire.in (web news portal), July 13, 2016. www.thewire.in/51218/olis-endgame-in-nepal-mixed-blessings-persisting-perceptions

[viii] Kharel, pranab. “Parliament passes TRC Bill.” The Kathmandu Post, April 26, 2014. www.kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2014-04-26/parliament-passes-trc-bill.htm

[ix] The Maoists claimed a very high number of combatants in the beginning of the peace process in 2006. Out of about 29000 fighters, 4009 were identified as child soldiers and were sent back to their homes form cantonments. Each of these child soldiers was given a small amount of money as a travel expense. For further details, see Pokharel, Ambika. “The Hidden Story of Disqualified Maoist Combatants.” Insightonclnflict.org, January 22, 2010. www.insightonconflict.org/blog/2010/01/the-hidden-story-of-the-disqualified-maoist-combatants/

[x] “No International dimension to stand on Nepal at the UN.” Firstpost.com, www.firstpost.com/india/no-international-dimension-to-stand-on-nepal-at-the-un-india-2496682.html

[xi] Bagchi, Indrani. “Oli’s fall is good news for India, Prachanda likely to be next PM.” The Times of India (New Delhi), July 25, 2016. www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/Olis-fall-is-good-news-for-India-Prachanda-likely-to-be-next-PM/articleshow/53370448.cms

[xii] Bhadrakumar, MK. “Unstable Nepal not good for India.” Asia Times (Hong Kong), July25, 2016. www.atimes.com/2016/07/unstable-nepal-may-come-to-haunt-india/

[xiii] Shankar, Kalyani. “Stability in Nepal is in New Delhi’s Interest.” Millennium Post (New Delhi), August 26, 2016. www.millenniumpost.in/NewsContent.aspx?NID=322226

[xiv] Vicky Nanjappa.“Doval-Jaishankar patience paid off in Nepal.” Oneindia.com (web news portal), July 29, 2016.

http://www.oneindia.com/feature/doval-jaishankar-patience-paid-off-in-nepal-2166702.html

[xv] Ibid.

[xvi] “Prachanda in India. “ Livemint India, September 14 2008. www.livemint.com/Home-Page/dlmHOaY088gXR9aIs7nbYP/Prachanda-in-India.html

[xvii] Baral, Biswas. “Government Change and Delhi’s Role.” July 24, 2016. www.biswasbaral.wordpress.com/2016/07/24/govt-change-and-delhis-role/

[xviii] Bhattarai, Kamal Dev. “An Uphill Climb for Nepal’s Prachanda.” The Diplomat, August 5, 2016. www.thediplomat.com/2016/08/an-uphill-climb-for-nepals-prachanda/

[xix] Pradhan, Shirish B. “All ‘obstacles’ in ties with India cleared: Nepal Dy PM”. Press Trust of India, August 23, 2016. www.ptinews.com/news/7793857_All–obstacles–in-ties-with-India-cleared–Nepal-Dy-PM.html

[xx] “Nepal PM ‘Prachanda’ to visit India on September 15.” Indo-Asian News Service, August 21, 2016. www.ndtv.com/india-news/nepal-pm-prachanda-to-visit-india-on-september-15-1446711

 

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