Pushpa Kamal Dahal will have to outperform KP Oli in all departments if he wants to resurrect his country and party.
A day after Nepal’s new Constitution had been promulgated last year, Maoist Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal thundered at a mass meeting in Tundikhel: “India wants me to be a yes-man, but I refuse to be one.”
The saga of Comrade Prachanda’s rocky relations with New Delhi goes back to the war years. In 2008 when his party had a landslide win in elections, the Indians could not hide their shock. A guerrilla supremo had gone on to become an elected Prime Pinister, and emboldened by his mandate he went on to try to sack Army Chief Rookmangud Katawal. Although President Ram Baran Yadav reinstated Katawal, many saw India’s hand behind the move. Dahal resigned, and spent the next few years licking his wounds and muttering darkly about India.
He often referred to New Delhi as ‘The Master’, and UML leader Madhav Nepal, who succeeded him, as its ‘Servant’. He even hinted that the Indians were out to terminate him. Then he tried to unseat Prime Minister Nepal by amassing hundreds of thousands of cadre on the streets of Kathmandu to ignite an urban uprising. When that protest fizzled out in six days, the Maoists cadre were utterly demoralised and disenchanted with the leadership.
Dahal was once more seen as a miserable failure, having damaged his party’s morale and organisational strength beyond repair. The consequences were serious: the Maoist party ultimately fragmented into at least six pieces, the Constitution-drafting process was delayed, and by the time the 2013 elections came around the Maoists were only the third-largest in Parliament.
Between 2009 and 2013, Dahal made efforts to regain New Delhi’s trust by promising to not repeat his mistakes. But New Delhi remained suspicious. Last year, when New Delhi ‘advised’ Kathmandu to postpone the promulgation of the Constitution, Dahal found another opportunity to get even. He revealed how Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar had tried to arm-twist him and other leaders to postpone the promulgation of the constitution.
The Nepali Congress, the UML and the Maoists pushed the Constitution through, which New Delhi tersely just ‘took note of’. Dahal milked this for all the nationalist advantage he could get, an exercise in which he faced stiff competition from Prime Minister KP Oli. For the Indians, Oli was just a bit too cosy with China.
But nine months later, Dahal and New Delhi seem to have patched up partially. Dahal abandoned his partnership with Oli and the UML to switch his allegiance to the Nepali Congress, a move behind which most commentators in New Delhi and Kathmandu see an Indian hand — whether or not it is the full truth.
Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba apparently played a crucial role in convincing top Indian leaders that dangling the PM’s post in front of Dahal was the only way to oust Oli.
Although Dahal is more acceptable than Oli, many in New Delhi still do not trust Dahal completely, because of his reputation for being fickle with his loyalties. Those with long-term memories have still not forgotten or forgiven Dahal for visiting Beijing before New Delhi when he was Prime Minister in 2008 — a cardinal sin in the eyes of Indian officialdom.
This week, Indian newspapers celebrated Oli’s removal and gloated over what they saw as a ‘victory’ for Indian diplomacy, little realising that by doing this they made Oli an even bigger nationalist hero in Nepal. True, Nepali politicians are in the habit of using India to get to power, and then blame India when they lose it. Indian officials do not do much to dispel this notion. Nepali political middlemen often boast about their Indian connections. It is time bilateral relations shed this undignified and mutually harmful way of conducting diplomacy.
Oli always had the gift of the gab, and as Prime Minister entertained us all with witty repartees and wild promises. But he did precious little to alleviate the plight of earthquake survivors and the whole country as it reeled under the aftershocks of the blockade.
In his valedictory speech to Parliament on Sunday, he cited the trade and transit pact with China as “historic”: a treaty, if implemented by future governments, could reduce Nepal’s dependence on India, and thereby New Delhi’s political leverage in Kathmandu.
As the new Prime Minister, Dahal will have to outperform Oli in all departments if he wants to resurrect his country and party. And he will have to find solutions to Nepal’s economic and development crises within the country, not look for outsiders to blame.
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