Gyawali to travel to Delhi next month amid political turmoil in KathmanduThe visit to participate in the meeting of the sixth joint commission as foreign minister of a caretaker government follows both neighbours’ renewed interest in Nepal.
As the political crisis unfolds in Kathmandu after Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s move of dissolving the House of Representatives, which resulted in the split of the Nepal Communist Party, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali is set to travel to New Delhi next month.
Gyawali confirmed to the Post about his visit to the southern neighbour.
“I will be travelling to New Delhi sometime in January, but the exact date is yet to be fixed,” Gyawali told the Post.
Sources at the Prime Minister’s Office said that two different dates are being considered by both sides for Gyawali’s visit–January 13-14 or January 14-15.
Gyawali will lead the Nepali delegation at the sixth meeting of Nepal-India Joint Commission, the highest mechanism between Nepal and India to deal with the entire gamut of bilateral issues.
Apart from attending the meeting, Gyawali is likely to hold other engagements with the Indian leadership. However, no details were immediately available.
The visit is expected to be significant in the changed context, though.
After months of squabbling within the Nepal Communist Party, Oli on December 20 suddenly dissolved the House of Representatives and declared snap polls for April 30 and May 10.
Over a dozen writ petitions challenging Oli’s decision to dissolve the House are being heard in the Supreme Court.
If the court upholds the House dissolution, the country will head for the polls, but many are sceptical if Oli really is willing to hold the elections and whether they are possible from the logistical point of view—within a few months from now and amid the pandemic.
A high-level Chinese delegation, which arrived in Kathmandu on Sunday, had also sought to know whether restoration of the House is possible and if the House is not restored, whether elections will take place on the declared dates. The delegation led by Guo Yezhou, a vice minister in the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party, left Kathmandu on Wednesday after holding a series of meetings with the Nepali leadership.
The Chinese, according to leaders, also wanted to know if the two factions of the Nepal Communist Party, led by Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, could come together again.
Gyawali’s visit to the south is, therefore, taking place on the heels of rapid political developments in Kathmandu and a renewed interest in Nepal from the north.
Gyawali’s will be the first high-level visit to New Delhi from Kathmandu in over a year, as bilateral relations between the two neighbours took a dip back in November last year after the Indian government, in its new political map, put Kalapani within India’s borders.
Nepal objected to the move and sought diplomatic dialogue, only to get a cold shoulder from New Delhi. Ties hit a new low when India opened a road link via Lipulekh to Kailash Mansarovar in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China and the Oli government responded by publishing a new map of Nepal depicting Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura as parts of the Nepali territory.
Nepal-India relations showed signs of improvement after Delhi made a rapprochement by sending its spy chief Samanta Goel, army chief MM Naravane and Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardan Shringla between the third week of October and the end of November.
China responded quickly by sending its Defence Minister Wei Fenghe on November 29, two days after Shringla concluded his Nepal visit. But before Wei’s visit, a Chinese team also was in Kathmandu and had met with Oli, Dahal, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, and Sher Bahadur Deuba, president of the Nepali Congress.
According to sources, Gyawali’s visit was earlier proposed by India for mid-December. But the Foreign Ministry could not respond as infighting was growing in the ruling Nepal Communist Party.
But now with the dissolution of the House, fault lines in the ruling party have become clear.
The agenda of the meeting is not yet clear but since the Oli government has been reduced to caretaker status after the dissolution of the House, officials could not provide details on the possible negotiations or agreements with India.
Apart from the recent boundary issues, there are some other outstanding matters that Nepal and India are yet to resolve.
India has yet to receive the report of the Eminent Persons’ Group even though the group finalised the report in July 2018.
There are also questions whether a caretaker government can take major decisions or take part in major meetings such as the joint commission where crucial issues, including boundary disputes, the EPG report and other bilateral issues are expected to be discussed.
Bipin Adhikari, former dean of Kathmandu University School of Law, said anything that can impact or influence the outcomes of the elections can’t be discussed or agreed upon when the government itself has been reduced to a caretaker status.
“Regular meetings or planned periodic meetings can be held, but no major policy decisions should be taken since the current government in Nepal is a caretaker one,” Adhikari told the Post. “This government cannot pursue new issues. Only a politically mandated government can do that. Meetings can happen but ministers and officials should be careful as elections have been announced.”
As there is no House, the caretaker Oli government is constrained in its functioning by convention, as its actions are not—and cannot be held—accountable by Parliament.
As a caretaker one, the Oli government has legal, but not political, legitimacy.
The Nepali Congress, which was the primary opposition until the House was dissolved, has also expressed its concern about the planned meeting with India, saying no major decisions should be taken when elections have been announced.
“Since it has turned into a caretaker government does not mean that the Oli government should not hold meetings with neighbours, but it should not take any major decisions,” said Prakash Sharan Mahat, a Nepali Congress leader and former foreign minister.
Mahat had led the Nepali delegation to the fourth joint commission meeting held in October 2016 in New Delhi.
Gyawali, however, refused to admit that the Oli government is a caretaker one.
“But even if that is so, who says a caretaker government cannot hold meetings? Does the government not continue to function if elections are declared?” said Gyawali. “This government works with full authority. No state can be a government-less state.”