Dahal in DelhiThe joint statement shows that Nepal-India relations are as they were last September
Prickly issues were left untouched and irrelevant matters, such as projects that have been discussed but not implemented for the last two decades, were highlighted during Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s visit to India. The joint statement issued in New Delhi at the end of the tour is largely a repetition of formalities with very little substance. However, India was able to secure Nepal’s support for its bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Indian Prime Minister Modi has welcomed the establishment of the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) in Nepal but he has not welcomed the new constitution. The joint statement shows that Nepal-India ties are as they were in September 2015 when the new constitution was promulgated.
Dahal has expressed gratitude to India for its support in post-earthquake reconstruction activities, but he could not mention his ‘sincere appreciation’ for its ‘support’ to promulgate the new constitution. Relations with India are not as simple as Dahal projects here in domestic politics. New Delhi’s cold heart was apparent during Dahal’s visit when Modi did not show any regard for the Nepali people’s aspiration to have an equitable society through the new constitution. Against this backdrop, Dahal has lost two cards from his hand. One, his image of a nationalist leader, and two, his political capital to drive a hard bargain with two major forces, the Nepali Congress (NC) and the CPN-UML in the upcoming days.
India’s next moves
Moreover, he has lost an opportunity to establish a new kind of relationship with northern neighbour China by hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping. Xi was willing to come to Nepal after seeing the prospect of having Nepal on board the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project. However, with no possibility of Dahal signing such a memorandum of understanding, Xi has dropped his plans to visit Nepal in October. India was aware of China’s plan, which is why it went above and beyond to alter the course of Nepali politics by having Dahal in the prime minister’s seat with the NC’s support. The country has not lost much as there is plenty of time to discuss the OBOR project with China, but Dahal is a sheer loser.
The reason he came to power is not because India likes him very much, but because there was no other way to sideline former prime minister KP Sharma Oli who was becoming too cosy with the northern neighbour. India first tried to split the UML and put Oli in a difficult position, but that did not work out. The second option was to weaken Oli by breaking the coalition government and taking away Dahal’s teeth that have made him a champion of inclusion and equitable society. India has succeeded in sidelining Oli and washing away the colour of Prachanda’s nationalism. Its next move will be to prolong the transitional phase by not letting parliamentary elections to be held, bring down the size of the UML in the next election or weaken Oli within the party.
An uphill task
Dahal and his party’s downfall started right after he assumed office with the support of India via the NC although he talked loudly about implementing the constitution by getting all sections of society on board. He knew that it would not be possible since the issue of Madhes is less about Madhesis and more about India’s interest in Nepal’s water resources. The question then is: why did he go for a new coalition with the NC? The simple answer is position. He had two things in mind when breaking the coalition with the UML—one, to work with the NC to avoid issues of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and two, to manage the money earned through unethical ways. He will be successful in both objectives in the short run, but India will always keep hanging these issues through one way or the other to keep him off-balance all the time.
India is moving ahead strategically to work in Nepal through the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led NC for the next few years as there are trusted candidates such as Bimalendra Nidhi in it. Another alternative force for India is the newly launched Naya Shakti. Since Naya Shakti is too small to ensure Indian interests, it will have to keep the Oli-led UML under pressure. The Madhesi forces are mere tools and not a channel for India to have ‘controlled chaos’ in Nepal. Against this backdrop, the implementation of the new constitution in Nepal will remain an uphill task for any sincere leader, if there is any.
A futile debate
Now, on to economic issues. India has repeated its hollow commitments to expedite mega infrastructure and hydropower projects. However, that will not be reflected in India’s behaviour, as it is not interested in hydropower but in water resources to irrigate the vast farmlands of northern India. India is well aware of a looming water crisis in the upcoming decades, so it will not make the mistake of taking forward projects that may make Nepal economically inter-dependent with India in the near future. China’s entry into South Asia through Nepal is a much-touted discourse in recent days. But that will not happen as Nepal will not be able to show strong support to China’s plan to spread its wings in the region. Hence, the debate in Nepal of getting economic benefits from China is futile. China tried very hard to make the Oli-Prachanda coalition last, but failed largely because of Indian influence in Nepal’s media, civil society and political parties.
Prime Minister Dahal’s major failure is his inability to document losses to Nepal’s economy due to the months-long economic blockade by India last year. He has not only ruined the country’s prospects to connect Nepal with Chinese ports and industrial zones but also failed the Nepali people. History will judge him poorly when the new constitution goes astray in the absence of another statesman in the country to correct the course again.
Poudel is a political economist associated with ThinkIN China, Beijing