Ambassador Paudyal’s recall from China may look like a sudden move, but the decision was in the making for quite some timeThe prime minister had not been happy with Leela Mani Paudyal, and the decision to call him back also stems from ongoing conflict within the ruling party, insiders say.
When the Cabinet sat on Sunday evening, many were expecting some crucial decisions including on the Nepal Communist Party move of sending Bamdev Gautam to the National Assembly, which has become a major bone of contention in the ruling party. But that was not on Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s agenda. Instead, in a sudden move, he decided to recall Nepal’s Ambassador to China Leela Mani Paudyal.
“What I can confirm for now is that Paudyal has been recalled,” said Surya Thapa, press advisor to Oli. “Reasons will be known later.”
But at least two ministers and multiple officials the Post spoke to said that the decision on Paudyal was not sudden and that it was in the making for quite some time, as the prime minister was not happy with Paudyal.
Paudyal was appointed ambassador to China in October 2016 for four years.
According to a minister who spoke only on condition of anonymity, a series of events relating to Paudyal culminated in his premature recall.
The first in the series happened in 2018 during Oli’s visit to Beijing months after he was elected prime minister for a second term.
“Oli had talked about Paudyal’s activities which he found unbecoming of an ambassador,” said the minister. “Then in October last year also, Oli was not happy with Paudyal during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Kathmandu.”
According to officials who are familiar with the developments, Oli had even sought a formal proposal from the Foreign Ministry for recalling Paudyal. But it was not forthcoming. An official told the Post that Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali did not initiate the process to prepare a formal recall proposal as he and Paudyal share a good relationship and both come from the same district—Gulmi.
Then suddenly, China saw an outbreak of the new strain of coronavirus.
“Paudyal then started the process to evacuate Nepalis from Hubei Province, the epicentre of the virus outbreak, without even consulting Kathmandu,” another minister in the Oli Cabinet who also did not wish to be identified, told the Post. “The prime minister was already preparing to recall Paudyal but he shelved the plan until Nepalis were evacuated. Paudyal’s unilateral plan to evacuate Nepalis, however, had not gone down well with the prime minister.”
After weeks-long preparations, the government in mid-February airlifted 175 Nepalis from Wuhan. Their 14-day quarantine period ended on Saturday and they are now waiting for the test results, which are expected today [Monday].
Oli’s decision to recall Paudyal on Sunday, according to party insiders, also stems from internal conflict in the ruling party.
Oli and another chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal are currently at odds over the party Secretariat's decision to send Gautam, the party vice-chair, to the National Assembly. Oli has shown reluctance to nominate Gautam, but the Dahal camp has maintained that he is under obligation to abide by the party decision.
A leader said Oli on Sunday did not discuss Gautam’s nomination and recalled Paudyal as a move to counter Dahal.
Paudyal is said to have allegiance with Dahal, rather than Oli. Paudyal was appointed ambassador to China during Dahal’s prime ministership.
Paudyal was recently dragged into controversy also for his role as the chief secretary in the Baluawatar land grab scandal. According to sources, the Central Investigation Bureau of Nepal Police also had expressed its displeasure about Paudyal’s “long response” to the unit on the Baluwatar issue via email.
With Oli admitted to hospital for his second kidney transplant, a temporary lull is expected in the ruling party. But since no decision has been made on Gautam and Paudyal has been recalled, this is likely to widen the rift between the two power centres led by Oli and Dahal.
Oli’s decision to recall Paudyal on Sunday also coincides with the new Indian ambassador’s arrival in Kathmandu.
India’s newly appointed ambassador to Nepal Vinay Mohan Kwatra landed on Sunday morning to take charge of his new role in Kathmandu. Later in the evening, Oli recalled Paudyal from China.
Party insiders and analysts, however, called it just a coincidence and ruled out any link between the two events.
Earlier in May, 2016, during Oli’s first stint as prime minister, he had recalled Nepal’s ambassador to India, Deep Kumar Upadhyay, prematurely. No reason was given then also.
Officials say the government reserves the right to recall any of its ambassadors whenever it wants and that there is no practice of giving specific reasons for such decisions.