Observers worry Oli’s statements about an Indian conspiracy could further damage bilateral tiesThe prime minister hinting at an Indian conspiracy to unseat him is not befitting the high office and could delay any diplomatic talks over the border dispute, they say.
At a time when Nepal-India relations are at a historic low, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s recent statements alluding to an Indian conspiracy to unseat him have breached diplomatic decorum for a sitting head of government and are likely to further damage relations, say observers.
Oli, speaking at an event organised to mark the birth anniversary of Madan Bhandari on Sunday, pointed to nebulous plots being hatched in New Delhi, and in Kathmandu by the Indian Embassy, to unseat him following the release of a new Nepali map. The new map, which shows Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura as parts of Nepal’s territory, has led to a significant chill in Nepal-India relations.
“We are headed towards a diplomatic disaster,” a Secretariat member of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) told the Post. “If India issues a statement asking for concrete evidence that the Indian ambassador is maneuvering in Nepal’s internal politics to unseat Oli, we will have to prove it or face the consequences.”
Oli’s statement, made at an external event even as a Standing Committee meeting is underway, was immediately criticised by political analysts and even party members as an attempt to divert attention away from his government’s failings and towards conspiracies. The allusion to a ‘foreign hand’ is a tired trope in Nepali politics, one that Oli himself has resorted to numerous times in the past.
“Plots are being hatched to topple me for releasing the country’s new map and getting it adopted through Parliament,” Oli said on Sunday. “Given the ongoing intellectual discussions, media reports from New Delhi, [Indian] embassy’s activities, and meetings at different hotels in Kathmandu, it is not very difficult to understand how people are actively trying to unseat me. But they won’t succeed.”
A day later, while addressing the federal parliament, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali said that boundary issues should not affect other aspects of Nepal-India relations and urged all stakeholders to maintain civility.
“All the stakeholders should make contributions to building a positive tone in [bilateral] relations. No one should spread bitterness in the relationship,” said Gyawali. “I urge all to make positive contributions.”
But a number of senior party leaders told the Post that Oli’s statements were inflammatory and could further exacerbate problems with India.
“Only doesn’t just have to prove the accusation against India but also against those party leaders he implied were working to unseat him at India’s behest,” a Standing Committee member told the Post on condition of anonymity.
Earlier, after releasing the new map, in an address to Parliament, Oil had lashed out at India, saying that the “Indian virus” was more dangerous than the “Italian virus” and even made light of the Indian national emblem.
Such repeated statements, especially at a time when Nepal is seeking a date for diplomatic talks with India over the border dispute, could further hamper the possibility of talks, say party insiders.
“If the prime minister has credible information that the Indian Embassy and the Indian ambassador are attempting to unseat him, the Foreign Ministry should summon them for clarification,” the Standing Committee member said. “Otherwise, it is not wise to make allegations against foreign diplomats without any basis.”
Nepal-India relations have hit a new low since India in the first week of May opened a road link via Lipulekh to Kailash Mansarovar in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. Nepal then released a new political map including Lipulekh as well as Kalapani and Limipiyadhura, which was subsequently adopted through the federal parliament by amending the constitution.
Delhi objected to the new map but has yet to offer a date for diplomatic talks. Nepal has been asking for dialogue since November.
The statement has already made waves in India, where Indian media have lately been quick to report on any developments regarding the Nepal-India chill. Indian researchers and diplomats, too, have taken note.
“I am astonished that a sitting prime minister of a friendly country has made such a public statement,” Ranjeet Rae, former Indian Ambassador to Nepal, told the Post over email. “If he was unhappy with India, the appropriate step would have been to speak to our ambassador or to the government in Delhi. By raising this publicly, the prime minister is once again trying to divert attention from his internal problems by whipping up anti-India sentiments and even casting aspersions on his own respected party colleagues”.
According to Nihir Nayak, a research fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in Delhi, the Indian establishment sees Oli’s allegations as a repeat of past performances.
“There has already been much damage to [Nepal-India] relations because of Nepal’s unilateral decision of issuing the new map so Oli’s statements should not make much material difference,” said Nayak. “Things have already gotten bad enough that there are zero chances of immediate talks. So there’s no reason for Delhi to pay attention to Oli’s comments.”
Oli, however, has not broken any new ground by alluding to Indian conspiracies, say many observers, both Nepali and Indian. Nepali politicians, generally while out of office, tend to take aim at India, usually when threatened by internal political squabbles. But they’re not always wrong and their accusations are not always conspiracies, say political analysts.
“It is an obvious fact of Nepali politics that external forces have contributed to major changes, either in 1950, 1990 or 2006,” said Sridhar Khatri, a foreign affairs analyst. “But the way the prime minister spoke goes beyond diplomatic norms. As prime minister, he should use each and every word carefully, especially in public. This is not a good attempt to start dialogue with India. It looks like we are trying to confront India, which we are not.”
Political actors too are not pleased with the tone and substance of Oli’s statement, saying his words cast aspersions on the Nepali political class and the Nepali polity.
“The Nepali people and political parties all supported your efforts to release the new map. If the political parties had turned to foreigners, then such unity would not have been possible in Parliament. Despite all this, to claim that all others are acting at the behest of foreigners means to assert that you are the only patriotic person in this country," Prakash Chandra Lohani, a former foreign minister from the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, wrote on social media. “By saying this, you are disrespecting the Nepali people.”
Suresh Raj Neupane contributed to this report from New Delhi.