Dahal makes a dash for Delhi as both seek rapprochementObservers term Maoist chair’s visit to India ‘political’ given high-level meetings scheduled, including with PM Modi.
Days after a Chinese delegation wrapped up its Nepal visit, aiming to consolidate engagements between the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of China, CPN (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal headed for New Delhi on Friday “to build” party-to-party relations with India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
“I am excited about this visit,” Dahal said at the Kathmandu airport before departing for the India capital. “This visit is meaningful for Nepal, Nepali people, the government and the ruling alliance.”
Dahal said he was visiting India at the invitation of BJP President JP Nadda and that the visit had been on the plan for quite a while.
“It [India visit] was planned about a month and a half ago,” said Dahal.
The planned meetings make Dahal’s India visit purely political, with observers and experts saying the purpose could be bigger than building party-to-party relations.
During his three-day stay in Delhi, Dahal is scheduled to hold talks with External Affairs Minister of India S Jaishankar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, among others.
Sources said Dahal is also likely to call on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday.
A senior Maoist leader said there seems to be a lack of clarity when it comes to how Delhi is viewing political dynamics in Nepal.
“So this visit is an opportunity for us to understand Delhi’s understanding of the current coalition, America’s and China’s growing interests, the upcoming polls and all,” said the leader.
Dahal’s visit follows the departure of Liu Jianchao, the head of International Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, from Kathmandu after holding extensive talks with the Maoist chairman, CPN-UML chairman KP Sharma Oli and CPN (Unified Socialist) chair Madhav Kumar Nepal.
Liu also paid courtesy calls on President Bidya Devi Bhandari and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba.
According to leaders, the Chinese delegation did not explicitly push for unity among Nepal’s communist forces but the implied message was it would be better if the leftist forces came together. The Chinese also showed interest to work closely with the Congress.
The current coalition seems to be going strong, showing signs of lasting till the upcoming elections but there are some irritants, with some partners like the Unified Socialist and the Janata Samajbadi Party expressing displeasure.
Observers say given the Chinese interest in uniting communist forces, the message from the south to Dahal could be to keep the current coalition intact.
“Delhi seems to be supportive of Deuba but they may not like his growing inclination towards the US,” said the Maoist leader who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Dahal is a good choice to keep checks on Deuba given the former's nature and character.”
According to the Maoist leader, Delhi, obviously, also wants to understand whether there is any exercise going on to cobble together a left alliance.
After many years, Dahal is making another political trip to India. The Maoist leader, who spent most of the time during the “people’s war” from 1996 to 2006 in India, was known as an anti-Indian leader.
When his government fell in 2009, he accused Delhi of orchestrating it. After his election as prime minister in 2008, he made China his first port of call, breaking the trend of Nepal’s prime ministers visiting India first. But concerned that he might offend Delhi, he then said his first “political visit” would start from India.
He did get a red carpet welcome in the Indian capital. But over the years, there has been a trust deficit, with Delhi losing faith in Dahal.
Observers say now the south wants to keep the Maoists in the loop in view of the changing political scenario in Nepal post elections.
Ranjit Rae, former Indian ambassador to Kathmandu, said that Dahal is in India on a goodwill visit, as planned a few months back.
“He is an important leader of the present coalition and as per the policy of the government of India and the ruling BJP to engage with the parties across the political spectrum of Nepal and other countries, he has been invited,” Rae told the Post. “It seems the BJP wants to build party-to-party relations with the Maoist Centre and the government wants to understand and know what is happening in the neighbourhood.”
Asked if he finds the time of the visit interesting as it is happening days after the Chinese delegation returned from a four-day trip, Rae said he believes the visit was planned earlier.
“When I was in Kathmandu some two months ago, he had told me he was planning to visit Delhi,” said Rae.
Dahal also said before boarding the plane on Friday that there is no need to relate his visit to Delhi with the recent Chinese delegation’s trip to Kathmandu.
“Some may see this visit as suddenly arranged. That’s not the case,” said Dahal. “It was planned long ago.”
Some Nepali observers and diplomats said the visit is part of Delhi’s rapprochement bid with Dahal as communication had been minimal between the two sides after the UML-Maoist Centre merger in May 2018.
“The relations between Dahal and Delhi have not been that smooth since the communist unity in 2018,” said Deep Kumar Upadhyay, former Nepali ambassador to New Delhi. “Now both seem to be keen on engaging each other.”
According to Upadhyay, Delhi was very much comfortable with UML chair Oli until recently but due to the underlying political situation, they want to increase engagement with Dahal too.
“I see this visit as politically significant because Dahal and Delhi are reaching out to each other,” he said. “This could be a compulsion for New Delhi because of the alliance between Deuba and Dahal. But we need to read more into it.”
According to Rae, every country has its own policy to engage with the parties of other countries.
“India, China and the US have their own policy of engagement with Nepal since it has emerged as an important country, but Nepal-India ties are something different and unique so India must engage with all parties and leaders in Nepal as it did in the past too,” said Rae.
On Friday, Vijaya Chauthaiwale, who is in charge of the Foreign Affairs Department of the BJP, Nepali ambassador to New Delhi Shankar Sharma, Joint Secretary at the Ministry of External Affairs Ministry of India Anurag Srivastav, who looks after the Nepal-Bhutan desk, among others, received Dahal in Delhi.
The main opposition UML sees two reasons behind the “sudden” visit of Dahal.
“I am not fully aware of what triggered Dahal’s visit so suddenly but it must have been organised by India,” said Pradeep Gyawali, a former foreign minister and UML’s deputy general secretary. “The visit may have been prompted by the recent visit of the Chinese Communist Party delegation to Nepal. And this could have made Delhi anxious if a left alliance is in the making.”
The Indians want to assess if there is any possibility of a left alliance, according to Gyawali.
“Second, since Dahal is a key leader of the ruling coalition, they want to discuss contemporary politics in Nepal and the future of the current Congress-Maoist partnership,” said Gyawali.