Photo: “Indian Ambassador Puri met Rt Hon’ble Prime Minister of Nepal Mr. KP Sharma Oli to offer his congratulation and handed over letter of congratulation from Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi.” Source: @IndiaInNepal
Dr. Anil Sigdel
Nepal’s PM Oli is all set to break the cliché that Nepal, like many other countries in Asia, will not like to choose between India and China, by challenging the Indian regional hegemony with the backing of China.
There were doubts about how far Oli would go in countering India. But Pakistan’s Prime Minister Abbasi’s visit to Nepal has made it clear that Oli will not be very concerned about India’s preferences.
For two basic reasons it is highly likely that Oli will be pursuing such policies. First, he resolved to let China in, a China which is now greatly resourceful and committed, in order to provide a counterweight to India’s domination. This was especially in the context of a de facto trade embargo by India in 2015,for which he also has to show some reciprocity to China.
Second, encouraged by and relying on the Chinese commitments, he initiated the rhetoric of development and stability coupled with a respect for Nepal’s sovereignty vis-à-vis India for which he and his party (the CPN-UML) in alliance with the Maoist Prachanda seized a remarkable electoral victory.
Moreover, the timing and conditions could not have been better for Oli both domestically and regionally. Domestically, in the decade of Nepal’s peace transition after the Maoist insurgents signed a peace agreement in 2006, India actively manipulated Nepal’s domestic politics. While India proudly took the ownership of the peace agreement, the suspicion in Nepal about India’s covert role in supporting the Maoist insurgency, their representatives’ condescending behavior, and the overall role it played in the transition brought India into disrepute.
Similarly, the Western actors enthusiastically experimented with conflict resolution models of their choices in the transition. They succeeded to keep the country agitated for quite a while by further reinforcing the Maoist-era rhetoric of an ethnic homeland for certain ethnic groups, and enshrine their ideas into the new constitution. They eventually lost political clout in the country. Currently in Nepal, the level of political influence the Western countries could exert is very low.
Citizens of the country increasingly saw the combination of policies of India and Europe, though not fully aligned, as responsible for sustaining the disturbances which were directly and indirectly related to all kinds of troubles they faced. They were craving for some stability at any cost. The US managed to keep out of the controversy by not stressing ethno-politics unlike the Europeans. However, the US policy is seen as deeply aligned with India, thus at times being put into the same category with India. (Perhaps it is time for America to further improvise its diplomacy in Nepal as India will most likely continue to lose its influence in Nepal.)
Regionally, the Chinese inroads into South Asia were emerging as a serious security challenge for India, not to mention the loss of India’s traditional economic and political domination in its neighborhood. China’s swift and effective engagement both across the Himalayas and in the Indian Ocean left India encircled which it always feared. In fact, what has been happening in the surrounding waters poses for India a much bigger challenge than the politics of Nepal. Therefore, India is clearly not in a position to heavy-handedly control the situation in Nepal anymore.
Oli’s advisors have understood the fact that it is not Nepal but India which is the most vulnerable in the region now, and that India understands better the language of retaliation than submission. Oli is the first democratically elected leader in Nepal who has become the most powerful executive head by challenging India. Consequently, the leftist forces in Nepal, who have always been very vocal about India’s domination in the country, are this close to settle accounts with India. Whether they will succeed remains to be seen.
Anil Sigdel is the Director at Nepal Matters for America, Washington DC.