Dahal’s Delhi drift

Published On: October 4, 2018 01:30 AM NPT By: Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

The author is editor of www.hakahakionline.com, operated by Nepal Forum of Environmental Journalists (NEFEJ). He writes on foreign policy, media and development issues

At this point of time, Pushpa Kamal Dahal is seeking New Delhi’s support to ascend to power, while New Delhi is seeking Dahal’s support to minimize China’s influence in Nepal

“What is the specific understanding? Has Oli committed that he would give you either PM, or party chair, or both, in two years?”

“The spirit of the understanding is one of those two positions.”

“And if he doesn’t?”

“We will see then. Right now, we will move with full sincerity. I am moving forward with that. I told Indian leaders that too.”

This is a part of questions and answers of the interview between Nepal Communist Party Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and The Hindustan Times, during his India visit last month. In a party’s internal meeting held soon after Dahal returned from the visit, NCP leaders grilled him about the political statement he made in India. Leaders were of the view that it is not appropriate to speak about intra-party issues in foreign junket. Dahal tried to defend his statement by saying that the newspaper twisted his words.

But, there is no reason to blame the journalist. In a video interview provided to The Print, Dahal clearly said “without having understanding on power sharing, task like unification of party was not possible.” His series of interviews with Indian journalists clearly show his willingness to glorify the understanding reached between him and Oli.

After promulgation of constitution in 2015, former prime ministers and top leaders of major parties do not seem so excited to visit India. Even if they visit, they want to maintain low profile. Dahal, however, seemed very excited once be received the invitation. 

Earlier, Dahal was not so vocal about the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli about sharing of top posts after unification. With domestic media, he used to say that current government would last for five years, and he is for peace and stability, not power. Many were not convinced.  Dahal’s India visit has brought many things to light.

Relation with Delhi 

Dahal clearly sought New Delhi’s support (as an external guarantor) to become prime minister after one and half years from now. First, Dahal is not sure PM Oli will implement the understanding. In 2016, Oli was to vacate Sigha Durbar for Dahal, according to the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ but Oli did not do so. Second, even if Oli is ready to handover leadership, other senior leaders of NCP may oppose his candidacy. 

Once Oli steps down, there are senior leaders like Madhav Kumar Nepal and Bam Dev Gautam to stake claim of prime minister and party president. Dahal may have thought New Delhi may push Madhav Kumar Nepal as new prime minister after KP Oli and this possibility cannot be completely ruled out. There are not any official documents to show if dispute emerges about the understanding between Dahal and Oli. Even the senior leaders do not know about actual understanding between two leaders. That is why Dahal resorted to New Delhi to guarantee his post. 

According to the interview published in The Hindustan Times, Dahal shared with Indian leaders about agreement with Oli and other aspects of party unification. For New Delhi, it was an opportunity to know in details about unification between CPN (Maoist) and CPN-UML and actual point of possible friction between the two leaders.   

After landing in New Delhi, Dahal first met National Security Advisor Ajit Doval which was followed by meeting with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Dahal’s visit was like an official visit of the prime minister.

After Oli became prime minister with two- thirds votes in Parliament, New Delhi made all possible efforts to improve ties with Oli to prevent Chinese influence to further increase in Nepal. Indian policy makers are of the view that China’s influence in Nepal like in other South Asian countries cannot be curtailed, but it can be limited at a certain level with governments favorable to New Delhi. 

Despite cosmetic improvement of ties with Oli, New Delhi fears that China’s influence in Nepal will be further expanded under Oli’s leadership. But, there are not any chances of government change for the next four years. New Delhi has obviously felt uncomfortable after the cancellation of military drill by Nepal and finalization of protocol of transit and transport agreement with China. 

Thus New Delhi invited Dahal to take stock of the situation inside ruling parties and prospects of new government under his leadership.  Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi himself had invited Dahal to visit India when he was in Nepal in May this year. But it was said, then, that bilateral development agenda will be discussed, not political issues.  

Delhi’s interests

New Delhi believes that it is easier to work with Dahal, than with Oli, to lessen Chinese influence in Nepal. Dahal and New Delhi have had uneasy relations, but both are smart enough to use each other for short-term benefits. 

In July, 2015 when Constituent Assembly was busy drafting the constitution, New Delhi invited Dahal for the official visit.  During the visit, Dahal met Indian foreign secretary, foreign minister, prime minister and president.  Dahal was invited to inform about India’s position on the constitution. This time, visit was not formalized through Ministry of External Affairs like in 2015. Dahal-New Delhi relation hit a low point in 2009 after New Delhi supported President Ram Baran Yadav’s decision to overturn the decision made by the then Prime Minister Dahal concerning the removal of army chief. After some strained relations for some years, both New Delhi and Dahal reached out to each other to improve relation.

The recent example is the toppling of KP Oli-led government in 2016.  After Dahal became prime minister by toppling down Oli’s government, New Delhi conveyed message to Dahal that there would be full support to develop CPN (Maoist) as an alternative to the then party CPN-UML. New Delhi and then Prime Minister Dahal also discussed about the development projects that would be beneficial for the revival of Dahal’s the then party CPN (Maoist). The unification between two communist parties was indeed a shock to New Delhi.  

Dahal and New Delhi do not trust each other completely, but often come closer to fulfill their interests. At this point of time, Dahal is seeking New Delhi’s support to ascend to power, and New Delhi is seeking Dahal’s support to minimize China’s influence in Nepal.

 If not possible to change government right now, New Delhi believes that some of its interests could be fulfilled through Dahal as he is a close ally of PM Oli.  After the promulgation of new constitution in 2015, India’s influence in the internal political affairs has been markedly limited.

In 2015, Nepali leaders resisted India’s tough pressure and promulgated the constitution. We conducted three levels of elections amidst reservations from India.  Dahal’s visit could provide New Delhi an opportunity to regain its space in Nepal’s political affairs.  

The author is a Kathmandu-based writer and journalist. He writes on foreign policy, media and development issues


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