Dahal in for major test with Delhi

Published On: August 4, 2016 01:30 AM NPT By: Ashok Dahal  | @ashokpillar

KATHMANDU, Aug 4: As it became certain for CPN (Maoist Center) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal's election to the post of prime minister for the second time on Wednesday, his relations vis-à-vis India have become arguably the most debated political issue in the last couple of days.

His relation with the southern neighbor has always remained a major disputed issue throughout his over two-decade-long political career.

Dahal as a chief of the then rebel CPN-Maoist party repeatedly defined India as the organization's principal enemy.

It was in 2009, he pointedly blamed India for his removal from the prime ministerial position over his sacking of the Nepal Army chief.

Since then, he has lambasted India on several occasions including at parliament and mass gatherings.

Things however have changed dramatically over the past couple of weeks.

Maoist Chairman Dahal, who had nine months ago proposed CPN-UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli against the wishes of the Indian establishment, withdrew his party's support to Oli-government last month.

With support from over a dozen political parties including the largest party Nepali Congress (NC) he was elected prime minister on Wednesday.

Many in Kathmandu and New Delhi believe that he bagged the coveted post with the backing of India.

Leaders privy to the development believe that he chose the path after weighing two options, either continue support to the Oli-led government or join the NC-led coalition and improve relations with India.

Officials who worked closely with Dahal during his nine-month period in 2008-09 said that they tried Maoists best to establish good understanding with New Delhi during the past tenure as well.

"The past government headed by Dahal had also tried to establish good relations with India but the latter couldn't trust him mainly because the Maoist prime minister broke with tradition and visited China before paying official visit to India," said Hira Bahadur Thapa, the then foreign affairs advisor to Dahal.

Dahal's decision to withdraw support to the Oli-led coalition, which had built up an image of nationalist government by strongly resisting Indian pressures during the nearly five-month-long blockade, and replace him has left an impression in the public that he was working on cue from foreign  elements.

Political Science Professor Krishna Pokharel said that the impression that the new coalition was a creation of New Delhi is palpable among the public.

"Whether Dahal can work in national interest or not will be seen when he will make some important decisions including the selection of a contractor for building the Kathmandu-Tarai Fast Track Road," Pokharel told Republica.

The Oli-led government in its policy and program had announced to construct the strategic road by mobilizing national resources, but NC leaders, particularly those actively involved in forging the Dahal-led coalition, have been publicly speaking in favor of awarding the project's contract to Indian firms.

Professor Lokraj Baral, however, sees formation of Dahal-led government as an opportunity to improve Nepal-India relations that soured during the last one year.

"He has received very encouraging response from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He has already taken the agitating Madhesi parties into confidence," said Baral. "As Dahal has received strong support also from the largest political party NC, there is a strong ground to improve Nepal-India relations."

If Dahal's statement made in parliament on Wednesday that he had learnt a lot from his past mistakes is anything to be believed, one can expect some mature decisions and work style from the new head of the government during his second term in Singha Durbar.

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