Oli has lost the image of a true nationalist. He has been discredited in the eyes of Nepalis
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s third visit to Nepal had generated a lot of curiosity and some degree of suspicion in Nepal. It was because he was the one who had stood harshly against Nepal’s constitution and was speaking against it even in international forums in 2015. This, followed by blockade, started after Indian foreign secretary’s request to halt the constitution promulgation process was flatly rejected by Nepali leaders—principally by then CPN-UML chief and today’s prime minister K P Sharma Oli.
Oli, then waiting to succeed Sushil Koirala, had strongly stood against India. This was surprising for many because he was once seen as India’s trusted man in Nepal.
Even as India pressured him to amend the constitution to the liking of Madhesi parties, and thereby India, Oli did not budge from his stand. Then India started to raise Nepal issue in UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. India claimed this: Nepal has failed to adopt inclusive policy, Nepali state is intolerant to Madhesi communities, and Nepal’s human rights record is bad as it has failed to settle transitional justice issues even a decade after the end of Maoist insurgency and so on.
India also raised money laundering cases. In 2016, India pointed out that Nepal’s deteriorating human rights condition was adding to political and social injustice.
The year 2015 was the time when Oli improved his image that he had lost by supporting Mahakali project in India’s favor.The Mahakaly treaty was signed in February, 1996. His unflinching stand against the blockade and his endeavor to diversify trade with China established him as a nationalist leader. The left alliance he led swept the election on this plank.
After Modi’s visit, Oli has lost the image of being a true nationalist. He has been discredited in the eyes of Nepalis. But this was in the making long ago.
Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj hurriedly visited Nepal even before he was elected the prime minister for the second time. He not only hosted state banquette in her honor but also accepted invitation for state visit to India before assuming his office. He could have requested India to wait. He should have taken some time to assess Indian move.
Well informed and calculative Modi used Nepal visit to gain Hindu votes in Karnataka election through his slogan of creating Ramayan Circuit for which he managed to make Oli wear Rajasthani attire.
Oli’s government and government of Province 2 failed even to show state’s firm presence in national heritage site like Ram-Janaki temple. Nepal failed to ensure that internal issues are not reported to visiting Indian PM.
Both Oli and Modi claim the visit has further strengthened Nepal-India ties. In truth, it has not. People staged rallies displaying the banner ‘Welcome to Nepal Mr Modi, but we have not forgotten the blockade’ and social media users made the hashtag #Blockadewascrime Mr Modi popular in twitter. Neither Modi nor Oli (who himself was the victim of the blockade) mentioned the blockade in the joint press conference. This shows Modi still has no sense of regret for subjecting Nepali people to a five month-long blockade. Oli, despite being the victim, has been seen as surrendering to Modi’s Nepal policy.
All this has put Oli in a very difficult situation. He was committed to lessening Nepal’s trade dependency on India during his first stint. He had fully lent support for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and signed multiple agreements with China.
India now has adopted the policy of engaging with Nepal to keep Nepal aloof from China and rest of the world. Oli, despite being well known to this fact, chose to capitulate to India.
It seems India has convinced China on its Nepal policy. It is learnt that India has agreed to include China in BBIM (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Myanmar) connectivity through which China’s wish to bring India on board of BRI will also be fulfilled. India has not included Nepal in BBIM, instead it has created BBIN (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal) through which it can isolate Nepal by working with China.
Oli seems to be playing safely with India to prolong his regime. But the road ahead is not going to be smooth for him. If he fails to meet the aspirations of the people and also manage the geopolitics tactfully his regime won’t last long. His success mainly rests on managing India and his own party cadres. Perhaps he is clear in this policy, but his leadership does not look visionary and competent enough. This is evidenced from the fact that he could not prevent Chief Minister of Province 2 Lal Babu Raut from making controversial statement in front of Modi about Nepal’s constitution.
How will Oli move forward from now? Will he able to deliver on his promises? Will he be able to conduct public diplomacy at home? Will he be able to carefully balance geopolitical tide? His regime rests on answers of these questions.