Prime Minister Oli’s legal and moral standing is under question in Nepal’s Supreme Court. Pradeep Gyawali, his minister, lacks legitimacy to talk to his Indian counterpart on strategic issue of long-term implications for Nepal.
Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali will be in New Delhi to hold the India-Nepal joint commission meeting with his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar. Gyawali’s is the first high-level visit to Delhi from Kathmandu in over a year. He is leading the Nepali delegation at the sixth meeting of Nepal-India Joint Commission, the most important bilateral institutional dialogue mechanism co-chaired by External Affairs Minister of India and Foreign Minister of Nepal.
The Commission was constituted in 1987 to periodically review all bilateral issues and projects at the top political level of the two countries. There is a provision of organizing such meetings every two years alternatively between Nepal and India but only five meetings could be held in more than three decades of its existence. The fifth meeting was held on August 21-22 2019 in Kathmandu.
The author of this column could not get hold of the official agenda of this meeting from either countries government’s official websites (which is questionable in the current day and age), but people conversant with the issue and newspaper reports claim that the possible agenda would be collaboration on Covid-19 vaccinations, the pending Eminent Persons Group (EPG) report, the progress of India funded projects in Nepal and the likes. Nepal’s caretaker Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is seen claiming that the main agenda during Gyawali’s trip would be Nepal’s border disputes with India including the disputes around Limpiadhura, Kalapani and Lipulekh.
Talks are legitimate
India being Nepal’s biggest trade and investment and development partner, it is of utmost importance particularly for Nepal that all bilateral issues get resolved expeditiously through periodical and structured dialogue with India. With millennium old cultural, religious and familial ties between the people living in both the countries, the border between the two sovereign nations have remained practically open all through the living memory.
As per the official website of Indian Embassy in Kathmandu, “nearly 8 million (80 lakh) Nepalese citizens live and work in India” and “around 6 lakh Indians are living/domiciled in Nepal.” One could safely assume these numbers being just a set of best estimates as there is no mechanism of tracking the movement of citizens from one country to the other on the borders. And yet no one would disagree that a significant number of citizens of each country live in the other country. With such close socio-economic ties and codependency, no informed citizen of either country would like to see coldness in the relations of both our governments—let alone any border dispute. In view of these, no Nepali or Indian in their sane mind could question the legitimacy of high level talks between Nepal and India. It is always a welcome sight cherished on both sides of the border.
It is no secret that Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is currently Nepal’s caretaker Prime Minister at best. Several writ petitions are currently pending in the Supreme Court of Nepal questioning the legality of Oli’s blatant unconstitutional act of dissolving the parliament and declaring snap polls. Decision of the court could declare Oli’s acts illegal thus making all his decisions post Dec 20 illegitimate. Not just the best legal minds of Nepal but even the ordinary people who ever cared to read the constitution know that Oli’s acts were and are unconstitutional.
Nepal’s constitution has remarkable similarity with the Westminster model of governance but its framers have purposely kept some significant distinctions—one of them being the Prime Minister does not have a right to dissolve the parliament without making every attempt to find a successor inside the parliament.
In a shameless display of political expediency KP Sharma Oli—a lifelong communist grown on the Russian and Chinese communist propaganda literature of the Cold War vintage—has suddenly begun to lean heavily on favorable precedents from the Western democracies to justify his blatantly unconstitutional and immoral acts.
While claiming the validity of his constitutionally non-existent right to dissolve the parliament, Oli shows no shame in bragging of his half-baked understanding of some of the most nuanced traditions of the Westminster system of governance. But in the same breath, he completely and conveniently forgets that under the Westminster system, after the dissolution of parliament, the Prime Minister becomes a caretaker Prime Minister, a lame-duck left with only one responsibility—to expedite a free and fair election of the parliament.
PM Oli’s legal and moral standing is under question in Nepal’s Supreme Court and the court of public opinion. Gyawali being one of his ministers lacks legitimacy to talk to his Indian counterpart on any strategic issue of long term implications for Nepal.
Designs of dictator
Sixty years ago, on December 15, 1960, King Mahendra dissolved Nepal’s parliament and imposed a direct and dictatorial rule. His acts were clearly unconstitutional, and had no popular mandate behind it. But yet King Mahendra succeeded in his ambitions by playing the regional geo-political conflict of his time to his advantage. In the late 50s and early 60s, Indo-China relations were at its worst given their differences on issues related to the control over Tibet, asylum to Dalai Lama and so on. Both countries eventually went to a full blown war in 1962. The conflict, bad blood and war among both of Nepal’s neighbors helped consolidate the dictatorial designs of King Mahendra.
Notably it was in these uncertain times under the rules of a dictator that certain actions were taken in Nepal and India (the details are slowly coming to the fore) that led to the birth of Nepal’s border dispute with India on Limpiadhura, Kalapani and Lipulekh.
KP Sharma Oli by unconstitutionally dissolving the parliament is clearly showing his dictatorial ambitions akin to King Mahendra of the 60s. It is another matter that there is zero chance of him being successful. Compared to the 60s, the citizens of Nepal today are significantly more conscious of their political rights. Nepal is blessed with the most independent press in South Asia, and a very vocal civil society. The days of tin-pot dictators are long gone in Nepal.
It would serve us not to forget that it was a dictator (read King Mahendra) whose actions gave birth to the Nepal-India border dispute. Hope India-Nepal relationship does not get condemned to repeat the same mistake by engaging with another political figure of Nepal with dictatorial ambitions.
The Nepal-India Joint Commission should deliberate on pressing issues such as collaboration on response to Covid-19 pandemic and other issues of concern but the deliberations should not get into issues of long term strategic significance. Nepal’s representative at that meeting is the foreign minister of the caretaker government which lacks legitimacy and mandate to do so on behalf of Nepal.