The new PM’s priorities
With CPN (Maoist Center) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal scheduled to take over government leadership from KP Sharma Oli in the near future, what should be the priority of the new coalition government? The first priority, in our view, has to be to try to adjust the concerns of the protesting Madheshi and Janajati outfits in the new constitution. This should be easier for Dahal than it was for Oli, who had, rightly or wrongly, come to be seen as “anti-Madheshi”. The big challenge for Dahal on this front will be to sell the reworked federal map to Oli and his CPN-UML party, which will now be in the opposition after the recent Maoist ‘betrayal’. A breakthrough is possible as there is now a realization, right across the political spectrum, that all the sides will have to be flexible if there is to be a viable constitutional settlement. We learn that four or five separate options on redrawing federal boundaries are now being discussed. A change of guard in Kathmandu could be the prod that finally solves the federal puzzle.
The second priority of Dahal government, in of fact any post-blockade government in Nepal, has to try to balance the influence of India and China. Nepal-India ties cannot come back on an even keel without a realization in New Delhi that it is ultimately counterproductive for India to try to micromanage events in Nepal. Such efforts invariably create a backlash, whipping up the latent anti-India sentiments. But we also hope that Dahal as prime minister makes every possible effort to convince New Delhi that Nepal’s recent overtures towards China should not be seen as somehow inimical to Indian interests, that improving relations with all its neighbors is what any land-locked country would naturally look to do. In this connection, it will also be up to Dahal to implement the recent trade and transit agreements with China. Such delicate balancing act will be difficult, particularly given India’s paranoia over Chinese ‘encroachment’ into Nepal. But Dahal could use his traditional leverage with Beijing, coupled with India’s seeming readiness to work with him as Nepali prime minister, to improve relations with both our neighbors. It is also up to Dahal to convince Beijing that government change in Kathmandu should not affect Chinese President Xi Jinping’s planned Nepal visit at the end of 2016.
The third priority of Dahal should be to expedite post-quake reconstruction and help quake victims rebuild their destroyed lives. With the mapping of all quake-affected regions now complete, there really is no excuse for any further delay. The fourth priority will be conclusion of the decade-long peace process. Dahal will have to allay the concerns of both national and international human rights communities that the kind of transitional justice he has in mind will not abet impunity in Nepal and more importantly, it will provide a sense of closure to the thousands of conflict victims who continue to wait for justice.
The fifth priority will be to ensure that local polls are held at the earliest, which again should not be difficult if there is a broader agreement on federal demarcations with Madheshi parties. For a government whose term is a puny nine months, there will be a lot on Dahal’s plate. His performance in this short stint could cement Dahal’s political legacy, in ways both good and bad. With so many questions being raised over his honesty and reliability, he has his task cut out.