Why is India dragged time and again into Nepal’s domestic politics?

Published On: January 22, 2021 07:20 AM NPT By: Kosh Raj Koirala  | @KoshRKoirala

Rival faction of the NCP led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal has dragged India into controversy again alleging that PM Oli had dissolved the parliament at India’s behest. 

KATHMANDU, Jan 21: It was late August, 2020. Rival faction leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) -- Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal -- were mounting pressure on Prime Minister K P Oli to resign from the post of either the prime minister or the party chairman. Dahal and Nepal were joined by another influential leader Bam Dev Gautam who supported the demand, leaving Prime Minister Oli in a minority in all party's committees including the central Secretariat, Standing Committee and the Central Committee. 

Prime Minister Oli then publicly said that plans were being hatched in New Delhi to oust him from power. He claimed that New Delhi's move was in response to his decision to release Nepal’s new political map that includes Kalapani, Lipu Lekh and Limpiyadhura in June. Although his remarks further enraged his party's leaders, the rival faction leaders did not dare to strip him of one of the two power positions he held, apparently for the fear of being tagged as pro-India leaders within the party.

Many within the party and beyond suspected that he was nudged by New Delhi to unseat Oli from power, but the NCP's then Executive Chairman Dahal and the rival faction leaders, maintained in public that they had sought the resignation as Oli had failed on both the fronts, party and the government. Dahal then defended India saying that New Delhi had nothing to do with their demands. 

Nearly six months after his failed attempt to oust Prime Minister Oli from power, Dahal, who even spearheaded a movement against India when he was forced to step down from power back in May, 2009 after his unsuccessful attempt to sack the then army chief Rookmangud Katawal, has started coming down heavily upon New Delhi. Addressing a function of his faction of the party in the capital on Tuesday, Dahal accused Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli of splitting the ruling party and dissolving the lower house of the federal parliament at India's behest. He charged that the prime minister was taking wrong advice from external forces. 

Dahal's allegations against India came barely two weeks after he said in a television interview that New Delhi should speak up about Nepal's political development that could potentially derail the entire democratic process. He even said that it was conspicuous that New Delhi had stopped short of making any comment on the latest political development, terming it as Nepal's internal affair. 

Analysts in Nepal believe that India has lately chosen to stay away from internal politics in neighboring countries while closely following the development to ensure that its vital interests are not harmed in any way. The decision of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to give an appointment to visiting Foreign Minister of Nepal Pradeep Gyawali in New Delhi earlier last week has also been described as New Delhi's attempt not to be seen supporting any of the two rival factions within the ruling party as they are fighting a legal battle to secure an official recognition as the NCP. 

That India wields huge political influence in Kathmandu's politics and even uses its clout to shape Nepal's domestic politics to make sure that its vital interests are not compromised is a fact that all in Nepal agree. But the way India is dragged into controversy invariably in all major political developments by Nepal's leftist parties in particular has left even analysts intrigued.

Political analyst Chandra Dev Bhatt argues that communist parties, in general, need the so-called 'enemy', be it within the country or outside the country, to prove their existence. Nepal's communist parties considered monarchy as their primary enemy, while Nepali Congress served as the enemy after the king. "The third 'enemy' in their view has always been India. Since the institution of monarchy has already been toppled and the Nepali Congress is itself in a bad shape, they seem to be using India as the so-called 'enemy' apparently to keep their support base intact and divert public attention from their own failures in domestic politics," he says. "I think that a section of NCP leaders is using 'India' to serve their own interests even this time."

As a matter of fact, Nepal's communist parties have used 'Indian imperialism' and ‘American expansionism' to consolidate their support base in Nepal since the 1950s. The erstwhile Maoists in their 40-point demand put forth to the government before going underground back in 1996 also stood against what they called the ‘Indian expansionism.’

Bhatt believes that India these days is employing a 'quiet diplomacy' unlike China apparently to avoid courting controversy. "India appears to be avoiding any kind of hobnobbing with Oli or Dahal. Dahal faction leaders earlier solicited India's support. But since India did not respond to them, they seem to be criticizing India," Bhatt says further. 

Foreign policy observers maintain that the tendency of political parties in Nepal irrespective of whether they are in power or not to seek the support of external forces to consolidate their powers is the main reason behind this. "The fault lies among the leaders of political parties. They see everything good when in power and everything wrong when out of power," says former ambassador Dinesh Bhattarai, while adding that there has been a tendency among a section of leaders in Nepal to criticize India when they face trouble in domestic politics.

Dr Bhattarai laments that political leaders in Nepal had failed to learn lessons from the past and act accordingly. "There is no ground for creed, ethics or compassion in geopolitics. What matters in geopolitics is the country's national interests. India has never given up its critical interests in Nepal. But our leaders appear to have only upheld their personal interests and power ambition when it comes to their relations with India. The crux of the problem lies there," says Dr Bhattarai, who also served as Foreign Policy Advisor to former prime ministers Sushil Koirala and Sher Bahadur Deuba. 

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