Nepal's foreign policy will change after Deuba’s defeat

Jatin Desai
Saturday, 23 December 2017

The result of Nepal’s elections was on expected lines. Left alliance consisting of Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) won elections comfortably. In all probability, former Prime Minister and leader of CPN (UML) KP Sarma Oli will be the next PM. Nepali Congress (NC) lost the elections badly. The election was important for both India and China. Now, the talk is whether election results will affect India-Nepal relations.

The result of Nepal’s elections was on expected lines. Left alliance consisting of Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) won elections comfortably. In all probability, former Prime Minister and leader of CPN (UML) KP Sarma Oli will be the next PM. Nepali Congress (NC) lost the elections badly. The election was important for both India and China. Now, the talk is whether election results will affect India-Nepal relations.

The elections to the parliament and seven provincial assemblies were held under Nepal’s new constitution promulgated in September 2015. For parliament, elections were held for 165 seats. 110 seats will be allocated to parties based on proportional representation. Traditionally, NC is close to India. Even late Nepali leader BP Koirala was involved in the Indian freedom struggle. He also joined Indian National Congress. NC was formed in 1950 by the merger of BP Koirala’s socialist Nepali National Congress (NNC) and Nepal  Democratic Congress. 

Left parties are seen close to China and China’s support to them is an open secret. So, the result will naturally strengthen relations between Nepal and China.  But it does not mean Nepal’s relations with India will weaken.

The defeat of current PM Sher Bahadur Deuba’s NC will also mean some change in the foreign policy of Nepal in the coming days. Deuba won his seat from his home province in Western Nepal but other senior leaders of the party lost badly. But will change in power significantly affect Nepal’s relations with India?

It will be too simplified to say yes. One should not read too much into the Left coming to power. National interest always plays utmost importance in foreign policy. Both the countries are bound by culture, traditions and geography. Lakhs of Nepalese live in India. The relations between people of the two countries are of mutual trust, though at various times the relations turns into mistrust.

The sentiment in Nepal turns anti-India from time to time. Both Left parties are known for voicing anti-India sentiments occasionally. The last time was in late 2015 when Nepal promulgated its new constitution. Ethnic people from Madhesh (adjoining India’s Bihar and UP) including janjatis opposed some provisions of the new constitution which they saw as discriminatory against women, indigenous communities and people from lower castes. They mobilised people and blocked roads. It affected Nepal badly as it is a land-locked country and most of the goods it imports and exports is through India. During this period Nepal witnessed scarcity of medicines, fertilisers, and diesel and petrol. Nepalese saw India’s hand behind the blockade. Anti-India sentiment was an all-time high. India also lobbied with Nepal to postpone promulgation of new constitution. I witnessed anti-India sentiments in various parts of Nepal in January 2016. I and a couple of members of South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) met then PM Oli in January 2016. He was seen as anti-India. When we met him he categorically said, "Please tell Indians that I am not against India." 

Oli became the PM in October 2015 and during his nine-month rule, the relations with India plummeted to an all-time low. Oli had to resign from the prime ministership on July 24, 2016, after CPN (MC) withdrew its support. CPN (MC) led by Prachanda formed the government with NC. I had also witnessed the popularity of Indian PM Narendra Modi during SAARC Summit held in November 2014 in Kathmandu. But the scenario changed drastically by October 2015.

Over the years, China has invested massively in Nepal. They have also signed an agreement with Nepal for railway network in Nepal. Nepal also signed an agreement with Petro China following the blockade. With Left parties winning elections, Nepal can expect much more investment from China. Nepal has become a part of China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative. India is not part of China’s ambitious project. India had boycotted Belt and Road Summit held in Beijing in May. Then Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif was among other leaders from various countries to participate in the summit.

Raveesh Kumar, spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, said on Nepal elections, "We look forward to working with the next democratically elected government in Nepal to advance our close multifaceted partnership across all sectors and to support Nepal in its pursuit of peace, stability and economic prosperity."

Both Left parties - CPN (UML) and CPN (MC) – have decided to merge their parties and form a single unified party.  But, it will not be easy. The differences may arise on who will lead the party?  

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