Nepalese Political Turmoil and a South Asian Love Triangle

The political crisis in Nepal has returned, K. P. Sharma Oli, who was known for his anti-India rhetoric, now sees the Nepal-India relationship with hope and China with skepticism.

As the proverb goes, the stone near the jasmine will bear the fragrance too; But in Nepal, Mount Everest is not only bearing the jasmine but also Champa scent. Is the metaphor relatable? The Communist Jasmine in the north and the Democratic Champa in the south. Thus, in Nepal, we have a unique political landscape with Democracy ruled by a communist party. Although Communism is detrimental to free will, human rights, and economic development, Democracy does provide room for Communism to exist.

Nepal’s Political Clout

The latest political crisis grew from strife within the ruling coalition Nepal Communist Party (NCP), which was formed in 2018 through a merger between the Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) in December. This disturbed the government’s majority in the parliament, resulted in Parliament’s dissolution. President Bidya Devi Bhandari’s dissolution order was challenged in the Supreme court. Following, the parliament was re-instated and a Supreme court-mandated non-confidence movement in May didn’t yield a stable government, which ended with the second dissolution of Parliament in six months. Even after 14 years of the democratic revolution, the Himalayan nation couldn’t form a single stable tenure. The first federal government as a result of the brand-new constitution of 2015 also seems to be crumbling down before its mandated tenure.

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 The next general elections will be held on November 21 completing almost 4 years out of 5. A Supreme Court ruling de-registered the ruling party, Nepal Communist Party (NCP), which revived the factions, Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) making the chance for a future stable government more difficult. Due to these events, there is Nationwide protest and strikes, condemning the president’s decision to dissolve parliament even without verifying the majority stake by the parties. A general election during a debilitating COVID pandemic would drain Nepal financially. Moreover, valuable human resources would be deprioritized from the health sector.

Nepal India & China

Coming to our fragrance metaphor, China and India are not mere spectators here. China sent a special envoy to find an amicable solution between waring communist factions in the ruling coalition. Even China wants to oust Oli to keep the communist government intact, but it availed no result. Before December, RAW Chief visited Nepal, followed by the Indian Army Chief. The Oli once rebuked India by his provoking statements suddenly seems to be looking to India with a fresh attitude. Oli admitted recently that all the misunderstanding with India has been resolved, but the story doesn’t end here. Why there was a sudden U-turn?

In addition to their ideological proximity with the Chinese communist government, in 2014, China overtook India as the largest FDI contributor to Nepal by literally raining money, which almost touched 90% of Nepal’s FDI at a point. By its Railway Diplomacy, China is showing them as a benign who can help replace India as Nepal’s Trade route provider. Nepal is an open supporter of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by China. This culminated in the opening of several Sino-Nepal passes for accessing Chinese seaports and land ports to diminish Nepalese dependence on Indian ports. China is also challenging India in the telecommunication sector of Nepal.

But replacing India would not be an easy task for China. Nepal expatriates are a part of the Indian Army, due to its colonial legacy. India also employs more than 3 million Nepalis, whereas remittance to Nepal from China is negligible, which makes India and Nepal natural allies. Unlike India, China also lacks people-to-people contact and an open border system with Nepal.

Possible Regeneration of Amity

The Modi government also like his predecessors is not leaving any stone unturned. Modi visited Nepal 4 times in his 6-year tenure and always put Nepal at the forefront in his ‘Neighborhood first Policy’. This was evident by the action of 1 million Covidshield vaccines grant assistance to Nepal during the current shaken relationship. Although China’s investing heavily in Nepal, India still receives the 60% of Nepal exports whereas China imports just around 2%. Nepal traders are concerned with the Chinese unofficial blockades which make them turn to Indian ports for seamless logistics. The trade routes via India also decrease the cost and difficulties due to its friendly geography and well-established open borders.

Although Oli’s newfound amity with India is due to his personal gain to continue as the PM, the action firmly shows India’s influence in the south Asian state. We cannot blame Nepal for balancing India and China for competing for influence. During the 2015 earthquake, India’s trade embargo forced the Nepalese leadership to look northwards. India seems to be learned from this mistake and restrained from showing any more big brother attitude towards Nepal.

In Nepal’s Angle

As a developing landlocked country, diversifying its dependency and diplomacy is obvious for Nepal. But Nepal should look around before embracing China blindly, due to its debt trap foreign policy, for which China is well known. Whereas, India, whether it is in Afghanistan, Africa, or South Asia, works towards human resource development and capacity building. But when it comes to Nepal, India is not only concerned about its natural ally relationship but also must involve its strategic space equations in it. Given Nepal’s benefits from India, more than China, it should not involve foreign players in its soil that make its all-weather ally vulnerable.

The relationship between India, Nepal, and China is like a Bollywood Love triangle. A toxic boyfriend who never forgets to drown his love interest with expensive gifts but exerts control over her individuality and loves her just to repel her true friends away. Then there is a good-hearted boyfriend who is with her since childhood. He isn’t capable of expensive gifts but is always affectionately there for her without expecting anything in return.

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