Nepal’s PM, KP Oli’s First Official Visit to India

by March 28, 2018 0 comments

India has set the red carpet for Nepal’s PM, KP Oli on his first official visit. India’s trust on Nepal’s government will be attentive of its sincere security interests that includes honoring nation’s traditional red lines.

Nepal Prime Minister KP Oli who lambasted India after the 2015 blockade, accused it of toppling his Government in 2016 and travelled to Beijing in the interregnum to sign Nepal’s first ever trade and transit treaty with China, will be on his first official state visit to India commencing April 7. The last time he was invited was in 2016 when he urged Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to do so and she obliged but only after he had passed the first amendment to Nepal’s Constitution, which only minimally granted rights to the Madhesis and other marginalised classes. On his last visit, he was ruling a shaky coalition Government.

Now Oli is a political colossus, following the strategic alliance with the Prachanda-led Maoist Center and will soon be heading a Government with more than two-third majority, having swept the local Government elections and captured six out of seven Provinces and also won a commanding majority in the new upper House. No one in Nepal’s tryst with democracy has amassed such infinite political power.

If this was not enough, he has concentrated in the Prime Minister’s Office, all investigative, intelligence and enforcement agencies, making Oli the master of all that he surveys. If power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely? Whether we will see an authoritarian and dictatorial Oli, only time will tell.

In this column, on December 20 last year, after Oli’s dramatic political success, this writer had predicted that despite the pro-China and ultra nationalistic halo he had acquired, he would visit India first, before any pilgrimage to China as all elected Prime Ministers have done.

Despite teasing India with an interview to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post and an invitation to Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, to which Kathmandu media attributed several creative reasons, including exploring the whereabouts of former Inter-Services Intelligence official, Lt Col Zahir Hussain who was kidnapped from Nepal ostensibly by the Research and Analysis Wing in 2017, the substance of the Oli messaging to India was China — that ‘it will enable deepening explore additional options and leverages in dealing with India’. In 2008, shortly before Prachanda became the Prime Minister, he told a Nepali TV channel that Nepal needed China to balance India. In later years, Prachanda had a change in preference.

The second issue raised by Oli in the interview was about the recruitment of Nepali Gorkhas in the Indian Army. Two connections China desperately wants broken in the high Himalayas are India’s special relations with Nepal and Bhutan.

Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj did some nimble diplomacy to woo Oli. Swaraj’s surprise visit to Kathmandu to congratulate and invite him to the Dilli Durbar was both spontaneous and an expression of regret over past misunderstandings, blockade et al.

Modi, meanwhile, worked the phone lines repeating his Mann ki Baat of forgiving, forgetting and looking at the future. This diplomatic coup, coupled with Oli’s missive to Modi on Republic Day, more than mad up for one of India’s greatest foreign policy blunders, pushed Nepal towards China. During Holi, while in Pokhara, Nepal, this writer learnt a new Nepali phrase. It goes like this: ‘Dukh payo Mangala le; afno hi dhang le’ (the pain India suffered was due to its own fault.) The Madhesi cause has been put on the back burner and the fractious Nepali Congress party marginalised.

China will extract maximum political, economic and people-to-people benefit from a pro-China Left alliance Government which it inspired and invested in putting together. China’s rise in Nepal is unstoppable. Nepal wishes to draw economic gains from the world’s two fastest growing economies. It also wants to reduce its dependence on India but realises that geography, culture, language and religion point otherwise. Still, Chinese presence, investment, involvement in domestic politics and creeping interest in the military and police have magnified rapidly. They have already bagged most of the rail, road, hydropower and airport projects. The new Pokhara and Bhairwa (Lumbini) airports and the expansion of the existing Tribhuvan International Airport are all with Chinese companies, financed by loans given by Exim Bank.

China has built a new $350 million Armed Police Force Academy for which Prime Minister Modi had laid the plaque. Now India is making the police academy instead. The 800 MW Buddha Koshi hydro project will also be restored to China. The Chinese are investing heavily in Pokhara lakeside area. Thirty five to 40 Confucian Centres have come up in Terai. Chinese tourists arriving by air are second only to those coming from India. There is an unconfirmed report that a Chinese General was conferred an honorary General’s rank like the ritual followed between the Army Chiefs of India and Nepal.

China seeks parity with India. The Belt and Road Initiative blueprint is at an advanced stage. Nepalese are worried about a Sri Lanka-like debt trap. No one understands how Chinese invest and construct their projects. There is never any criticism of China in Nepal — which is reserved for India — even if fraud is involved.

Nepal can look forward to Achche din. The two entities of the Left alliance — Unified Marxist-Leninist and Maoists — were to merge this month but the coming together has been postponed to April. Not everyone, especially among  the Maoists, is happy with playing second fiddle, especially Prachanda who led the revolution of making new Nepal secular, democratic and a republic.

One senior Maoist leader told this writer that the merger could lead to ‘indigestion’! Nepal will be stable, for the first two years as no-confidence motion is not permissible by the new Constitution. This writer heard conflicting accounts on a gentleman’s agreement on power sharing — all five years for Oli; two-and-a-half years each; and three years Oli, two years Prachanda. It is inconceivable that Prachanda will be satisfied with co-chairman of the merged Communist Party of Nepal.

India will want political stability after 25 Prime Ministers in 27 years. Its focus is on geo-economics (the economic package for the current year has been doubled from Rs 375 crore to Rs 650 crore), people-to-people, especially outreach to  the youth and timely delivery of projects. India trusts the Oli Government will be mindful of its legitimate security interests, including honouring its traditional red lines.

The red carpet is being laid out. No Nepali Prime Minister has been given the honour and respect Oli will receive, including being seted by Modi. It’s to make Oli feel respected and help him consider India as Nepal’s first neighbour.

(The writer is a retired Major General of the Indian Army and founder member of the Defence Planning Staff, currently the revamped Integrated Defence Staff)

Writer:  Ashok K Mehta

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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