India did well not to meddle in the political crisis unfolding in Nepal
By sending a senior delegation of the Communist Party of China to Kathmandu within days of Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s controversial decision to dissolve Parliament and call for elections, Beijing has sent a worrying message that it is prepared to intervene in Nepal’s politics. The team led by the Vice Minister of the CPC’s International Department, Guo Yezhou, met political leaders and called on President Bidya Devi Bhandari and Mr. Oli, with a stated mission to try and reverse the split in the party and convince Mr. Oli and his rivals Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and Madhav Nepal to effect a patch up. But Mr. Oli has shown no signs of budging from his decision to mount what has been described a “constitutional coup”, calling for elections without discussing alternative government formation options, rushing through an endorsement from President Bhandari, and carrying out, as caretaker Prime Minister, a cabinet reshuffle. Mr. Dahal and Mr. Nepal are clear that they will not reconsider their move to split the unified Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) and apply to the Election Commission for control of the whole, unless Mr. Oli backtracks and restores the Pratinidhi Sabha (Lower House). While it is surprising that both factions have been willing to meet with the Chinese delegation at a time like this, it is even more curious that the Chinese leadership would risk losing face and lose popular goodwill with a move that sparked protests in Kathmandu.
In contrast, India has chosen to be more pragmatic and restrained, possibly due to a historical understanding of the main players in Nepali politics, and their penchant for political brinkmanship. This is not the first time politics has been brought to the precipice since Nepal adopted its new Constitution in 2015; Mr. Dahal walked out of a coalition government with Mr. Oli in 2016. While Mr. Oli’s moves of December 20 seem irreversible, there are still compromises possible. Much will depend on whether the Supreme Court, that has given the Nepali PM until January 3 to explain his actions, will stay the election process, and whether the Parliament Speaker will persuade the President to convene the Lower House despite its dissolution. While it is clear that India is not playing its traditional leading role in Nepal, neither is it facing the odium for playing spoiler. Both Mr. Oli, who has reached out to India after months of the map controversy, and Mr. Dahal, who has been a closer Indian ally during this period, are engaging the government. The positive situation gives New Delhi a little more space in which to consider its moves, and how to avoid instability in its Himalayan neighbour’s polity, something that is crucial to their relations and in the long term, to their closely inter-linked prosperity.