Nepal Goes Red and Closer to China
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 22 Dec , 2017

In the first direct election of the Pratinidhi Sabha after the promulgation of new Constitution in Nepal, the Communist Party combination have won 116 out of 165 seats. The remaining 110 seats of 275 members Pratinidhi Sabha shall be elected as per the proportional representation. The old vanguard of Nepali democracy and considered to be pro India, the Nepali Congress (NC) have won only 22 seats. Never before the Nepali Congress had faced such a rout. The protagonists of Hindu Rashtra and monarchy have also been decimated. Their main flag bearer Rashtriya Prajatantrik Party (RJPN) could win only one seat and the Hindu Rashtra proponent Kamal Thapa lost the election. Now these parties can only expect few seats on the basis of proportional representation. In total, out of the 275 seats in the Pratinidhi Sabha, the left alliance holds 174 (121 for the CPN-UML and 53 for the Maoists), the NC 63, the RJPN 17, and the Federal Socialist Forum (FSF) gets 16.

Political Analyst Shyam Shrestha writes, “Past instances show that Nepal has a tendency to lean towards [the] left.” Indeed, the number of voters that support communist parties in Nepal has long been the majority, but those votes have been divided — which has benefited the NC since the restoration of democracy in 1990. There has been considerable infighting among leftist forces, yet the CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center) still managed to attain 62 percent of votes in the 2008 Constituent Assembly election. In the following CA elections in 2013, despite continual disagreement between leftist forces, “they still managed to get 52 percent” of the vote. In their vote for the left alliance, Nepali voters have clearly expressed their new nationalism which has three key components – the search for political stability and peace, the demand for fast and comprehensive development and assertion against India.

The election was free and fair and the observers from European Union and many other countries have testified it. The US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert conveyed US’ greetings to Nepal on the peaceful conclusion of the elections held on November 26 and December 7. “This is a historic milestone for Nepal that will bring new local, provincial, and national government officials to lead the country’s new federal system of government. The election of representatives at all levels of government should set the stage for responsive governance based on the principles of transparency, inclusivity, and rule of law,” she said.

It is now certain that, the communist leader K P Oli would become the Prime Minister of Nepal with clear majority. This is definitely a good sign for Nepalese democracy as no Government could ever complete it’s tenure since this Himalaya Kingdom became a republic in 2008. The future Oli Government will face a serious problem of Madheshi agitations. Many Madheshi leaders like Upender Yadav, Mahant Thakur and Rajender Mahto have reached the Parliament and will keep on asserting the Madheshi issues.

Prof S. D. Muni writes, “Outside the domestic challenge, the Left Alliance also has to cope with Nepal’s two giant neighbours – India and China”. The UML under Oli had opened Nepal’s option of cultivating China to diversify its heavy dependence on India in the matters of trade and transit. Prachanda and the Maoists have always looked towards China as a counterbalance to pressures from India. Since the launching of its Belt and Road Initiative, China is also keen to expand its economic engagement and strategic space in Nepal under the excuse of facilitating Oli’s and Prachanda’s developmental agenda. China was looking forward to the victory of the Left Alliance, and is assiduously working to see this alliance turn into a single party to help it carry forward its economic and strategic initiatives in Nepal. In pursuing its engagement with China, the Left Alliance may find it prudent to be careful on two counts. One, it should avoid entering into such projects with China that can lead it into a long-term debt-trap, as has been the case with countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar, the Maldives, or even Pakistan. Secondly, it may be well advised to steer clear of such projects that may trigger India’s security sensitivities and concerns. Both Oli and Prachanda are intelligent and experienced leaders. They are acutely aware of the structural constraints and avoidable red lines inherent in India-Nepal relations. That is why they have repeatedly and publicly been stating their desire to bring a balance in building co-operative relations with both their northern and southern neighbours. It is expected they would create a new and credible framework of Nepal’s foreign policy to do so.

The democratisation of Nepal in 1990 and the descent of the country into civil war launched by Maoist rebels were characterised by different reactions from India and China. India criticised the monarchy’s concentration of power in 2002 while China cited it as Nepal’s internal problem. Subsequently, in 2006, the monarchy returned power to the democratically elected parliament the former Maoist rebels joined mainstream politics and abolished the monarchy in 2008. Thus, the domestic politics of Nepal also presented China and India with ample diplomatic opportunities to further their interests.

Nepal, home to the second largest overseas Tibetan population of over 20,000, is strategically important as part of China’s attempt to control any spill over of its agitation into its own borders as well as ‘saving face’ front of the international community. The Chinese Government has increased investment in the Nepalese police force and the country’s Tibetan refugees have experienced increased curtailment of their freedoms. The Chinese investment is aimed at developing anti-riot capacity of the Nepali police force. China’s Nepal policy has now taken a strong turn towards keeping control over the overseas Tibetan populace while at the same time strategically challenging India in its own sphere of influence. China’s rising foreign direct investment in Nepal have also dislodged India as the largest investor in the country. China accounts for 60 per cent of the total FDI commitment in Nepal.

Bibek Chand, Ph D student from Florida University aptly concludes in an article that “to sum up the Sino-Indian interaction in Nepal, it is rooted in security concern of the two powers. China’s increasingly assertive regional politics and also deep concerns over stability in the Tibet Autonomous Region prompt it to take greater interest in Nepal. On the other hand, Indian is concerned with increasing Chinese interest in Nepal, a state with which it shares an open border as well as deep societal bonds. As China increasingly asserts itself, the competition in Nepal is bound to become more rigorous as India attempts to push back. The rivalry between the two states puts Nepal in a precarious situation wherein the country has to walk a delicate political tightrope.”

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Rakesh Kr Sinha

Former DIG and is associate member of Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA). Presently Special Advisor to the Chief Minister, Govt of NCT of Delhi.

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