On 20 November 2022 in Nepal, the Federal and Provincial polls were held to elect members of the House of Representatives and the seven Provincial Assemblies. With pre-poll alliances bereft of common ideology the chances of seeing an end to the political instability seem low. The voter turnout of 61 per cent too was much lesser than in the previous two elections.
On 1st June 2001, after the horrific tragedy that wiped out the entire royal family including King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya, King Birendra’s brother, Gyanendra was crowned the King. After a bitter spell of protests, King Gyanendra relinquished power and reinstated the Parliament. On 21st November 2006, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Maoist Chairman Prachanda signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) 2006, ending the decade-long Maoist insurgency. A Constituent Assembly election was held on 10th April 2008. Abolishing the 240-year-old monarchy, on 28th May 2008, the newly elected Constituent Assembly declared Nepal a Federal Democratic Republic, with a President as the Head of State and the Prime Minister heading the Government.
With considerable efforts dealing with political disagreements on contentious issues like federal provinces, the form of government etc. the new constitution of Nepal was promulgated on 20th September 2015.
In 2018 the Communist Party of Nepal – Ultra Marxist Leninist (CPN - UML) led by KP Oli, and the Communist Party of Nepal Maoist Centre
(CPN – MC) led by PK Dahal Prachanda merged to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). This merger was largely driven by China to enable synergies of economic and political power to exercise influence over Nepal.
However, the rift between KP Oli and Prachanda on the power-sharing mechanism led to a split in the Nepal Communist Party in 2020. Desperate efforts of the Chinese Ambassador and other high-profile emissaries from Beijing failed to keep the two communist partners together. KP Oli then Prime Minister managed to have the parliament dissolved. The legitimacy of the dissolution and the role of President Bidya Devi Bhandari came to question.
Eventually, intervention by the Supreme Court of Nepal led to the formation of a Coalition government under Sher Bahadur Deuba of the National Congress supported by Prachanda of CPN – MC and others. The coalition succeeded in completing its term, leading to the general elections held on 20th November 2022.
China has reportedly been investing heavily in favour of KP Oli. To lend legitimacy to the CPN – UML, China would make deeper inroads into Nepal under the garb of development projects, job creation and so on. Most ominous being the rail and road connectivity driving deeper. As these projects come closer to the Terai Region, the geographic barrier of the Himalayas and the political buffer of a neutral Nepal get potentially compromised in favour of China.
Pakistan’s ISI has for long been active in Nepal, supporting terrorist activity against India. The 24 December 1999 hijacking of the Air India IC 814 Kathmandu-Delhi flight with 180 passengers and crew, by ISI-sponsored terrorists is well documented. ISI has also been complicit in fake currency racketeering and organising safe havens for criminals. Pakistan Embassy and ISI have reportedly been meddling politically too, in the Terai and Madhesh area, operating key communicators to influence Muslim voters in favour of KP Oli. Post the ban on PFI in India, their cadres have become active in Nepal playing to the tune of ISI.
India’s relationship with Nepal is built on the foundations of grass root linkages. Amongst the strongest bonds are the 40,000 Indian and Nepali Gorkha soldiers as well as about 90,000 Indian Army pensioners in Nepal. Symbolic yet significant is Nepal’s Army Chief being conferred the Honorary rank of General of the Indian Army and the reciprocal honour given to India’s Chief of the Army Staff.
According to an IDSA report of 2017, there are approximately 1,27,000 pensioners: 90,000 from the Indian Army and 37,000 of the Central and State Governments as well as para-military forces in Nepal. The Defence Wing of the Embassy of India in Nepal runs three Pension Paying Offices in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Dharan, to manage pensions and welfare. The Indian Ex-servicemen Welfare Organisation in Nepal (IEWON) is an independent organisation chaired by the Ambassador of India with representation from senior officials from the Governments of Nepal and India.
CPN – UML leaders have been occasionally objecting to the impropriety of sovereign citizens of Nepal serving another country. This is malicious propaganda as it belies the socio-economic value that the arrangement provides to the youth of Nepal. More importantly, the trust that India reposes in the citizens of Nepal, where any citizen can join and rise to the highest ranks in India’s Armed Forces. The institutional strength of the Army and the qualities of the soldiers have ensured that they weathered the stresses posed by the decade-long Maoist insurgency in Nepal. But in today’s social media hyperactive environment attempts to incite the serving Gorkha soldiers could have serious ramifications.
In 2020 the Prime Minister of Nepal made some caustic remarks in the Parliament, following the release of a new political map of Nepal, placing areas of Kalapani, Limpiyadhura and Lipulekh as part of their territory. Reiterating the stance, earlier this month, KP Oli inaugurated his party's nationwide election campaign by stating, "We will bring back land, including Kalapani, Lipulek and Limpiyadhura."
China's influence in Nepal has risen exponentially in the last decade. Pakistan’s ISI activities in Nepal are well-established. Getting a pliable political party or coalition in power in Nepal is obviously part of the many layers and multiple facets of the collusive designs of China and Pakistan against India.
Time-honoured India – Nepal relations are going to be tested yet again. India will have to rise to much tougher challenges, requiring many faceted investments to build on the strong foundations of the relationship.
(The author is a former Member of the National Security Advisory Board and Deputy Chief of Army Staff)