Will Nepal find stability under its new Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal? Will the Maoist leader, popularly known as Prachanda, steer Nepal better than he did as Prime Minister eight years ago? Will India-Nepal relations get back on track? It all depends on a lot of things including how he handles the two big neighbours, and how the two neighbours look at his regime.
Prachanda, Chairman of CPN (Maoist Centre), became Nepal’s 39th Prime Minister on August 3 heading a coalition Government with the Nepali Congress. His first innings as Prime Minister in 2008 were short lived. He is also known for his anti-India stance but begins his current term with the blessings of New Delhi. India’s NCP leader DP Tripathi played a vital role in the back-channel negotiations with Nepal leaders. The result was that Prachanda replaced KP Sharma Oli. Experts feel that Delhi-Kathmandu ties that had touched rock bottom during the Oli regime, might be back on track with Prachanda.
Prachanda has many challenges including completing the peace process and implementing the new Constitution. He also has to pay attention to governance and improve the economy. Above all, he has to recalibrate Nepal’s foreign policy while remaining sensitive to the concerns of both India and China.
Prachanda has repeatedly stated that he has become “politically mature” and understands the “compulsions of competitive politics”. He told this writer last year that he had committed some mistakes like not making GP Koirala the President, sacking the Army chief, and not adjusting to competitive politics. He says he will not commit these mistakes again. He is also not as virulantly anti-Indian as he used to be, which is why New Delhi supports him now. His first foreign visit this time will be to Delhi. In 2008, he went to Beijing first.
Since he has taken over, Prachanda has made a marked departure from his predecessor. He has promised to amend the new Constitution to include Madhesi demands and take all sections of society along with him.
He has begun well by appointing his Deputy Prime Minister Bimalendra Nidhi of the Nepali Congress, as his special envoy to New Delhi; while another Deputy Prime Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara of Prachanda’s own party visited Beijing to deal with Chinese anxieties over the fate of projects connecting China and Nepal that were signed by Oli.
This is in tune with his declaration that he will build on the traditionally close ties between India and Nepal, and keep Nepal equidistant from India and China. Nidhi’s four-day visit was to assure New Delhi of Prachanda’s cooperation. He met all the top leaders including President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Home Minister Rajnath Singh among others. His prepared the ground for Prachanda’s visit next month and invited President Mukherjee to Nepal.
Modi has also responded graciously to Prachanda’s moves, and offered what could be a balm to souring relations between India and Nepal – India’s help in reconstructing the earthquake-battered country. Modi assured Nidhi that, “India is fully committed to support the government and the people of Nepal in the post-earthquake reconstruction efforts.” India is the largest donor to Nepal’s post-earthquake re-construction efforts.
Prachanda had sent a message to Modi, admitting errors in the past, reaffirming his commitment to friendship with India, promising efforts to forge an inclusive constitutional settlement, and seeking closer development cooperation. He also sent a long list of agreements he wants to sign during his visit in September.
He has conveyed his desire to speed up development works in Nepal with Indian assistance rather than focusing on political and diplomatic matters. He has suggested that works on the long-delayed Pancheshwor Project on Nepal-India border be moved forward. Modi has responded by striking a personal rapport, according to Nidhi.
Nidhi has also explained to Indian leaders the Prachanda’s roadmap and has highlighted that since Constitutional amendments cannot be done without Oli’s support, there are only two options – either to bring Oli come on board or mobilise the support of all other smaller parties to vote in favour of the amendments.
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