Nepal’s unstable transition to democracy and federal republic:
- Nepal’s political transition began nearly three decades ago when it adopted a new constitution in 1990 which ushered in multiparty democracy.
- However, stability eluded Nepal with a spreading Maoist insurgency.
- After a decade-long insurgency starting mid 1990s, which claimed 15,000 lives, there was a reconciliation, and an interim constitution was introduced in 2007.
- After this, yet another exercise in constitution drafting began which finally produced a new constitution in 2015.
- Nepal abolished its 250-year-old monarchy and emerged as a federal republic.
- During these decades, political instability prevailed with 25 Prime Ministers in 27 years.
India-Nepal relations gone sour in last few years:
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit in August 2014 had marked a new high in relations, but Mr. Oli’s nine-month tenure in 2015-16 was marked by acrimonious exchanges.
- India’s openly stated reservations on the new Nepalese constitution in support of the Madhesi cause.
- The economic disruptions caused by the undeclared blockade during Madhesi protests had fuelled anti-Indianism in major segments of Nepal.
- Mr. Oli cleverly exploited the sentiment by donning the mantle of nationalism and making significant electoral gains in 2017 elections.
- 2017 was a year of elections in Nepal.
- Local body elections were held after a gap of 20 years.
- This was followed by the elections under the new constitution for the national parliament (the House of Representatives and the National Assembly) and the seven Provincial Assemblies which concluded in early 2018.
- Finally, on February 15, Mr. Oli began his second tenure as Prime Minister.
Oli’s party won everywhere:
- In the local body elections, Mr. Oli’s party — the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist), or UML — won the Mayor/Council Chair’s position in 294 out of the 753 local bodies.
- In most of the seven provinces, UML leaders are Chief Ministers.
- In an alliance with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), or Maoists, Mr. Oli won a convincing majority of 174 in the 275-strong House of Representatives.
- In the Upper House, which has a strength of 59, the alliance has 42 seats.
Oli made moves towards China:
- Last year, in December, when the UML’s election victory was clear, Mr. Oli visited Rasuwagadhi on the Nepal-Tibet border and announced that it would be upgraded as a road and rail hub between China and Nepal.
A rethink in Delhi towards Nepal:
- The message from Oli’s moves towards China was not lost on India.
- There is a realisation in Delhi that just as for India, globalisation offers new openings to Nepal too, and that time had come to make a new beginning with Nepal.
- China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative also offers Nepal an option.
- Mr. Modi telephoned Mr. Oli to congratulate him on his election success.
- This was followed by Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Kathmandu to convey an invitation even before he was sworn in as Prime Minister.
Oli also showed pragmatism in victory after anti-Indian rhetoric in campaign:
- Oli’s campaign rhetoric was of Nepali nationalism with overt shades of anti-Indianism.
- With elections now over, he is shrewd enough to realise that his campaign rhetoric needed to be modified.
- He was signalling the shift by observing the tradition of visiting Delhi.
Nepal PM’s visit to India:
- It is a long-standing tradition that Nepali Prime Ministers make Delhi the first foreign port of call after taking over.
- Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli maintained the tradition during his state visit to India last week.
- The only exception was Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ in 2008 who visited China first. But his tenure was cut short months later when his coalition collapsed.
Oli looking for a positive start to his tenure:
- His earlier nine-month tenure as PM in 2015-16 had seen relations with India hit a new low.
- Thus, it made eminent sense to begin his second term on a positive note.
- From all accounts, the visit went well but it will take pragmatism and patient nurturing on both sides to restore the trust and confidence.
Joint Statement during Oli’s visit:
- The Joint Statement issued talks about strengthening relations on the basis of “equality, mutual trust, respect and benefit”.
- Though it did not mention any difficult issues, the joint statement is a step forward from Mr. Oli’s last visit in February 2016 when there was no Joint Statement.
Development partnership hindered by slow project implementation:
- For decades, India has been Nepal’s most significant development partner.
- Yet the pace of project implementation has been slow, leading to significant time and cost over-runs.
- To be fair, both India and Nepal share the responsibility for this and political instability in Nepal hardly helped.
Example of ICPs:
- The idea of four Integrated Check Posts (ICP) on the India-Nepal border to facilitate movement of goods, vehicles and people was mooted 15 years ago and an MOU signed in 2005.
- While preparation of surveys and project reports moved slowly on the Indian side, acquisition of land by the Nepali authorities got held up leading to delayed construction.
- As a result, only the Raxaul-Birgunj ICP has been completed and was inaugurated last week.
- During this time, the cost of the project went up fourfold.
Example of pipeline for petroleum products:
- The MOU for the Motihari-Amlekhgunj cross-border petroleum products pipeline was signed between the two governments in 2004.
- It took another three years for the Indian Oil Corporation and the Nepal Oil Corporation to sign the follow-up MOU, eight years to convert it into an agreement and three more to begin the works.
- The ground breaking ceremony of the project only happened now.
- Its implementation within the 30-month timeframe will require proper project monitoring by both sides.
Example of hydropower:
- Nepal’s installed hydel capacity is less than 700 MW while it sits on a hydel potential of over 80,000 MW and has to import electricity from India during the lean season.
- Misperceptions about the unequal agreements relating to the Kosi barrage (1954) and Gandak barrage (1959) have grown over the years preventing any development in this sector.
- Over 60% of the Ganga waters come from Nepal’s rivers (Sarda, Ghagar, Rapti, Gandak, Bagmati, Kamala, Kosi and Mechi) and 80% of these flows take place in monsoon months.
- Though the imperative for effective water management for both irrigation and power generation is evident, this sector has languished for decades.
Way forward – focus on implementation:
- Pragmatism led to the Nepal PM’s visit taking place and the unscripted one-on-one meeting between the two leaders would have helped in clearing the air about key concerns on both sides.
- What is now needed is effective delivery on the pending projects, the remaining ICPs, the five railway connections, postal road network in the Terai and the petroleum pipeline so that connectivity is enhanced and the idea of ‘inclusive development and prosperity’ assumes reality.
GS Paper II: International Relations