It had a scare, but Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Oli’s government will survive for now. The uncertainty stemmed from Maoist chairman Prachanda expressing an intent to withdraw support from the government on Wednesday. He positioned himself as the next PM, and the opposition Nepali Congress — in order to oust Mr Oli — decided to support the Maoists.
But overnight, Prachanda turned around and decided to stick to the Left alliance. Mr Oli and Mr Prachanda signed a new deal, which provided assurances to the Maoists that war time cases would not be pursued against them and hinted at blanket amnesty for war crimes. Kathmandu’s political bazaar is rife with other rumours to explain the turnaround. One has it that Mr Oli has offered to support
Mr Prachanda as PM, after he presents the budget later this month. Others speculate that China — which has traditionally remained a detached observer of domestic politics — encouraged the two leaders to stay together.
Irrespective of Mr Prachanda’s motives, the developments in Kathmandu only depict that Nepal’s political elites are operating as if it is business as usual. The country has had over 20 governments in 25 years. Mr Oli’s government too is fragile — and so his only interest is survival and power-maximisation, including through undemocratic means. There are disturbing reports of how he has influenced judicial appointments and expanded the party’s control over the bureaucracy. There is also a clampdown on free speech; a Canadian resident was deported on flimsy grounds because he tweeted on politics.
There has been little progress on three fronts crucial for Nepal’s future. The first is resolving the Madhesi issue. The Tarai remains restive; Madhesi parties are warming up for another agitation; the government’s mechanism to revise federalism remains dysfunctional; and Mr Oli’s language remains hostile. The second issue is post-quake reconstruction. The first anniversary of the quake just went by and it is now well established that the government has done little for the survivors, who stare at a second monsoon in misery. The third is the task of governance and employment generation. Over 1,000 Nepalis leave the country every day for jobs in India, Gulf and Malaysia; almost 30% of the GDP comes from remittances; yet Mr Oli — or his predecessors — have done nothing to create employment.
Mr Oli needs to deliver on these issues instead of stoking ultra nationalism and signing unholy deals to stay in power. India should continue engaging with all actors in Nepal, nudge them to address constitutional issues soon, speak up for a democratic and inclusive Nepal and build international opinion around the message.