Nepal has had 23 governments in the last 26 years. With the Maoists withdrawing support from the current Prime Minister K P Oli-led dispensation in Kathmandu, the saga of political instability continues. For any country, this kind of staggering political churning spells bad news for governance. But despite this, Oli’s possible departure will come as a relief to all those interested in the prospect of inclusive democracy and better Nepal-India relations.
Oli was among the prime drivers of a deeply divisive constitution that eroded the rights of Nepal’s marginalised communities and left women as second-class citizens. In government, he has presided over a coalition of the far-Left and the far-Right — united in their belief in ethnic majoritarianism and anti-Indian nationalism. He made little effort to reach out to Madhesis, despite a six-month struggle in Nepal’s plains for rights and instead resorted to excessive use of force. The Oli government also performed dismally on the all-important task of post earthquake reconstruction — busy as it was in dividing up the aid kitty among its loyalists. He also tried to invite Chinese role in direct Nepali politics. No one is suggesting that Kathmandu should not have good ties with Beijing, but if it is done with the sole intention of eroding Indian influence, Delhi cannot but take note. Oli’s calling card, through this period, was hollow ‘nationalism’ — which did little to alleviate the suffering of one of South Asia’s poorest countries. Oli also sought to infiltrate all key state institution with party loyalists — triggering fears of creeping authoritarianism.
But his possible departure — Oli has not resigned and will face a no confidence vote in parliament this week — will not unlock all of Nepal’s problems. At the moment, Maoist chairman Prachanda is the front-runner to become PM — with the support of the largest party in the house, Nepali Congress, and the outside support of agitating Madhesi forces. The next government will be more sensitive to the constitutional aspirations of the excluded communities — but to amend the constitution, it needs a two-thirds majority. With Oli’s party in opposition, this will be difficult to achieve. Nepal also needs to begin implementing the constitution. Three elections — local, provincial and national — need to be held by January 2018. Maoists and NC also have a deal to rotate the leadership of government; if Prachanda refuses to give way in nine months, it could force another realignment.
Yet, the next government must be supported for it offers the best chance of steering Nepal back to inclusive democracy. For Delhi, which was exasperated with Oli’s games, his possible departure opens up the space to restore bilateral ties with a special neighbour. It must discreetly continue to encourage constitutional accommodation, and publicly reach out to Nepal’s new leadership — once elected — with an immediate invitation to visit Delhi.