At a time when Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Oli’s aides have accused India of seeking to topple his government, top Nepali political sources have claimed that China played an active role in ensuring the continuity of the Oli government.
Last Wednesday, Nepal’s Maoist leader Prachanda decided to withdraw support from the Oli-led government. On Thursday morning, he changed his mind and decided to stick to the “left alliance”. The two dominant allies in the current coalition are Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal (Unified-Marxist Leninist) and the Maoists.
What explains Prachanda’s about turn?
Multiple Nepali political sources have told Hindustan Times that behind the U-turn, among other internal factors, was Chinese “advice”. However, in an exclusive interview to HT, Prachanda denied Chinese influence on his decision and said, “I had to rethink because of lack of internal preparations and the complex situation here.”
Even as Chinese engagement with Nepal has steadily increased, political leaders claimed this is the first time in years Beijing has expressed a firm opinion on the domestic political situation.
Six key Nepali leaders involved in the power-sharing talks, in background interviews, traced Chinese role.
Over the last few weeks, as conversations around a change in government picked up, Chinese diplomats reached out to fringe parties supporting Oli. A key leader of one such party told HT, “A Kathmandu-based Chinese diplomat came to us and asked us to continue supporting the government, and said that would be good for stability in Nepal.”
On May 4, Prachanda declared there would now be a national unity government under his leadership. The NC backed Prachanda, and so did Madhesi parties. This would have reduced Oli to a minority.
Chinese officials in Kathmandu, sources say, spoke to Maoist vice-chairman Narayan Kaji Shrestha ‘Prakash’ and key UML leader Bamdev Gautam, who acted as the intermediary between Oli and Prachanda.
One leader told HT that the same evening, two Chinese diplomats met Prachanda at the house of a businessman known to be close to PM Oli. But Prachanda denied this categorically and told HT, “I can say with full authority that I did not meet any Chinese representative that night at any businessman’s house.”
The next morning, at 11 am, Maoist leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara – who had played a key role in convincing Prachanda to withdraw support from the UML – is understood to have met with Chinese diplomats.
He asked them, “What is your objection if the government leadership moves from Oli to Prachanda?” The Chinese officials said they would prefer the current “left government”. Mahara responded, “Oli to Prachanda would mean shifting from the left to the left, not left to right. Prachanda would also be friendly and address Chinese core concerns.” They listened but did not commit.
Another leader in touch with Chinese officials told HT that China was keen Oli survived because he had just returned from Beijing after signing key transit and connectivity agreements. “They don’t want a message to go out that if a Nepali PM signs a landmark deal with China, he will not survive in power in Kathmandu. There is also a possibility that President Xi Jinping visits Kathmandu on his way to the BRICS Summit in Goa in October, and the Chinese would prefer the current coalition to be in place till then.”
At night on May 5, Oli and Prachanda signed a deal which included a provision that wartime cases would not be pursued against Maoists. Informally, Oli agreed to hand over power to Prachanda after the budget in Parliament.
Indian officials say they are closely assessing the situation. “If it is true that China played such a role, it would mark an unprecedented level of interventionism in Nepali politics,” a source told HT.