In Kathmandu, a political twist
Nepal’s Prime Minister (PM) KP Sharma Oli has lost the confidence of Nepal’s Parliament. With the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led Nepali Congress (NC), Prachanda-led Maoist Centre, a faction of Mr Oli’s party led by Madhav Nepal, and the Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP) — a largely Madhesi formation — either opposing the PM or abstaining from Monday’s vote, Mr Oli is now a caretaker PM. But this does not mean that the political turmoil in Nepal is over; in fact, it may just mark the beginning of another round of volatility.
To form an alternative government, the NC, Maoists, Mr Nepal’s faction, and the JSP now have to come together — but the JSP is torn. One faction led by veteran Madhesi leader Mahant Thakur is keen to maintain a policy of equidistance from both Mr Oli and Mr Deuba (who would be PM if the NC formed the next government), claiming that neither serve Madhesi interests. This is widely attributed to India’s advice to Mr Thakur to stay neutral, since Mr Oli still has New Delhi’s support. Another faction, led by another Madhesi leader Upendra Yadav and former PM Baburam Bhattarai, is keen to oust Mr Oli from power — on the grounds that democracy is at stake. If a new government isn’t formed, Nepal’s president will eventually invite Mr Oli again — as the leader of the single largest party — to continue as PM.
All of this is happening when Nepal is going through a devastating wave of Covid-19, with its health care infrastructure under tremendous strain. Mr Oli wrote a piece in The Guardian desperately seeking international assistance. Nepal’s vaccination plans have also slowed down because of India’s own internal vaccine shortage, resulting in restrictions on outside supplies. For Nepal to focus on the emergency at hand, the first step is having a legitimate and fully functional government immediately. India’s support, the resultant division in the JSP, and the indifference of Mr Deuba himself (he isn’t fully sure if assuming leadership at this time is politically beneficial) may still help Mr Oli stay in power. But he has been irresponsible when it comes to Covid management, undemocratic when it comes to internal politics, and discriminatory when it comes to minorities. Delhi should step back, let the political process play out organically, be open to democratic alternatives (irrespective of who leads it), support the new government, and help its closest neighbour, to whatever extent is possible, without compromising domestic needs, in dealing with the pandemic.