Trade and people to people relationship plus the role of the only institution that people respect in Nepal, the Nepal Army holds the key to stability in the years ahead. From the Indian side the policy makers should be well aware that the Nepalese Army bedrock and pillars are the Indian Army ethos respecting the democratic government in power. There is a need to strengthen the relationship between the two armies more than the current levels, because of the respect that the common man has for the army. There is also a need to have soldiers in the eminent persons group so as to strengthen the diplomacy between the two nations.
Recently, elections were held in Nepal on two days, 26 November and 07 December, respectively. Nepal’s federal structure consists of two houses, House of Representatives (HoR) Lower House, and National Assembly (NA) Upper House, both houses having near equal powers. In the elections, the alliance of the two Communist parties has emerged victorious, winning 174 out of 275 seats, which is a near two-third majority. Of this, the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) has won 121 seats with both the First Past the Post (FPTP) and Proportional Representation (PR) methods. Nepal has a complex election system; roughly 60 percent seats are decided on the FPTP and 40 percent on PR system. Their alliance partner, Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Centre) has won 53 seats from both the methods. The Nepali Congress (NC), seen as a pro India party, won 23 seats in the FPTP method but due to their vote share of 32.78 percent, which is roughly half a percent less than the vote share of the winner (Marxist-Leninist), they got 40 seats in the PR method and stand second with 63 seats. The two communist parties, together, thus make 174 seats while the NC has only 63 seats.
The other parties like the Rastriya Janta Party Nepal has a total of 11+6 (17) seats, Federal Socialist Forum 16, and five single seats to five parties. The scene is thus set for Mr. Oli to take over, once other formalities are resolved, and he has fought the election mainly on an anti India plank. In the NA or Upper House, out of 59 members, 56 are elected by Electoral College and three are appointed by the President. There is also a clash between the President, Bidhya Devi Bhandari who is from the Communist background, and the caretaker PM, Sher Bahadur Deuba on formation of Upper House and it still remains an unresolved issue just as the issue regarding formation of the government and seven provinces are concerned. The common man at Kathmandu is yet to be convinced that the elections will bring stability and constitutional order because of unresolved issues.
India had serious objections to the promulgation of Nepal’s Constitution. Nepal’s political class could not agree to a Constitution. Thereafter, the big four political parties, Nepali Congress (NC), the Maoist (UCPN), Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (Democratic) and the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) signed a deal on 8 June 2015, to bring the Constitution out earliest, or else it would miss another deadline. The Second Constituent Assembly (CA) finally submitted a draft Constitution for Nepal which was earlier held up for a variety of reasons, the major being a lack of consensus amongst all the political parties. The four parties that signed the sixteen point agreement in effect left out the contentious issue which lie at the heart of the problem regarding the provinces to a federal commission. These contentious issues have still not been resolved and are likely to pose a problem in the formation of a government post the current elections. The heart of the problem lies in the Madhesi issue.
The Madhesi issue has simply refused to die down and caused a temporary estranged relationship between two time tested friends, Nepal and India. The Madhesi had blocked the border thus not allowing any land connectivity between Nepal and India. The agitation lasted nearly five months and was also referred to as the “unofficial blockade”. The stand of the government of Nepal was that India was supporting the blockade while the Indian stance was that law and order situation does not permit plying of transport and that the Madhesi were blocking the border.
The leftist political parties campaigned on an anti India platform with the background of the blockade still fresh in the minds of the people and Oli won the current election. He may thus be tempted to use this stance to please his electorate. China, on the other hand is keen to connect Nepal with a railway line passing through Rasugarhi, linking all the way up to Lumbini, the place where Gautama Buddha was born. The road and rail network plus the dams that China may construct in the near future, will put Nepal firmly in China’s grip. It seems Nepal is not learning any lessons from the debt trap that Sri Lanka finds itself in over the construction of Hambantota port or the charged debate taking place on the sidelines in Pakistan on economic sell out and debt trap to China on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (C-PEC).
Political Implications of Results
The political ramifications of such a massive win for the left parties, wherein the pro India NC has won only 23 seats out of 165 seats in the FPTP system or just 13 percent of the seats are a staggering loss. For the left, it is an overwhelming win having garnered 70 percent of the seats in the FPTP system. Vote share wise too, the two left combined opposition parties have a vote share of 46.91 percent, indicating strong ground support. On the other hand, the NC did not do badly with a vote share of 32.78 percent. This astounding win is on account of anti India stance, wherein the blockade post the earthquake became a key turning point. The similarities however, end there. Both Oli and Prachanda are strong personalities and power sharing will be a problem. The Madhesi issue on which India harked is not such a game changer, although it does have political and security, mainly law and order issues with India. The other issues that India backs like discrimination has not died down but how will Nepal tackle these problems as they are the Achilles heel of the current Nepal-India relationship? Will Nepal continue to hark on an anti India stance? The close linkages between the two countries and the fact that Nepalese manpower flows to India and not Tibet would not make this a long time viable proposition.
The Sinicization of Tibet which means an unleashing of reforms and migration of large number of Han Chinese to make Tibet look like mainland China is for Nepal to see. The Chinese may support Nepal with a lot of economic might but the cost is a debt trap, and that is the balancing act Oli and company need to factor. India has deep cultural ties, people to people friendly relationship, and two democracies connect better. This will be put to the test in the months to come. It is going to be more of a test for Nepal, but India will have to walk the extra mile to ensure its back to a more nuanced policy with Nepal. India has to ensure that geo strategically the mighty Himalayas remain a barrier; the military cost of a breach in the name of development will be very costly. The Leftist parties also want to scrap the Indo-Nepal Friendship Treaty of 1950, which actually is in Nepals favour. Trade and people to people relationship plus the role of the only institution that people respect in Nepal, the Nepal Army hold the key to stability in the years ahead. From the Indian side the policy makers should be well aware that the Nepalese Army bedrock and pillars are the Indian Army ethos respecting the democratic government in power. There is a need to strengthen the relationship between the two armies more than the current levels, because of the respect that the common man has for the army. There is also a need to have soldiers in the eminent persons group so as to strengthen the diplomacy between the two nations.
To conclude, there are a few issues that need to be highlighted. India will never permit law and order problems on its boundary with Nepal as it has security implications. As far as Nepal is concerned this issue has grave trouble for Nepal, it could turn violent and that will sap Nepal’s energy from development. This will become a nightmare for both the countries and will gravely affect the historical precedence of open borders. The time to act is now. How Nepal solves the issue of Madhesi is for them to decide, but blaming India will not help. The example of Bhutan will not work, because their conditions are different. India has to ensure that geo strategically, the mighty Himalayas remain a barrier as the military cost of a breach in the name of development will be very costly.
Brig CS Thapa is a fifth generation military veteran, and has perhaps the longest military lineage in India. A prolific writer, he has authored a few books, among them being Gorkha: In Search Of Identity and Gorkha: Society and Politics). Based in Dehradun, he writes on defence and security related issues.