The sword of Democles

Murari Sharma

Nepal’s leaders have excelled in one thing: Shamelessly changing government every few days and months. They were at work recently to bring down KP Oli’s government because it has been in power for too long — six months.  Well, the government has survived this time, but the menacing sword of Damocles may fall over its neck anytime.

If you have not paid attention, Nepal has had 24 governments in last 25 years, the longest one serving for three years. No other country in the world can outdo Nepal in claiming the dubious distinction of having so many changes in government in comparable time.

This time, Sher Bahadur Deuba, the leader of the Nepali Congress Party, had driven a wedge in the coalition by offering the Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal his support to become prime minister. A hastily drawn agreement between the CPN (UML) and the Maoists and a Chinese nudge saved the government.

However, the agreement is patently unsustainable. First, most provisions in the accord are impossible to implement in the agreed timeframe. Second, some provisions, such as providing immunity to the Maoists who have committed grave war crimes, will invite legal challenge and opposition from the national and international human rights community.

In other words, the Maoists will rebel again, and this agreement is will implode. There is no room for Pollyanna here.

Besides, the internal and external opponents of Prime Minister Oli will do everything to break the left coalition. Within the country, Oli faces opposition from his own party colleagues who aspire to replace him, such as Madhav Nepal. Sher Bahadur Deuba, eager to become prime minister, will endeavor again to pull down the incumbent government.

From outside, India will leave no stone unturned to topple Prime Minister Oli. It had openly used its influence to prevent Oli from becoming prime minister and to retain Sushil Koirala of the Nepali Congress in the first place. It colluded with Deuba to bring the Oli government down in the recent episode.

India is furious with Oli for three reasons. First, Oli pressed ahead with the promulgation of the new constitution on 20 September 2015 against India’s advice to the contrary. Second, he was severely critical of the undeclared 5-month-long economic blockade imposed by India to punish Nepal for its defiance. Third, after becoming prime minister, Oli signed new trade and transit treaties with China to reduce Nepal’s economic dependence on India.

India’s concerns have been further heightened by the revelation that the Oli government was saved this time by a nudge from China. India will not tolerate Nepal inviting greater Chinese influence in Kathmandu.

If the recent indications are any guide, India will go to any extent to pull the Oli government down. For instance, Nishikant Dube, a prominent member of parliament from the ruling party of India, has said in a parliamentary debate that Nepal has been threatening India by siding with China; therefore, India should punish Nepal and build a wall around on the common border, just like in its border with Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Similarly, in a blatantly undiplomatic step, the deputy chief of the Indian Embassy in Nepal, Binaya Kumar, has incited Madheshi leaders in a meeting at Rajbiraj to carry out Kathmandu-centered protests until their demands are met. India is now using the Madheshi parties for some time to destabilize Nepal.

If necessary, it will enlist the support of monarchist and even impose an economic blockade to throw Oli out. Therefore, the days of the Oli government could be numbered.

To be sure,  the government may last to the end of this parliament against all these odds. The mercurial Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal may decide to save the current coalition for political stability. The restless Nepali Congress Party may desist from propping up the Maoists once again after it has burnt its fingers this time. Similarly, the enraged India may take a pause and try to inveigle Oli to stop moving towards China.

Nonetheless, history suggests that such temperance will be in short supply. Nepali politicians that have been synonymous with dirty politics will not suddenly begin to follow the almost heretical path of principles. Their goal is power at any cost, never stability and progress of the country.

Political stability is absolutely essential for Nepal. The government needs to urgently help the victims of the 2015 earthquakes to build their houses and to rebuild the damaged infrastructure. It must pull the economy up that is on its knees due to the  5-month long Indian economic blockade. It ought to spur development activities hampered by the quake and the economic embargo, which have jointly contributed to decline of growth rate to 0.7 percent and a net reduction in per capita income first time in many years.

However, if experience is any guide, political leaders will not desist from destabilizing the government at the first available chance and India will not relent until it has its way in Kathmandu. Therefore, the sword of Damocles continues to hang over the Oli government’s head, leaving little room for it to keep its prolific promises made in its policy paper presented to the parliament recently.

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