Bal Krishna Sama has said one’s patriotism does not die even if his country is miserable and a wife’s devotion does not die even if the husband is sinful. There is absolutely no reason why Nepal should feel inferiority complex and conduct its foreign relations with dignity. As Prime Minister KP Oli prepares to visit India from this April 6-8, he will, I hope, make us proud, as he has done twice before on different foreign policy issues.
First, he called the Indian economic blockade of 2015/16 by its name and asked the Indian government to lift it while other senior leaders kept loud silence while the Nepali people suffered. The Nepali Congress did not. Again, Mr. Oli stood up to the European Union when it sought to foment ethnic strife through its election observation report, undermining the hard-won Constitution of Nepal. This time, the Nepali Congress did it too.
Does this mean Mr. Oli has made a paradigm shift? The biggest test of it will be his India trip in a few days. Like all other countries, Indian will try to maximize its national interest during this visit. We will see whether Mr. Oli can take the right stand to advance our national interest.
We did not have enough of him the last time he was prime minister for a year. But before that, when he was deputy prime minister and minister maker in his party, he was known as a close friend of India. He has been far from consistent in standing for national interest.
For example, Mr. Oli first opposed the Mahakali Treaty and then supported it. Though he called the Indian economic blockade of 2015/16 what it was, he has never expressed his concern when China has closed the Nepal-Tibet transit points repeatedly. Evidently, he had been part of Nepali political culture.
Broadly, it means if you belong to a communist party, anything China does is good and acceptable. If you are part of a non-communist party, anything India or the West does is good and tolerable. More specifically, foreign intervention is welcome if it benefits you or your party and unwelcome if it benefits your opponents.
The spokesperson of the Indian External Affairs Ministry had once briefed Nepali journalists that Nepali leaders often visited New Delhi with personal agendas rather than national.
Such personal favors include support to gain or retain power, scholarships for their children or relatives, free medical treatment facilities for their family and friends, observation tours for them, projects in their constituencies, new vehicles for them, etc.
It is a chronic disease in Nepal, and it has only become severer with the passage of time. Started with King Rana Bahadur Shah, the disease deepened with the rise of Jang Bahadur Rana, widened after 1990, and reached its utmost depth and openness after 2006.
Some examples. Indian counselor Mehta’s advice to unleash a storm for One Madhesh, One Pradesh and the Indian blockade of 2015/16 to support it. The EU’s recent comment on the Nepali Constitution to foment ethnic tension. The previous British ambassador Spark’s comment on freedom for conversion. China’s objection to Nepali NGOs working with the Taiwanese NGOs.
Has Mr. Oli steered Nepal’s foreign policy ship into a new direction with his stand against the Indian economic blockade and the recent EU’s suggestion? Will he maintain his new position as a matter of policy? Until we have a stack evidence, we have no way to know.
As it appears from outside, Mr. Oli has the political strength to do it. His government enjoys nearly the three-fourths majority in the federal government and the coalition of the UML, Mr. Oli’s party, and the Maoists lead six of the seven state governments.
However, Mr. Oli might not be as strong and confident as he appears from outside. Inside his party, he faces entrenched opposition from the factions led by other senior leaders. The Madheshi parties have supported him to entice Mr. Oli to amend the Constitution, as they want.
More importantly, the Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal is a wild card. Mercurial and unreliable, he might abandon Mr. Oli and the UML-Maoist integration process mid-course and fall back into his default character. His recent demand that both parties must have 50-50 officeholders in the merged party is a clear pointer.
Considering his party’s strength, his demand lacks the sense of proportion and justice. They have taken cabinet positions on 70-30 ratio, and it seems right given their electoral performance and number of seats in the federal and state legislatures. However, Mr. Dahal made that demand anyway.
The Nepali Congress Party has thrown its support to Mr. Dahal for prime minister if he broke from the UML-Maoist integration. Most external powers do not want the merger either; they have been sending feelers to Mr. Dahal. At a critical juncture, Mr. Oli’s strength might prove the Potemkin’s village.
Therefore, let us appreciate Mr. Oli for his stand against external intervention and urge him to maintain it the future. Let us hope Mr. Dahal will not be a foreign pawn. Let us expect the Nepali Congress not to knock on foreign doors to destabilize the Oli government.
And finally, let us hope the Oli government does not flout the fundamental norms of democracy and freedom. If he did it, we might have to ask the international community for their moral support to put a spanner into his plan. Because power corrupts, it is entirely possible.
Consequently, the world has produced a surfeit of Ferdinand Marcos, Robert Mugabe, Pervez Musharraf, Zia-ul-Haq, Zia-ur-Rehman, Suharto, Than Shwe, and so on. Who had thought President Xi Jinping of China would change the Chinese Constitution to open the door to keep him in power for life. Leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, George Washington, and Nelson Mandela have been rare.
Every progress starts with the first step. Let us hope Prime Minister Oli will continue following the spirit of Bal Krishna Sama’s poem and put Nepal and its people front and center, not succumb to the diseased political culture.