Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s ‘untimely’ reminder of his written agreement with KP Oli, that each of them will get to lead the government for two-and-a-half years, was primarily directed at one person: Narendra Modi. Dahal made his case on May 29, accompanied by a ‘leak’ of the agreement, on the eve of PM Oli’s departure to New Delhi to take part in Modi’s second swearing-in as prime minister. But it was only a reminder. Last year, when Dahal was in New Delhi, he had already briefed the Indian government that there had been such an agreement and that he was the PM-in-waiting. Dahal has a checkered history of engaging in all kinds of dubious dealings abroad. On the pretext of medical check-ups for himself or one of his family members, he jets off to New Delhi or Singapore or Washington DC for hush-hush meetings with foreign spooks and bureaucrats. He does so with one intent: to find an external route back to power in his homeland.
The former Maoist supremo has been trying to impress on the Indians (and the Americans) that he is the only politician in Nepal who is acceptable to people from all political, ethnic and regional backgrounds (read: Madhesis) as the country looks to institutionalize the nascent federal republic. Oli, of late a suspect in New Delhi and Washington for his supposed pro-China proclivities, finds himself at a distinct disadvantage in this equation. Foreign powers know they cannot completely trust Dahal. Yet they also increasingly believe Nepal’s pro-China tilt can be checked only if Oli is ousted as PM.
Dahal has now thrown down the gauntlet to Oli: either quit as the prime minister after a year or hand him party leadership. Even if Oli agrees—a big if—things won’t be straightforward. Communist parties believe in centralized leadership for a reason. If Oli leads the government and Dahal the party for any length of time, the NCP will likely split sooner or later. Some reckon that is exactly what big powers active in Nepal want: A situation of ‘controlled instability’ in which they get to do as they please.
Interestingly, China is itself frustrated at what it sees as lackluster performance of the much-vaunted, two-third Oli government. Not only has PM Oli dragged his feet in clearing the obstacles for the BRI projects in Nepal. Nepal under Oli also wants all the goodies, including the trans-border railway line, pro bono, which is a no-no for Beijing as the Chinese economy begins to cool off. Perhaps the Chinese too are looking for someone more amenable than Oli? Considering the recent Modi-Xi bonhomie, it may also not be a surprise if China has agreed not to step on Indian sensitivities in Nepal, its traditional ‘backyard’. If Oli expects the northern neighbor to unconditionally prop him up, he may be in for a surprise. Faced with a protectionist US, China has far bigger fishes to fry in India.