Nepali Congress leaders have been egging on Pushpa Kamal Dahal to break free from the Nepal Communist Party, his former Maoist colleagues in tow, for some time. If he agreed, Congress would help him be the prime minister, with the support of Madhesi parties. Dahal stayed put despite his mounting differences with PM and NCP co-chair KP Oli. Yes, he felt resentful of Oli whom he saw as monopolizing power and minimizing his role in the NCP. Yet he also feared the many uncertainties attached to an abrupt break-up.
Now Dahal’s disagreements with Oli are threatening to boil over, following the Oli cabinet’s introduction (and later withdrawal) of a pair of disastrous, self-defeating ordinances. Dahal is thus more open to the prospect of closing ranks with Nepali Congress and the new Janata Samajbadi Party Nepal. For it is not just Oli he has to contend with in the NCP. In the next general convention, whenever that takes place, he will also have to fend off a serious challenge for party chairmanship from Madhav Kumar Nepal, Bamdev Gautam, and possibly even Jhalanath Khanal. Rather, why not lead a new ‘pro-identity’ coalition that corresponds to his projected image as the champion of the marginalized communities?
In doing so he will also get to further mend his frayed ties with India. India had long been lobbying for the merger of the two big Madhesi parties to consolidate its hold on Tarai-Madhes, and to mount a credible challenge against the ‘pro-China’ Oli government. To effect the merger, India also prevented the last minute, Oli-engineered fissure in Upendra Yadav’s Samajbadi Party. Now, with a new ambassador in Kathmandu, the Indians will happily help shape an anti-Oli coalition between the Nepali Congress, the Janata Samajbadi and even the Rastriya Prajatantra Party. If Dahal feels further marginalized in the NCP, and takes up the bait of leading the new pro-identity coalition, he will have to, perforce, mend fences with India.
In contrast, the Chinese want to forestall a fissure in the NCP. The mighty Nepali ruling party came into existence partly because of China’s desire for a strong and friendly force at the helm of affairs in Kathmandu. True, the Oli government’s sloppy handling of the BRI dismays them a bit. But they still think China will be best served by Oli’s continuity. Who knows what a change of the guard in Singhaburdar will bring!
It will also be interesting to see what happens to the MCC bill in the federal lower house if Oli goes. Dahal and ex-Maoists are suspicious, while the Americans desperately want the Nepali parliament to ratify it. The age of the two-pronged geopolitical tug-of-war in Nepal has passed. With the entry of the Americans—not to forget the Russians—the course of events in Kathmandu is likely to be shaped even more from the outside. In this age of disinformation and half-truths, this is not so much a defeatist argument as it is a call for a more fact-based, nuanced foreign policy approach.