Communists easily cotton to ‘contradictions’, as is again seen in the just-publicized foreign policy framework of Nepal. Perhaps the central contradiction in this 31-page document is the contention that Nepal can have a workable foreign policy only with a level of political consensus. Efforts will hence be made to take opposition parties and intellectuals into confidence on vital foreign policy issues. Yet the same document acknowledges that it will be a tough task.
Concomitantly, the new foreign policy outlook will purportedly help realize the Nepal Communist Party’s election slogan of ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepalis’. Other political parties will naturally shun an electoral slogan as a tenet of the country’s foreign policy. As it is, after the all-round failure of the Oli government in two and half years, the slogan has become bit of a joke. The government would have done well to quietly drop this NCP shibboleth than continue to hype it up and invite further ridicule.
Again, as the document avers, consensus in foreign policy will be hard to get. But is it even possible? When Nepali political commentators, including this writer, talk of the importance of such consensus, are they being realistic? In the true spirit of dialectic materialism, let me this time argue against the likelihood of such foreign-policy consensus, as desirable as it may be.
We hear of other more ‘successful’ countries in the international arena having such consensus. But is that true? The two main political parties in the most potent democracy in the world cannot even agree on America’s enemy number one. The Democrats say it is election-tampering Russians; for the Republicans, there could be no bigger villain than IP-stealing Chinese. The former want to bolster global alliances, the latter think it is better to go it alone; the first group to save global climate, the second to sustain local coal-miners.
What about India, does it have a basic political consensus on foreign policy? Hardly. The BJP and the INC are forever at loggerheads over the best way to deal with China. Interestingly, promoting engagement with Pakistan has become toxic for either party, not because the ruling and opposition parties see eye-to-eye on the Islamic republic. The BJP has rather successfully demonized Pakistan in the public eye, to an extent it would be politically suicidal for the INC to advocate any kind of Indo-Pak truce. But don’t they at least agree on the neighborhood? The official foreign policy wing of INC describes Modi’s ‘Neighborhood First’ policy as ‘Neighborhood Lost’ policy. Thanks to Modi’s misguided ways, the “long-held perception of India as a friendly ally has taken a major hit in Nepal”.
In fact, realistically, only one-party states like China, Vietnam and North Korea have such broad foreign policy consensus. For smaller South Asian democracies, the major foreign policy contradiction remains how to best balance India and China, with domestic forces in these countries bitterly divided over which of these regional giants should be favored.
As KP Oli seeks rapprochement with the BJP leadership—Prachanda is reportedly warning his NCP acolytes that the Nepali prime minister has already sold his soul to the RSS, and is backing its Hindu-state restoration agenda in return for the longevity of his government—we are all being forced to reevaluate the NCP’s ‘pro-China’ image. Rest assured: If Oli goes India’s way, China will quickly find his replacement as its trusted power center in Nepal.
Even if our domestic actors were willing, the big outside powers won’t allow such foreign policy consensus that cramps their own room for maneuver in this increasingly important geopolitical hotspot.