One conspiracy theory refuses to die. Krishna Bahadur Mahara was supposedly removed from the speaker’s post after he refused to start the process of the mandatory parliamentary ratification of the American MCC accord. The Maoist half of the ruling Nepal Communist Party strongly believes that the MCC is an integral component of the Indo-Pacific Strategy aimed solely at containing the dear northern neighbor’s rise. For his refusal to bow down before the ‘imperialists,’ Mahara had to lose not just his job but also his freedom.
Or so the theory goes. Frankly, I didn’t put much store on it. I still don’t. Sounds farfetched. But then knowledgeable sources keep alluding to it. And to the related issue of the deputy speaker Shiva Maya Tumbahamphe refusing to resign to clear the way for the election of new speaker and deputy speaker. They say this too is closely tied to the parliament’s need to ratify the MCC accord. PM Oli does not want another Maoist speaker as he or she could block the MCC again.
There seem to be two clear camps developing inside the ruling party. One old UML faction under the current prime minister, while still keen on closer ties with China, wants to preserve Nepal’s age-old relations with the US. But the old Maoist faction under Pushpa Kamal Dahal continues to be highly suspicious of the MCC.
Foreign powers have always had a disproportionate influence on Nepali politics. The current crop of top Nepali leaders think they have learned how to play off big powers to their political advantage. Oli used to be India’s point-man in Nepal before he espied an opportunity to ride an anti-India wave to power. Now he is much closer to China. Dahal orchestrated the decade-long insurgency from Indian soil, only to later denounce the ‘expansionists’. After he lost his PM’s post due to ‘Indian meddling’, he once again embarked on a (as yet unfinished) crusade to please the Indians. During the insurgency, the West-friendly Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba hoped to save his premiership by convincing the Americans to ditch their knee-jerk anti-Maoism. He didn’t succeed, but remains a trusted American friend. Thanks to Pradeep Giri, his ties with New Delhi aren’t bad either.
As the internal rift within the NCP deepens, foreign power centers will look to play through their Nepal proxies. Dahal wants to portray himself as the only true friend of China in the NCP. Oli wants to show that he is more than capable of maintaining the delicate balance between the great powers, even as he maintains his warm ties with Beijing. He recently deported 122 Chinese nationals after asking Nepal Police to drop charges against them. This won’t go unnoticed in Beijing. Again, Oli as government head faces different kinds of pressures to Dahal as co-chairman of the NCP. But one long-term trajectory is clear enough: whatever their current inclinations, each sees his future firmly tied to their ability to keep Beijing in good humor. For the Nepali communists, the pro-China nationalist card comes with an indefinite