A few things are clear enough. Multiple Nepal Communist Party sources confirm that Prime Minister KP Oli has been desperately trying to mend his strained ties with the Indian establishment and the BJP leadership. Informal envoys have been deputed to New Delhi to explore ways to restore his credibility with the Indians. The Chinese were set on preserving the ruling party’s unity—even if it entailed requesting Oli to give up one of his two executive posts. Oli wasn’t prepared to do so. He instead split his party and sought India’s help to save his twin chairs.
New Delhi was hesitant at Oli’s overtures. Indian political leaders and bureaucrats who had once closely worked with him had not forgotten the blockade-time ‘betrayal’. Back then, the communist prime minister had conveniently ditched his old allegiance with India and pushed measures to establish China as India’s counterweight. This popular nationalist stand helped him become prime minister for the second time.
So the Indian babus were wary this time. But they also saw an opportunity. After the 2015-16 blockade, China had steadily gained ground in Kathmandu at India’s expense, and New Delhi had been scrambling for a response. India realized that so long as the NCP—with its budding fraternal ties with the Chinese Communist Party—remained intact, things would be hard for India. Also acutely aware of China’s reasons for backing NCP unity, India decided to play it cook with Oli’s party-split efforts.
Oli could not have risked it all without India’s backing. One simple way to guess which foreign actor was involved in the NCP split, suggested a retired PMO official with vast experience of dealing with foreign actors, is to ask who benefitted most from it. “The modus operandi is classic India, which will again get to play in the unstable polity,” he said.
The strongest ‘pro-China’ force now out of the picture, most coverage of Oli’s parliament dissolution in Indian media portrayed the move as a strategic victory for their country.
The contrasting Chinese reaction can be gauged by a Dec 25 Global Times op-ed. “The coordinative role played by China”—supposedly in bringing the NCP together and later to keep it intact—“should not be viewed as interference in Nepal's internal politics,” it said. The same op-ed chastised the Indian media which “often provoke China-Nepal relations, but this will not send big waves. Politicians in Nepal well understand the importance of cooperating with China.”
Bluster aside, China has definitely lost its trusted ‘permanent friend’ in Nepal. The Chinese had looked to cultivate such an all-weather friend in their bid to crimp India’s strategic space in Nepal, as a part of their new push against the Indians in South Asia. But with the NCP behemoth gone, Oli back in India’s corner, and Nepali Congress increasingly seen in Beijing as doing India’s bidding, China appears short of options. It’s now lobbying for the parliament’s reinstatement, including with President Bhandari. (Yes, the dragon’s started to bare its fangs.)
Along with India, aging Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba is the other big winner of the communist split. With Oli’s help, Deuba will now look to worm his way back to the center of Nepali politics. In internal party deliberations following the NCP breakup, Deuba has stood vehemently against protesting Oli’s parliament dissolution. Perhaps he already has a tacit understanding with Oli to forge an electoral alliance and, in the most favorable case, even dreams of reclaiming the prime minister’s chair. The Supreme Court judgement, whichever way it goes, won’t much affect this calculus. Deuba has always enjoyed New Delhi’s blessings. The political comeback of this darling of the westerners will also please the Americans.