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India and China’s ruling parties and their relationship with Nepali parties

India and China’s ruling parties and their relationship with Nepali parties

Along with government-to-government relationships, the Communist Party of China and India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party are competing to cultivate ties with Nepal’s political parties. Keeping their ideological positions at a bay, they are reaching out to all major parties in Nepal.  

High-level delegations from both the CPC and BJP are visiting Kathmandu, while leaders from various political parties in Nepal are also flying to China and India, with more party-to-party level exchange of visits on the cards. 

Political analysts say both New Delhi and Beijing are making a departure from their traditional policy of backing only specific parties and leaders and building ties with all political forces in Nepal, considering the political instability in the country.

The spectacular emergence of the recently formed Rastriya Swatantra Party and the resurgence of Rastriya Prajatantra Party—both of which are challenging the three traditional parties, Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center)—have also forced China and India to recalibrate their approach. 

The CPC has realized that by fostering and nurturing Nepal’s leftist forces is not going to secure China’s interests.  The BJP, which has been in power in India since a decade, also wants to achieve its agendas including Hindutva ideology in Nepal by roping in all political parties. For them, a favorable government in Kathmandu is not enough; they want the overall political environment of Nepal to be on their side.  

Political analyst Lokraj Baral says both the BJP and CPC are adopting “a realistic approach” in building ties with Nepal’s political parties. 

“There is no ideological foundation in such relationships because both sides want to appease each other to enhance their power.” 

Baral says the CPC is still more partial toward Nepali communist parties, even though it has increased its engagements with other political forces.

This week, Yuan Jiajun, member of the political bureau of CPC visited Nepal at the invitation of the ruling Maoist Center. During his stay, Jiajun met leaders from across the political spectrum. As Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal was out of the country, the Chinese leader held a virtual meeting with him. 

While the Chinese leader was in Kathmandu, a five-member delegation led by Phampha Bhushal of the Maoist party flew to India at the invitation of the BJP. The ties between the BJP and Maoist are only just evolving. Sources say lately, India's ruling party has also been approaching the UML.  

As for the Nepali Congress, it has always been close to India. Last year, the BJP had invited a group of leaders from the Congress party, which was led by Prakash Sharan Mahat. Former prime minister and Congress president, Sher Bahadur Deuba, had also visited the BJP headquarters in India before holding bilateral talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

The engagement between China’s CPC and Nepal’s Maoist party has been there for a long time. During the insurgency period, Beijing largely supported Nepal’s monarchy, but it took no time to reach out to the Maoists, led by Prime Minister Dahal, after the party came to power following the fall of monarchy. Ideological proximity between the CPC and Maoist party brought them together. In the past six months, at least two Maoist delegations including one led by former speaker Agni Sapkota have visited China.  

Since the Maoist party is in power right now, Prime Minister Dahal is making utmost effort to strike a balance between India and China. He needs the support of both the CPC and BJP to stay in power.

But scores of Maoist leaders believe that they should step up engagement with China to reap the benefit from its economic development.

They are of the view that Nepal should immediately implement the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and other agreements reached between the two countries. Through cooperation with Nepal’s political parties, China wants to replicate its development model in Nepal, not export its political ideology, say some experts. 

Due to increased interactions, Nepali leaders too have started appreciating China’s development and its model.

During his talks with Nepali leaders, Chinese leader Jiajun said that China is willing to deepen practical cooperation under the BRI with Nepal, and deeply and solidly promote the strategic partnership of cooperation featuring ever-lasting friendship for development and prosperity between two countries.

China’s Xinhua news agency reported that the CPC is willing to strengthen exchanges and mutual learning with Nepali political parties to boost the development of China-Nepal relations. Jiajun told Nepali leaders that China is willing to enhance cooperation and exchanges with Nepal in agriculture, poverty reduction and education to enrich the relationship between the two countries through subnational exchanges.

Tanka Karki, former Nepali ambassador to China, says it is normal to build party-to-party relationships and there is nothing harmful about it. “Both countries want to enhance people-to-people relationship and political parties remain a key instrument of it.”

The relationship between Nepal’s Maoist party and the BJP is a new one. In July last year, as a party chair, Dahal visited the BJP headquarters in New Delhi and held talks with BJP President JP Nadda. After one year, BJP hosted the Maoists delegation in its party office for what they call to strengthen party-to-party relationship.

Perhaps, it is the result of cordial ties between the BJP and Nepal’s political parties, many Nepali politicians including Prime Minister Dahal are talking about protecting and promoting Hindu religion and culture.  

Not only India and China, the US, the UK and the EU countries are also trying to enhance their influence among Nepal’s political parties through bilateral exchanges and visits. They are mainly close with parliamentarians to influence the law-making process in Nepal.  

Political analyst Chandra Dev Bhatta says India and China’s increased engagements between the political parties of Nepal, can certainly be helpful to enhance relations at the political level which can also percolate at the peoples level.

“This is also particularly important when diametrically opposite political parties in terms of ideology are in power on both sides— BJP in India and Maoist Centre in Nepal. It will help resolve contentious issues between the two countries,” he says. “But if such engagements are done merely for other interests either to stay in power or to create a comfortable regime, they could backfire and damage the relations.”