Foreign Minister’s India trip

Editorial

Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali has visited Delhi for a bilateral meeting. External affairs minister, S Jaishankar, his counterpart as co-chair of the joint commission meeting. It is a sign that after troubles last year, triggered by Nepal’s decision to publish a new map including territory India considers its own, the bilateral relationship is broadly on track. The two sides discussed the status of connectivity projects, and Gyawali is expected to make a strong pitch for early delivery of Covid-19 vaccines. India has already committed to supplying it to its close neighbours. This is positive and will earn India goodwill among Nepali citizens at large and reflect Delhi’s capacity to be a provider of public goods.

But even as the State-to-State relationship is on track, it is important for Delhi not to lose sight of the political churn in Nepal. Prime Minister KP Oli’s unconstitutional move to dissolve Parliament (the new Nepali Constitution does not give the PM the right to do so) has led to a de facto split in the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). Nepal’s Opposition parties are slowly building up a street movement against the current government. Four former chief justices have slammed Mr Oli’s move, even as the Supreme Court’s verdict on the constitutionality of the dissolution is awaited. Mr Oli is widely seen to have pushed the country into a period of instability in order to enjoy power without accountability. And there is a widespread belief that elections, announced for April-May, will not be held.

This churn has led to three tactical gains for India — the unity in NCP, a product of China’s blatant interference, is shattered; China’s efforts to reunify the party haven’t borne fruit; and India is not being blamed, as is often the custom in Nepal, for its internal troubles. At the same time, India must be careful not to be seen as backing Mr Oli. This will put it at the risk of being on the wrong side of democratic principles — Mr Oli’s move undermines Nepal’s fragile constitutional democratic structure — and of power. After all, this may mark the beginning of the end of Mr Oli’s dominance in Nepali politics and an alternative configuration is likely to take power eventually. India must stand firmly on the side of the democratic aspirations of Nepali citizens. That is ethical, prudent and strategic.

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