Political crisis in Nepal: What to expect from Sushma Swaraj's Kathmandu visit
It's no secret that India would prefer Prachanda as the new PM of Nepal over KP Oli, who is overtly pro-China.
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External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj's visit to Nepal ahead of the formation of a new government in the neighbouring country is being watched with great interest by all, especially in Kathmandu and Beijing.
According to the Indian embassy in Kathmandu, the foreign minister will be meeting CPN-UML chief KP Sharma Oli, who has emerged as the likely prime minister, besides president Bidya Devi Bhandari, outgoing PM Sher Bahadur Deuba, CPN-Maoist Centre leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal "Prachanda" and Madhesi party leaders during her two-day visit starting February 1.
While political churning has peaked in Nepal, the Left alliance of CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre are yet to merge into one entity and agree upon the modalities for government formation. The alliance won the recent elections on the promise of forming the largest Left party and rescuing the country from political instability. The merger talks, however, are not going anywhere and both the leaders - Oli and Dahal - are having a tough time keeping the alliance together even though they had promised to merge immediately after the elections.
The “junior partner” treatment given by the Oli-led CPN- UML to the leaders of CPN-Maoist Centre is said to have annoyed the latter who are seemingly in the mood to revolt. According to a source close to Prachanda, Oli wants to isolate the former and take control of CPN-Maoist Centre. Two days of continuous talks between the two leaders failed as, sources say, the CPN-UML is not ready to share any of the major positions - the president, prime minister and the party chairman - with the alliance partner. Other seats in the government, provincial cabinets and party committees would be also shared on a 70:30 ratio.
So far, negotiations have not even started to formulate the programme and polices of the new government. Dispute over the names of chief ministers has delayed the government formation in provinces even though the CPN-UML is likely to head governments in provinces 1, 3, 4 and 5, and the CPN-Maoist Centre in provinces 6 and 7.
Talks for an alliance between the Left and the Madhesis (comprising the Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal and the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal) for the National Assembly elections and government formation, had collapsed after two rounds following CPN-UML's refusal to agree on Constitution amendment to revise the provincial boundaries, a major condition of the Madhesi parties for the coalition.
Meanwhile, many from the Nepali Congress and Madhesi parties are working hard to break the alliance of the two communist parties and lure Prachanda with an offer to make him the prime minister for full five years by supporting him from outside. Sources in the Nepali Congress claim many “feelers” and “secret proposals” have been sent to Prachanda, but he has not responded so far. Many in CPN- Maoist Centre are worried over their own bleak prospects in case of a merged entity and are trying to persuade Prachanda to accept the offer from the Nepali Congress and Madhesi parties. But then if Prachanda bites the bait to be the prime minister, and breaks away from election partner CPN-UML, he will have a difficult time justifying this to the voters who have elected the alliance of the two communist parties to rule Nepal.
Rumours are rife in Kathmandu that Oli is now trying to rope in Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal to form the government, bypassing electoral ally CPN-Maoist Centre.
As afar as India is concerned, Oli, who deliberately avoided attending Republic Day functions at the Indian embassy in Kathmandu since 2015, this year attended an Indian embassy function a day after Republic Day. He even wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressing his eagerness to work with New Delhi for the betterment of two countries, signalling a course correction.
While politics is an art of all possibilities, any political combination can come to power in Nepal. While India would prefer Prachanda (as PM) over Oli, who is overtly pro-China, it remains to be seen if Swaraj's visit will have any effect on the fluid political situation in Nepal.