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Nepal-India Relations on a “Reset” Button"?

Paper No. 6660                         Dated 15-Aug-2020
By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
Today, Prime Minister Modi and Oli, the PM of Nepal had a 15 minutes of telephonic conversation.
After a lapse of almost nine months, the first High level Meeting is taking place between India and Nepal on 17th August.  The meeting relates to an “oversight mechanism” that was agreed to by the then Nepal Prime Minister Dahal in September 2016 on the projects to be implemented by India.  It is a signal from India that despite the relations between the two countries reaching the bottom line, the Indian projects that were agreed upon will be implemented  without any hitch.
While the Secretary of the Foreign Affairs Shankar Das Bairagi would represent Nepal, the Indian Ambassador to Nepal would be representing India.
In a statement that could be seen as conciliatory, the Foreign Minister of Nepal said that differences over one issue ( border problem) should not overshadow bilateral relations. We will have to move on he said.  He also indicated that the “upcoming meeting is just one step towards that end.”  
Oli had continued to irritate India on issues that had no relevance to the border dispute.  The latest one was his instructions to a delegation that had come from Madi in Chitwan district to name Madi as “Ayodhyapuri” which is alleged to be the birth place of Lord Ram.
But the entire establishment including those opposing Oli like Madhav Nepal was rudely shaken by the mere mention of a common Indian heritage of Lord Buddha by the Indian Foreign Minister! While it is true that Prince Siddharth was born in Lumbini, he became a Buddha after his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree located in the heart of India! There are also doubts on the location of Kapilavastu as not being in Nepal!
One of the Analysts in Nepalese Media put it succinctly and said that Oli has lost his priorities.  He said that “at a time when the entire country is concerned about the sharp rise of Covid Virus Cases, the Prime Minister is trying to convince everybody that Lord Ram’s birth place is in Ayodhya puri area of Madi Municipality”
What is surprising is the transformation of Oli who was considered the best among the top trio in former UML to go down to such depths as calling the Indian Virus as more lethal than the Chinese and of the birthplace being in Birgunj District thus offending millions of Indians in the process.  It is said that most of Oli’s colleagues in the Government and the party were not happy with the flippant remarks of their Prime Minister. One wonders whether Oli would do the same thing with the Chinese?
One should recall the violent Chinese reaction to an anti China article that came up in Kathmandu Post in February.  The article criticised Beijing’s handling of Covid 19 and blamed China’s authoritarian political system for contributing to the spread of virus and turning it into a pandemic.  The Chinese Embassy while condemning Kathmandu Post threatened to “take further action” against the newspaper and singled out Anup Kaphle, the author of being “biased on China related issues.”  One of the Professors of Kathmandu University, Kapil Shrestha described it as an unwarranted interference on the sovereignty of Nepal and also as an act of intimidation.
Having the backing of both the President and that of China, Oli has become more arrogant and stubborn.  In the last but one meeting , he clearly told Dahal that he will not give up both the Posts of Prime Minister and that of the Chairman of the Party and that Dahal could do whatever he wants to do. 
On 28th of July a Standing Committee meeting to be held at the PM’s residence was unilaterally cancelled by Oli.  The members of the opposition camp led by Dahal continued to have the meeting in the absence of Oli.  Oli’s faction refused to recognise the meeting as official.
Oli has so far dodged the Standing Committee meeting where he still does not have a majority.  However he used the time to win over two key personalities Bam Dev Gautham and the Defence Minster Ram Bahadur Thapa to his side and thus has a majority to back him up in the Party Secretariat.
Bam Dev Gautham, known by almost all as an undependable character changed his tune and made a six-point statement supporting Oli to continue both as Prime Minister till the end of the term and Chairman of the party till the next Party convention.  His six points were interesting which ruled that the Party shall not interfere with the day to day functioning of the Government- a direct advice to Dahal Faction.
Oli is unlikely to convene the Central Committee meeting  due to be held anytime now until he has   a majority of the members to his side or he is given firm assurance that he will continue as PM till the end of the term. 
Some 152 members of the Central Committee of the Ruling Party have signed a petition calling for a meeting of the Central Working Committee. Over 65 middle level leaders have appealed to the top leadership to maintain unity. On Chinese advice, both sides had maintained that they would go for a consensus which in my view may not occur in the near future.  There is also a serious ideological difference between Dahal and Oli with the former still insisting on the “People’s democracy of the 21st century” and perhaps the Prachanda Path.
The unity now forged at the instance of the Chinese appears to be a ‘band aid’ solution.  Dahal appears to be still upset over the way he has been outsmarted by Oli.  On 6th of August, he told a group of journalists in the presence of M K Nepal, Khanal and Narayan Kaji Shrestha that the tussle is not for party positions but for upholding rule of law within the party.  In another meeting he said that overlooking bad intentions and ideologies prevailing within the party is not possible in the name of maintaining unity. In the last two meetings Nepal refused to accompany Dahal to see PM Oli.
It is time for the Ruling Party to tackle the immediate problems arising over the spread of Wuhan Virus. Dr. Jagshowor Gautham, Spokesman for the Health Ministry admitted that the cases have been rising at an alarming rate.   Former Director of Epidemiology Dr. Babu Ram Marasini, warned that after failing to upgrade the infra structure, the Government is planning to ask Virus infected patients to stay at home.  This could result in explosion of Cases.