The political crisis in Nepal following the Communist Party of Nepal – United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) – led government’s loss of majority and the consequent resignation of Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli has been defused somewhat with the swearing in of a new government led by the Communist Part of Nepal-Maoist Centre’s (CPN-MC) Pushpa Kamal Dahal (better known as Prachanda) and supported by the Nepali Congress. Many in Nepal and outside are hoping that the new coalition will give the country the political stability it so badly needs. The Maoists and the NC have worked together before; it was their cooperation that provided the foundation for the grand alliance that ended the civil war in Nepal in 2006 and its emergence as a secular republic in 2008. However, their relationship over the past two decades has been defined more by hostility than friendship. It was an NC-led government that was the target of much of the decade-long Maoist insurgency. In May this year, when Prachanda and NC chief Sher Bahudur Deuba were working together to bring down the Oli government, Prachanda ditched Deuba at the eleventh hour, leaving the latter embarrassed. Thus, there is little love lost between the two; how long this coalition will survive the ambitions of individual leaders is open to question.
This is Prachanda’s second stint as prime minister. When he took over the reins in 2008, he had little experience in working within a democratic system, which contributed to his quick exit. He has acquired that experience since. Decisions based on consensus are likely to provide his government with more longevity and stability. Nepal faces several challenges which deserve his immediate attention. Post-earthquake reconstruction needs to be expedited and fulfilling the federalist aspirations of the Madhesis, Janajatis and Tharus should be a priority. Failure to do so will plunge Nepal in unrest again.
Prachanda’s relations with Nepal’s giant neighbours will be closely watched. Oli’s anti-India nationalism and steering of Nepal on a clearly pro-China path understandably raised concern in Delhi. His exit was, therefore, widely welcomed in India. Prachanda, who has a long history of hostility towards India, has reportedly moved closer to Delhi over the past few months and his taking over the reins in Nepal has triggered hope of better ties in India. While Nepal’s need to balance relations with India and China is understandable, it could be more sensitive to India’s security concerns just as Delhi should be more mindful of Nepal’s sovereignty. The change of guard in Kathmandu gives both sides an opportunity to improve bilateral relations. The Narendra Modi government must act swiftly and sensitively to win back Nepal’s friendship.