A day after Nepal’s new Constitution had been promulgated last year, Maoist Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal thundered at a mass meeting in Tundikhel: “India wants me to be a yes-man, but I refuse to be one.”
In 2009, when he went from being the Supremo of a guerrilla army to an elected prime minister, Dahal offended India by sacking Army Chief Rookmangud Katawal. Although President Ram Baran Yadav reinstated Katwal, many saw India’s hand behind the move. As a result the Maoists were ousted from power.
Dahal never forgot this, and launched a scathing attack on India, accusing it of meddling in Nepal’s internal affairs by unseating him through its puppets. He often referred to New Delhi as ‘The Master’, and UML leader Madhav Nepal who succeeded him as its ‘Servant’.
The war had ended three years previously, and with his landslide victory in the 2008 elections Dahal was over-confident. He thought he could do through the ballot what he could not achieve through the bullet, and tried to ignite an urban uprising. He massed hundreds of thousands of Maoist cadre from across the country, and filled the streets of Kathmandu with demonstrators for six days, but the attempted ‘coup’ failed and the Maoists left Kathmandu, utterly demoralised and disenchanted with the leadership.
Dahal was once more seen as a miserable failure, having damaged his party’s morale and organisational strength beyond repair. The consequences were serious: his party ultimately split into at least six pieces, the Constitution-drafting process got delayed, and by the time the 2013 elections came around the Maoists were only the third-largest in parliament.
Between 2009 and 2013, Dahal made efforts to regain New Delhi’s trust by promising to not repeat his mistakes. But Nepal-watchers in New Delhi remained suspicious. Last year, when New Delhi ‘advised’ Kathmandu to postpone the promulgation of the Constitution, Dahal found an opportunity to strike back. He revealed how Indian Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, who had come to Kathmandu as Indian Prime Minister NarendraModi’s special envoy, tried to arm-twist him and other leaders.
The NC, the UML and the Maoists pushed the Constitution through, which India merely ‘took note of’. Dahal milked this for all the nationalist advantage he could. Nine months later, Dahal and New Delhi seem to have patched up partially. The Indians see KP Oli as being a bit too cosy with China. New Delhi newspapers over the weekend were gloating over what they saw as a ‘victory’ for Indian diplomacy, little realising that by doing this they made Oli an even bigger nationalist hero.
Dahal abandoned his partnership with Oli and the UML to switch his allegiance to the Nepali Congress, a move behind which most commentators in New Delhi and Kathmandu see an Indian hand — whether true or not.
However, although Dahal is better than Oli, many in New Delhi still do not trust Dahal completely, because of his reputation for being fickle with his loyalties. Those with long-term memories have still not forgotten or forgiven Dahal for visitingBeijing before New Delhi when he was prime minister in 2008 — a cardinal sin in the eyes of Indian officialdom. NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba apparently played a crucial role in convincing top Indian leaders that offering the PM’s post to Dahal was the only way to oust Oli from power.
Oli always had the gift of the gab, and entertained us all with witty repartees and wild promises, but he did precious little to alleviate the plight of earthquake survivors — or indeed the whole country reeling under the aftershocks of the blockade. In his valedictory speech to Parliament on Sunday, he cited the trade and transit pact with China as “historic”: a treaty, if implemented by future governments, could reduce Nepal’s dependence on India, and thereby reduce New Delhi’s political leverage in Kathmandu. He also showed his presence of mind by sending a Nepal Airlines plane to bring back the Nepalis killed in a bomb in Kabul.
As the new Prime Minister, Dahal will have to outperform Oli in all departments if he wants to revive his party through the next elections. And he will have to find solutions to vexing problems —within the country, not elsewhere—that he will face.
2 Comments on Not a yes-man