Can you blame Oli loyalists for their restiveness? Nepal’s longest prime minister in waiting seems all too content merely having got the top job. To many in the wider populace, the proverbs and parables that pepper his pronouncements have begun to sound a bit stale.
Deputy Prime Minister Kamal Thapa, president of the right-wing Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal, seems to be the man in charge these days. From New Delhi to London to Beijing, he is engaging with interlocutors with the flair and bearing of the chief executive. Oli, for his part, is justifying his decision to split ministries so as to accommodate coalition partners that have no business being in government.
A befuddled Baburam Bhattarai, struggling to spawn an amorphous new force, recalled the other day that Thapa – a college classmate – had not abandoned his agenda to restore the monarchy and Hindu statehood. How, then, could he be so firmly in charge of implementing the new federal, republican and secular constitutional order?
Madhesi marchers, too, are in a fix these days. After months of unrelenting – and often violent – protests against the Constitution’s constriction, there is a creeping sense in that constituency that India might be about to abandon their cause.
Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, in an ostensible effort to dispel accusations that her government had imposed a blockade on Nepal, insisted within the hallowed upper chamber of the Indian parliament that the Madhesi protesters were the people responsible for disruptions in essential supplies. Intentional or otherwise, plausible deniability on the part of official India had the effect of solid indictment this side of the border.
With more and more Indian analysts now publicly urging their government to stay the hard line on Nepal in the interest of ensuring inclusivity, our Madhesi activists suspect Prime Minister Narendra Modi might be about to ditch them in favor of geo-strategic interests.
Considering that the India-pushed-Nepal-into-China’s-arms alarm has lost its sinister chime, it is becoming increasingly easy to contemplate that Kathmandu and New Delhi entered into an elaborate campaign to test China’s real intentions in Nepal. Precious little beyond rhetorical flourish has emanated from the north as far as the mandarins’ readiness to come to Nepal’s rescue goes.
To be sure, a Kathmandu-New Delhi deal marginalizing the Madhesis would provide an opening for the Chinese. But would Beijing risk opening another front along its already volatile periphery? If you think not, think again.
In fact, the mandarins must already be up to something, considering the recalcitrance of sections of the Madhesi alliance vis-à-vis the babus’ directives on the three-point proposal. The Chinese seem to be, shall we say, crossing the river by feeling the stones. In other words, there are bound to be too many tricks left, especially when there are so many sleeves all around.
In the circumstances, shifting the goalposts while leaving everyone with enough incentive to stay in the field would maintain the fiction of the continued relevance of that pesky old 12-Point Agreement.