By Maila Baje
Was Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s visit to India really as successful as is being officially characterized in both countries?
The answer would rest on whether Chinese President Xi Jinping lands in Kathmandu this year – or ever.
From New Delhi’s standpoint, at least, our prime minister’s visit helped to melt the frost that had enveloped bilateral ties during the Khadga Prasad Oli-led government. Although Dahal has not been so explicit, he feels he can go along with New Delhi’s interpretation.
Oli, for his part, has become the most vociferous critic of Dahal’s southern sojourn. The former prime minister believes Dahal did what he was supposed to: undo the work of the previous government towards strengthening Nepal’s relations with China in keeping with the times.
Accusing Dahal of stooping ‘too low’ and compromising on the independence of Nepal’s foreign policy by agreeing to work together with India in international forums, Oli said his Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) would not accept the 25-point joint communiqué.
How other key leaders of faction-riven UML take Oli’s unilateral delineation of party policy in public remains unclear. What is clear, though, is that the UML has managed its internal divisions better than our other parties.
On matters pertaining to India, ever since the UML’s fall from power, the other two ex-premiers, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhal Nath Khanal, seem to have taken an oath of loyalty to Oli. If so, that’s because the UML has decided to firmly hold the banner of nationalism aloft and make sure no one else even thinks of raising it higher.
The Indians have waxed eloquent over how Dahal, by his mere ascension, has ended the Oli-era nightmare. The visit, from their perspective, only capped that reality. One of the Maoist leaders’ former Indian handlers gushed that Dahal had established himself as the only person who could lead Nepal.
No doubt, this distinguished Indian foreign policy and security analyst also feels vindicated after the lousy start Dahal made during his first innings in Singha Darbar.
During their one-on-one meeting, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was believed to have asked Dahal to keep a distance from Beijing, before hailing him at a joint news conference as “the catalyst force for peace” in Nepal.
On his return home, Dahal told reporters that the new understanding reached with India would not affect Nepal’s relations with China. Yet he is smart enough not to be taken in by the effusiveness of India’s acclaim. The way our anti-graft watchdog ordered a probe into the alleged embezzlement of more than Rs. 6 billion from funds meant for rehabilitating former Maoist guerrillas the day the two prime ministers held talks in New Delhi can hardly be deemed coincidental. Although the agency did not name names, top Maoist leaders, including Dahal, could be questioned.
The message is clear: If any Nepali politician steps out of line, there are levers of our state that New Delhi knows can easily be deployed against the offender.
Maybe that realization is what really prompted Dahal to cancel his trip to the United Nations. The Chinese, after all, are capable enough to decide whether Xi should or should not visit Nepal, without Dahal being within earshot of Premier Li Keqiang.