The last time Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal took over as Prime Minister of Nepal, ending the monarchy in 2008, there was a lot of interest all around. It was with India&’s facilitation that the alliance of the Nepali Congress and the Maoists came to power then. Unfortunately Dahal, known as Prachanda, resigned within nine months due to the distrust between the two parties and since then there has been political instability.
Prachanda took over as Prime Minister last week replacing Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) Chairman KP Sharma Oli with backing from the Nepali Congress, Madhesh-based parties and other fringe parties in Parliament. Oli had to go as he had ruffled too many feathers both inside and outside Nepal. The relationship between India and Nepal also deteriorated significantly under Oli.
Prachanda and Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba have worked out a seven-point deal, which includes a power-sharing agreement till the December 2017 Parliamentary elections. According to the agreement, Prachanda will lead the government for nine months and hold local polls, while a Deuba government under the NC will conduct provincial and federal elections in the following nine months.Who would have thought that Prachanda and Deuba would one day work together as it was Deuba who had put a reward of Rs 50 lakh on Prachanda&’s head during the Maoist militancy. But politics makes strange bedfellows. Many feel that the change is unlikely to ease political instability; Nepal has seen nine governments in the last one decade.
Unlike in 2008, when the people had great expectations of the Maoists, the public confidence in Prachanda is much reduced now. He failed in the delicate task of completing the peace process. Now he has the challenge of ensuring smooth implementation of the new Constitution by holding elections and taking the agitating parties into confidence.
If Prachanda wants to be successful in his second innings he needs to learn from his past mistakes and tackle head on the challenges facing the country. The Maoist leader has taken over the reins at a time when Nepal is facing serious internal and external challenges. To succeed this time, he needs to prepare a clear political roadmap.
The first imperative is to provide good governance; Prachanda himself had admitted to this writer in July last during his visit to Delhi that he had committed some mistakes which he would not repeat. The first was the sacking of the Nepal army chief, the second was not making Koirala the president and the third was failure to realise that the Maoists had no political experience in running the country. Prachanda is a much mellowed man today.
The second challenge is addressing the demands of Madhesh-based parties. The Madheshis, Tharus and Janajatis have complaints about the new Constitution. One of their major demands is the revision of federal boundaries. However, this will require the amendment of the new Constitution which cannot be done unless Oli&’s Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) extends its support, and Oli has never been keen on accommodating these demands.
The third is the shattered economy of the country. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the region. The inflation rate this year hit 10.5 per cent, while the economy grew at barely 1.5 per cent. Even before it could pick up after the devastating earthquake of 2015, Madhesi blockades of the border after the declaration of the new Constitution hit the economy. Nepal depends on imports for its basic needs including oil, essential commodities and other things. Lack of political instability had resulted in lack of investment.
The fourth is to balance his personal as well as his country&’s relations with his northern and southern neighbours. He may have to make a fine balance of his relationship with both India and China, as Nepal needs the support of both for its economic recovery. New Delhi looks at Kathmandu with suspicion when it goes closer to China. Last time Prachanda annoyed New Delhi by visiting China first to participate the Beijing Olympics of 2008 while Nepal Prime Ministers normally visit India first. Presently he has the backing of New Delhi and he should ensure that it continues. As a friendly gesture Prime Minister Narendra Modi telephoned Prachanda and invited him to visit India. The Chinese Ambassador also personally wished Prachanda within minutes of his election.
If decisions of the first cabinet meeting after Prachanda took over are an indicator, he has begun well. The government has launched a special campaign entitled ‘Government for the poor’, decided to provide Rs 1,000 as encouragement allowance to the Dalits and people of the remote Karnali region who register the births of their new-borns. It has also decided to provide Rs. 100,000 to families who lost members in the recent floods and landslides. The subsequent decision to provide one million rupees to the families of those killed during the recent Madheshi agitation is also a good move.
With three sets of elections – local, provincial and central – expected to take place by December 2017, Nepal needs political stability to continue the democratic process. Prachanda&’s success will depend on the amount of political space he can get in handling both domestic as well as internatinal affairs. He needs all the support he can get from everyone, including New Delhi.