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Not much to cheer for Modi in Nepal ties

Birendra P Mishra |

Indian PM Narendra Modi congratulated SB Deuba on being elected as the Prime Minster of Nepal. He assumes power today (8 June) for the fourth time after a gap of 12 years.

Modi confirmed his telephonic call to Deuba in his tweet as well. Likewise, Chinese ambassador Yu Hong congratulated him personally reaching his residence yesterday evening.

Modi had also congratulated his then Nepalese counterpart Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ on 25 May for his success in holding the first phase of local level elections for 283 units in 34 districts on 14 May and hoped for Nepal’s steady move on the path of political stability and prosperity.

After a majority of results of the first phase elections were published, Prachanda had resigned on 24 May from the post paving the way for Deuba, the leader of the largest party in the House, the Nepali Congress, to succeed him as per agreement reached between them while forming coalition.

It is usual to congratulate someone on any victory. However, it seems unusual to congratulate a PM who has just completed the first phase of elections leaving behind more units to be elected. In phase two, elections are to be held for the remaining 461 units in 41 districts.

They were to be conducted on 14 June, were rescheduled to 24 June and have once again been extended to June 28 on account of the month of Ramadan.

It must be asked whether PM Modi’s thanks-giving formality to Prachanda was the execution of his government’s ‘Neighbour first’ policy; just a formal goodbye or an appreciation to his government for taking crucial decisions like award of contract for the 1200- megawatt Budhigandaki storage project to China Gezhouba Group Corporation without any competitive international bidding, sanctioning Tarai fast track to the Nepal army, which was previously given to an Indian company and permitting China to study feasibility of a railway track from Kerung (the Tibetan border point) to Kathmandu and to Lumbini finally.

These decisions do confirm that Nepal is asserting its independence, sovereignty and self-respect. It has tried to move away from being an India-dependent economy to Chinadependent prosperity under the Belt and Road Initiative, the flagship of China’s robust economy.

All these decisions prove that the independence of Nepal is guaranteed under the mastership of China like some ASEAN nations.

Modi's thanks also seemed to have been given to Prachanda for not completing election of second phase and not meeting the demands of Madhesi outfits for having proportional representation in restructuring of the local level units that have been made the backbone of national administration and development.

The present pragmatic foreign policy of Nepal, which oscillated between south and north previously, seems to have set to the north, being a departure from its traditional stand of being a yam between two boulders set by the founder of modern Nepal, the Gorkha king Prithibi Narayan Shah who captured Kathmandu in 1768 and made it the unified country that exists today.

Since the late 1940s people struggled to acquire state power including through the people’s movements of 1990 and 2006. Ultimately, Nepal was declared a secular federal democratic republic through the new constitution on 20 September 2015.

But sadly, instead of implementing the constitution, all major parties concentrated on sharing power. In this course, the KP Sharma Oli led government constituted a Local level Restructuring Commission (LLRC), which suggested 744 local units.

However, the recommendations were not acceptable to the Madhesi outfits, who claimed 50 per cent share against the 35 per cent recommendation of the Commission.

Since, the outgoing government led by Maoist Centre, accepted the recommendations and decided to hold elections for these units, some Madhesi parties rejected the decision and are agitating. Interestingly, local elections are taking place after a gap of 20 years.

Originally, they were scheduled for one day polling on May 14. Elections in the first phase were peaceful as there were no Madhesi demands for increasing the number of local units.

The second phase was scheduled after a month with a view to buying time to negotiate the demands of the Madhes-based parties, which include amendment to the constitution and also negotiate the number of local level units in proportion to the population of 20 districts of Madhes/Tarai falling in these provinces.

However, the government’s recent decision to increase the number by 22 was stayed by the apex court. Had the government been serious, the same could have been done long ago through the LLRC itself, which had based population upto 13,000, 22,000 and 40,000 respectively for the regions of High Mountain, Hill and Madhes for village councils, and 17,000, 31,000 and 60,000 for respective regions for Municipalities.

It will be difficult for Mr Deuba to meet the demand in the limited time to have peaceful elections. Ironically, the varying population bases to decide the number of local units cannot be justified as every citizen has equal right to choose equal number of his or her representatives in any democracy, whether he resides in Tarai or in Hills or in high mountains.

It is not known whether PM Modi forgot the rightful claim of Madhesis while congratulating Prachanda and Deuba.

The writer is a former Election Commissioner of Nepal and presently associated with the Nepal Transition to Peace Institute, Kathmandu.