What communist win in Nepal means for India? Is China becoming more active in Nepal?

Ranjeet Rae

The left alliance comprising of two largest communist parties CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center) swept the House of Representatives election under first-past-the-post category in the recently concluded Federal Parliament and Province Assembly election. However, UML remained only marginally higher than the Nepali Congress in the Proportional Representative system. Many experts view that UML Chair KP Oli managed to consolidate the victory because of Indian blockade in 2015.

Will the left alliance coming to the power have any impact on India-Nepal bilateral relationship? What does communist win in Nepal mean for India? Is China becoming more active in Nepal?

Former Ambassador of India to Nepal Ranjeet Rae in an interview with The Wire, said that he has no doubt, even after the communist rising to power, Nepal and India will work together to erase the tightrope walk between Kathmandu and Delhi that evolved after the Indian blockade.

He said, “India has to deal with any government of Nepal. Nepal’s interests in India are as huge as India’s interest in Nepal. So, I have no doubt in mind that both India and Nepal will work together for the benefit of each other.”

“Oli, who is likely to be the next prime minister, is a very strong and a good administrator. He, even when he was not the prime minister of Nepal, had a major role in getting his party on board and supporting agreement on various development projects with India. So, we expect him to focus a lot on economic issues … and this is where India-Nepal cooperation comes in,” added Rae.

“There have been some temporary hiccups and blips in the relationship between Nepal and India, but the long term trend between the two closest neighbor is very positive and our cooperation will only strengthen,” he furthered.

Rae accepts that the 2015 Indian blockade definitely contributed in fueling anti-Indian sentiments in Nepali people and as a result China’s activity in Nepal duly increased.

“China is much more active in Nepal today. Rumor in Nepal was that China was very keen on left unity and the left alliance and was backing it to the hilt. They were very unhappy when Prachanda withdrew support from the Oli-led government earlier. But, as we can see, China has been much more active in Nepal than in the past. Several agreements have been signed under the one-belt-one-road agreements in terms of greater connectivity including railways. Hydroelectric projects have been given to China on government to government basis without global tendering,” said Rae.

But the former ambassador opines that the Nepal’s growing relations with China won’t have larger impact on Indo-Nepal bilateral relationship.

“But, having said that, I think if you look at India-Nepal on a scale of 1 to 10, if we are 10 then China is probably 2. Two-thirds of Nepal’s trade is through India. Most of China’s trade is through the port of Kolkata. With the change of technology, Himalayas is no longer insurmountable barrier they used to be.”

“But this is something we have to factor into our decision making and see how best to deal with it…and just to give an out-of-the-box idea, I think both China and India would like to see stability, progress and prosperity in Nepal and neither the country want to have the growing presence or involvement of external forces either state or non-state.”

Rae also said that it was not failure of Indian diplomacy in Nepal but the Nepali people’s national pride that resulted in rise of anti-Indian sentiments in Nepali people, and which in part played role in election results which left alliance swept.

He said, “The constitution of Nepal was promulgated in 2015, but unfortunately a group of people felt left out in the constitution drafting process in term of inclusion, which resulted in one-and-half month long Tharuhat movement. Indian view, in this episode, was that it would be in interest of Nepal to accommodate diversity as it was a life time opportunity for the people; if Nepal accommodates the diverse interest of people, there could be stability. But it became a recipe for a political tension between the two countries. India’s position was projected by certain political groups of Nepal as hegemonic interference, big brother lecturing—which gave rise to certain type of leadership which stoked a kind of anti-Indian sentiment, particularly within the UML—which created a certain atmosphere within the country—ultimately affecting the elections as well.”

Referring to the blockade, he added, “And secondly, if you have any problems with India, then you try to balance relationship by turning to China.”

Commenting on many senior commentators in Nepal who criticized India for its magnanimity and statements of magnanimity during the devastating 2015 April earthquake that ‘If you are doing something…we are at crisis, why don’t you leave it at that..”, he said, “It’s a very complicated psychology. And in terms of what Nepal’s national identity is—if everything in Nepal… language, culture, religion are similar to India, then what is unique about Nepal as a nation-state. So, sometimes they find this embrace by India a little claustrophobic and try to find more political space for themselves.”

“So, when India helps them, they know that they need help and at the same time they feel resentful that India is helping them. So it’s a very peculiar thing.”

“And as a foreign policy practitioner, I think we have to deal with it in terms of greater sensitivity, greater understanding and greater respect. It’s a very quickly sensitive relationship of which one has to be conscious all the time.”

And, coming back to India, I think we need to step up our connectivity projects, our infrastructure projects. We have a lot in plate, but unfortunately our implementation record has not been great and could be much-much better. And this is what we have been trying to do through regular monitoring. It’s all nuts and bolts issues—not a great policy or strategy but nuts and bolts issues where we tend to lose out so I think we really need to improve the implementation of all the projects that we have.”

“Sub-regional groupings like Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) have a lot of potential. In fact, Nepal is the chair of BIMSTEC that has summit next year. So, I think regional and sub-regional organizations hold a lot of potential and a lot is happening in terms of strengthening connectivity, tourism and the Buddhist circuit. And, our focus is really on these intuitions.”