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This is the InFocus podcast from The Hindu. Welcome to the InFocus podcast, I'm Jane Shriram, your host for today. We are doing a quick explainer today on the political situation in Nepal, where over the weekend, Prime Minister Kapiolani recommended the dissolution of parliament of Nepal and called for a general election. The decision was ratified by Nepal's president in an official announcement just hours later. Now, political pressure on Mr. O'Reilly has been building for a while, but this move still came as something of a surprise.

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It's highly irregular and very likely unconstitutional. And over the course of this episode, we'll discuss why he opted to do this. This is also a story that's still developing, of course. So we'll give you the latest on where things stand and, of course, what it means for India. Diplomatic relations between Nepal and India have been challenging in recent times, to say the least. But dialogues were ongoing at fairly high levels at the time that Mr. All leaders move through the country into political turmoil.

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So what's the future of these talks? I'm discussing all of this with Khalil Bhattacharjee, who covers these issues for The Hindu and is the best person to explain Nepal's complicated politics.

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Galula, welcome to the Hindus InFocus podcast, thank you for making time for us today, transgene. So there is a fresh round of political turmoil within Nepal and you have a piece in the paper today. It's headlined What is Behind Poli's? Move the call for SNAP Polls. And we link to that along with the podcast, of course. But let's just start there. Just give us the backstory to what's to this latest development.

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Well, Mr. Oli is of first of all, one has to recognize that he is a very strong willed leader. And Nepal, that juncture in history where it's a strong leadership, probably would have helped it. They'd had an election in 2017, November, December. And Mr. Ali was born in February 2008 subsequently. And he the parliament of Nepal at present has a five year mandate and it's got two more years to go. But Mr.. Only because of his internal problems with his other senior party colleagues, like President Dilma Documentable Turnout and Bundaberg and the rest of the elite of the Communist Party of Nepal.

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That's that's the main reason, primarily the internal problem. That is the prime minister's inability to hold a frank and a broad based dialogue with his with his party colleagues is behind the breakdown of trust inside the party. That's number one. And the number two is, of course, the structural matter that Nepal is also an inherently the structure of Nepal is also dealing with certain certain ambiguities. A number one, it's a communist system. And then at the same time, it's also a parliamentarian system.

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So Mr. Lee has tried to handle the parliamentary system and the and the so-called Politburo system, which in Nepal is known as the standing committee system. And he has been unable to handle the pressure from his party colleagues who have been asking him to share power now. And only they had almost 12 to 15 meetings among themselves. But then it has not worked out. And Mr. Olie has not surrendered his his hold over a large section of the party, whereas Mr.

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Pretender had asked him to have greater transparency in the government decision making parties almost like a turf war where Mr. Lee has refused to cede territory to Mr. President and at a certain point when he lost actually the party, the majority in the parliamentary party, and which actually makes him vulnerable to a no confidence motion, which is being moved by certain members of his party. He has moved first and he has called for dissolution of the parliament. But the fact is the part this particular move is unconstitutional because the Constitution doesn't have such a provision that makes him further vulnerable to judicial intervention.

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So the next we have to see whether the judiciary comes to his rescue or rescues the democracy of Nepal. And as of now. Right.

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Could you give us just a little bit more on the relationship between Mr. Orly and Pretend and a little bit of the backstory about the alliance that kind of brought them together?

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Well, Mr. Olian agenda are veterans of the communist movement of Nepal is a signal to Mr. President. But this is the more firebrand of the two. He is the the former guerrilla leader who has also a human rights abuse record behind him for which he is often criticized. Mr. Lee, in comparison to agenda, is an intellectual that he is very well read, is known to be highly sophisticated person in public life. At the same time, he is a very good he has got his pulse.

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He's got his finger on the pulse of Nepalese youth. It said that Mr. O'Neill understands that aspiring Nepalese society very well, as well as Mr. President. That is part of the communist sentiment that drives Nepal today. So these two are quite similar personalities, yet with vast differences among themselves and both of them are highly ambitious. Agenda was the first prime minister after the revolution. And then Mr. Olie has become the first prime minister after the Constitution was promulgated in September 2015.

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So overall, both of them have lots of legacy that they perhaps will be leaving for the coming generation. At the same time, they also feel that this is their moment. They had very tough, very tough life under the king's government. Previous the royalty of during which they were often in exile, they fought battles all he has his legacy for the Joppa insurrection in 1970s. So and Mr. President, I had of course, he was a communist guerilla for more than more than a decade.

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So both these persons are interesting and they have they are basically the main the main cast of characters in the world today. So the issue was when Mr. Pretender, the party that is a Communist Party setup, was being was fighting the election together with Mr. Audie's animal. And then they came to the conclusion that instead of the coalition, they would rather form a single party, which they formed in 2013 and after the party was formed. Mr. Pretender brought his stalwarts of Mr.

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Bush. This party were accommodated in the standing committee of the new party that is the current NCP, the bulk of this party. And as the Standing Committee accommodated, Mr. President, as colleagues from the previous political party, Mr. Pretender also acquired a great deal of power in the new set, a new party set up that also gave him. But then this agreement was that both of them will be sharing responsibilities in the party and they would be they would be called the co-chair.

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Mr. Lee would be the prime minister, as well as the co-chair and Mr. President. That would be the co-chair of the new political formation. And from the very beginning, there was almost an unwritten understanding that Mr. Modi will be the person governing will be looking at the government affairs and Mr. President will naturally look after the party set up. But that did not happen because Mr. Oli has been flexing his muscles in party offices and Mr. President has been accusing Mr.

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Oli of running a unilateral government without consulting anybody in the party. And his main complaints were that some of the major decisions of the government, like the year's appointment of the minister of Finance, was done without consulting the party colleagues in the standing committee. And Mr. Modi has a habit of not explaining his decisions to party colleagues, which many people take as an insult to their despite being so senior that they are not being briefed and they are not being informed by the prime minister.

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They find it kind of an aberration to the communist discipline to which they want to hold their party.

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So this is these differences have been growing over the past three years. And this year, particularly after the two leaders came together for the sake of the country and they passed the map, the new map of Nepal, which claimed the territory of, again, of India. After that, the really the understanding broke apart. And that was the main outline of the though the background of how these two powerful figures clashed. Right.

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I know that that really well explain the background to this whole problem. And as you explained in your article in the recent past, over the recent months, that the handling of covid-19 in Nepal has become a big factor and that has led to a lot of pressure being placed on Mr. So what's the story there?

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Well, Nepal was Nepal's economy, as you know, depends on tourism. But this year, Nepal has has Nepal's tourism completely is shattered because of the covid-19 issue and the tourists are not coming. But despite that, the economy has held itself together because of the fact that the remittances are pouring in, because there are a lot of Nepalese who work abroad and they naturally have not stopped sending money because there is a sentimental issue that people at home must be suffering.

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So they should be they have been sending remittances home. But having said that, Nepal also has a very good forex reserve at the moment. But these factors will not last forever. The border trade with China is is zero. It's not working well because of the obvious reasons that China keeps on imposing these restrictions and of course, has a lot off and on and with with India. As you remember, in 2000, 15 to 16 people had a blockade of almost five to six months.

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And this particular lockdown that Nepal has on the border right now is almost like a prolonged blockade of 2020, which is much worse than the 2015 blockade. So that is also impacting the trade. So there is growing concern in Nepal that if if, you know, Nepal fails to handle the the long term economy because this is a comfort zone, is not going to last. It's going to is going to disappear soon. So there is this anxiety about Nepal's immediate economic needs that has been that the political elite has been trying to.

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Alert the prime minister about, secondly, the the covid-19 crisis for a small country like Nepal is a terrible blow. It doesn't have that sort of a health structure, health infrastructure in place. And as you can imagine, that Nepal's covid-19 fightback was mostly dependent on the aid that it has received from abroad and just bits of border infrastructure where many of its citizens were held for prolonged period were absolutely ill to to handle people who are returning home from countries like India and countries like Sudan, Bangladesh, and to avoid using the land border.

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They were stuck there for months. They were eruption of public outrage that the government was unable to help them. So there were many small disputes that did not hit the headlines abroad, but that naturally stirred the pot in Nepal, that the government was unable to help the people and not just the people who are falling sick, but also the people who have to be helped financially or had to be helped in some way or the other as they were returning home.

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So these factors also worked. And secondly, there was also the talk about corruption by the government, alleged corruption by the government in procurement of medical supplies. And given the kind of government that Mr Oli runs, he did not explain anything to anybody. And that also angered Mr President very much, who wanted an honest explanation from the government about the medical supplies and pharmaceutical supplies and why Mr. Olie has kept quiet on this despite being prodded by Mr President.

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And as you know, that even now does not have an effective vaccine policy, which is something that every country in the world is looking forward to under the belief that some of these valuable for that the country is sitting on will be used for the vaccine. But there is no no, um, a clear outline of that. So the situation is really grim in Nepal because it's a small country. It doesn't have enormous resource base. And therefore, it's it's it's causing a lot of anxiety for its political leadership.

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Right.

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So when you say they have no vaccine policy, you mean that they're not sure which vaccine they're going to procure and which they're going to give? Exactly.

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I mean, if you look at Bangladesh, for example, Bangladesh has been has been effectively engaging China, United States, Russia, India, most importantly. And they have been holding the field, though, the field trials of the Chinese vaccine for the Bangladeshi people. So but in comparison to Bangladesh is a proactive position on the vaccine. Nepal has not done something like this. Nepal is still caught between whether it should go for the Chinese vaccine or should it go for the Indian vaccine or any other vaccine, which is something that's basically rooted in its domestic politics, that it is not taking a decision because there is a lot of churning happening at the political level among the top leaders of the countries of the Communist Party.

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And that is stopping it from taking the final decision, because there is also a geopolitical factor of the WHO, if the politics of a vaccine, the one country, the other country will be upset. So those little things are also putting a lot of pressure and it is not in a position to take this vital decision. Right.

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So right. So the pressure has been building on. Mr Giuliani has taken this kind of drastic step of calling for these elections. Are you mentioned that the move might be unconstitutional? And what are the kind of voices, what kind of inputs that you're getting from from experts in Nepal? Well, the judiciary intervene in some way.

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Well, already there are every day there are petitions pouring in against the dissolution of parliament. And it looks like that there is there is no gray area as far as the decision is concerned, that the parliament can be dissolved in these circumstances. And Mr Olli obviously has has staked it all with the with the judiciary that he believes there is is he expects that sort of help from his friends in the judiciary. His first friend is, of course, the president.

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This is the death penalty and that he has immediately given her clarification to the decision. That has also sort of proved his hunch, correct, that he will get support from the top operational operatives of the government. But having said that, one doesn't know about the judiciary of the parliament that it will immediately ratify the government's decision. And if it does, then it will really come out as a negative move by the judiciary because it goes against the 2015 constitution for which the father has fought for so long and hard.

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So it is a complicated matter, but. As of today, the decision that the only and protective groups out there can also tell us something that's going to happen in the immediate coming few days, that the parties are most divided in two clear lines and Mr. Olie has already set up his own group, a new central committee has been in, which is the allegiance to Mr. Olie and the current foreign minister, particularly has been appointed as the spokesperson. So Mr.

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Olly's is moving very fast. Perhaps he's either confident or or or perhaps a bit panicky for what may what the future may hold for him. And his agenda is is yet to declare what he will do next. But he's also putting his team together. And if the if the the group then convince the central committee in which they are in the majority, they may take disciplinary action and they can perhaps expel Mr. Olie from the party. And if that happens, Mr.

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Oli will immediately declare the or rather revive his previous party that is UML and then perhaps run the caretaker government until the elections are held. But for all that to happen, you need the judiciary's verdict to also come in. But this is going to take a few days. I suspect it will be at least two to three weeks before the whole drama will play out, right?

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Yeah. So you mentioned the latest move. That is. So this is still developing. This is what you're doing. Yeah. Yeah. OK, yeah. Well, we are going to wait for that to develop. Last question. Just, you know, we've been having quite I mean, India has been having quite a difficult time with Nepal over the past couple of years. And there had been some indications that there have been some fairly high level talks just in the past couple of months and some sort of dialogue process seem to be ongoing.

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So, you know, what is what is how does India play this? How do they look at this current turmoil that's going on in Nepal? And what's the situation as regards to the dialogue that we are trying to establish?

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Well, I mean, the current situation, I don't think India has any chance of reviving that. The highest level dialogue that is a dialogue with the prime minister is because the the prime minister himself has carried out a move which is similar to a coup. So if you hold dialogue with Mr. Modi tomorrow or a month later, if he survives the domestic political turmoil that is, then you will be legitimizing Mr.. All these actions. So India will have to really wait carefully its position on whether to go ahead with dialogue, with holding dialogue with Nepal, or to wait till the elections are held or perhaps see the verdict of the judiciary, which made the verdict of the judiciary be.

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Ultimately, if Mr. Oli fails in this particular gamble that he has taken, then perhaps there will be a new set of political characters emerging overnight in the next few days. Like, you know, if the judiciary declares him to be declares the dissolution of parliament to be an illegal rule, then then the rest of them will immediately come together. Already, the Nepali Congress and the majority party and the separatist party have come together. They are also insisting that the parties should also come together.

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So if they all if all the disappointment is universal to join the movement, then they will have no sizable number in the parliament. They can perhaps put it too. But of India's position is very, very interesting, because if India moves ahead with the talks at the highest level, because we have already initiated the foreign secretary level move, and naturally the next move would be holding the minister minister level talk because he was expected to visit Delhi in December 2020.

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But for some strange reason, he didn't visit on the 16th of December when he was expected in Delhi. In fact, there was to be a public lecture that he particularly was expected to deliver in Delhi. But the visit did take place. Just a day after that. We heard that there is a rapid political changes in Nepal and Prime Minister Modi might do something and that's what happened ultimately. So the minister level talks are on hold. And also you can't engage the highest political offices because of the uncertainties.

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So the talks are pretty much frozen from my point of view as of now, unless, of course, India wants to send some sort of special envoy to Nepal to assess the situation and then take a call about what to do next.

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And I just sort of clarified for the benefit of our listeners just before Mr Move and what's happened currently, the level of talks between India and Nepal. Was that foreign secretary level, right?

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Yes. The the Nepal had been demanding since the since the publication of the new Indian map in November. Twenty nineteen that Israel should hold foreign secretary level talks because there are lingering boundary issues, territorial dispute with India. So India was delaying it. And finally in November, we had the foreign secretary of India visiting Nepal and July six and twenty seven. And that was the highest level talking in the full year because there was a lot of freezing relationship because of the Kalapana dispute.

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And immediately after that, now we have this particular political situation, which is absolutely unexpected. So pretty much the development, the improvements that were that were achieved over the last three and a half months are now again back to the present. So I would say India will have to really assess the situation very carefully and then move. Right.

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Thank you for that clarification. I think we'll end on that note, but of course, we'll keep an eye on this issue and perhaps we'll we'll have calls to return to it soon on this podcast. But thank you for joining us today and explaining what's going on in Nepal.

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Thank you so much, Jeff. InFocus will be back soon with analysis of the biggest news issues in the meantime, you can find our podcast on Spotify, Apple, podcasts, Stitcher and other platforms. Just search for InFocus by the handle. We'll see you soon.