Wednesday, 10 August, 2022
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Nepal takes a Left turn towards Beijing Consensus

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Oli has been selling dreams of trans-Himalayan railways, piped gas to every kitchen, metro rail and sending a Nepali on the moon as possible benefits of participating in China’s OBOR.

Hyperboles are sometimes necessary to explain bewildering realities. The Left Alliance between the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) have not only swept the polls but have managed to lick the floor clean of all opposition in six of the seven provinces of the newly federated country.

The UML and Maoists combine are in control of most municipalities and are headed for an overwhelming majority in the Lower House of the federal parliament. Since these primary legislatures form the electorate for the election of Upper House and the Presidency, the Left Alliance is headed for what is called ‘State Capture’ in the Maoist rhetoric. The caveat, however, is even more telling: There is very little left of the Leftist ideology in the Left Alliance.

A quintessential ethnocentric strongman, the UML chieftain Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli is better known for his demagoguery, jingoism and xenophobia than any commitment to social justice. An archetypal rabble-rouser, the Maoist Supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda has lately been emphasising populist agenda of economic growth and fast-track prosperity rather than communist slogans of insurgency years.

Regime instability

The Left Alliance, however, hit a roadblock in the southern plains where the political alliance of Sanghiya Samajwadi Party Nepal (SSPN) and Rashtriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN) are headed for an equally overwhelming majority in Province-2 for representation at all levels of government. The electorate of Madhesh have given green signal for the furtherance of dignity politics that includes redrawing of provincial boundaries, representation based on population, jus soli (by birth) citizenship rights, acceptance of cultural diversity and adoption of Hindi as an alternative lingua franca through substantive amendments to the contested constitution.

The alliance of Madhesh-based parties fought on the platform of change while the Left Alliance campaigned for status quo. Reconciling competing positions on constitutional issues is likely to challenge systemic stability even when there is a government at the helm that enjoys almost two-third majority.

Centrist Nepali Congress

In the polarised politics, the moderating effect of centrist Nepali Congress will be marginal in provincial and federal legislatures. It has almost disappeared from the landscape that the democratic party once dominated. The party has nobody to blame for its poor showing but its own leaders.

The NC abandoned its primary base in the Madhesh prior to the promulgation of the statute in 2015 when massive protests greeted its draft in the southern plains. Its leaders gave mixed, sometimes contradictory, messages during elections. The party chairman Sher Bahadur Deuba espoused McCarthyism without realising that such slogans find little resonance in a country that has peacefully elected and ousted at least six communist prime ministers under a parliamentary system over last 25-years.

Shashank Koirala, a general secretary of the party, fought elections on Hindutva platform. Another general secretary Prakash Man Singh spouted catchphrases of free-market fundamentalism. Individually, both won their seats even as the socialist and egalitarian supporters of the party among Dalits and Janjatis gravitated towards populist position of Maoists. Unclear about its politics, the NC is now left with a feeble voice.

Geopolitical fallout

The fascination of the Left Alliance for the Beijing Consensus — open markets and closed politics under state capitalism — is quite well known. UML chief Oli has been selling dreams of trans-Himalayan railways, piped gas to every kitchen, metros in every metropolitan city and sending a Nepali on the moon as possible benefits of participating in the OBOR initiative of President Xi Jinping in one of the poorest countries of the planet.

The Maoist Supremo Prachanda has been hawking the prospect of massive Chinese investment in hydroelectricity and attracting hordes of high-spending little emperors from the Middle Kingdom to Lumbini, the birth place of Lord Buddha, and lifting Nepal into a middle-income country within years on that promise.

Come delivery time, the Leninist and Maoist duo of Oli and Prachanda are likely to discover that the government of the land of Mao now functions more like a business enterprise with a strict profit and loss account than a benevolent patron of friendly regimes abroad.

Not just the politicians, but almost the entire media and civil society in Kathmandu have begun to overtly display pro-Beijing proclivities.

The political class in New Delhi, however, need not worry too much. In Oli, India’s Narendra Modi has a soulmate of sorts: Both think they know what is in the best interest of their respective countries and have the ability to sell potentially unpopular decisions to their supporters. They can do business with each other.

C.K. Lal is a Kathmandu-based columnist and commentator. Twitter: @CKlal_Archive

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