Photo: Bearded vulture. Credit: A. Kovacz - Photo: 2021

Nepal Is the Boat of Democracy on The Road Ahead

Viewpoint by Manish Uprety F.R.A.S. and Jainendra Karn

Manish Uprety F.R.A.S. is an ex-diplomat & ALCAP’s Special Advisor for Asia & Africa and Jainendra Karn is a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Any views or opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of IDN-InDepth News.

KATHMANDU (IDN) — What a sombre way to start one’s day by going through the newspapers and realize the dystopian times we live in. It’s just like listening to Paint It Black by the Rolling Stones or pondering about what Ayn Rand had said: There is no difference between Communism and Socialism, except in the means of achieving the same ultimate end: Communism proposes to enslave men by force, Socialism—by vote. It is merely the difference between murder and suicide.

April was indeed the cruellest month but so is May, it seems. Germany opposing waiving off COVID-19 Vaccine IPR, Hamas firing one rocket after another into Israel and anti-Semitic crimes flaring up in the US, the US coming to a halt after cyber attack forced the shutdown of fuel pipelines, and the chaos in South Asia.

Second COVID wave in India that jolted the country, China blatantly interfering in the foreign policy of Bangladesh where the nation’s Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen had to remind China  that being an independent nation Bangladesh shall follow its own diplomatic policy.

And Nepal plunging into fresh turmoil after the President of Nepal dissolved the country’s Parliament, and announced the mid-term polls for November.

It was after the Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli lost the vote of confidence in the Nepalese parliament but was back in power as per Article 78(3) of the Constitution of Nepal.

Of the 232 members present, Oli got only 93, and 124 MPs voted against him. Out of 121 of his own UML party’s members, 28 from the dissident faction were not present, and 15 MPs voted not to vote. The anti-Oli faction did not join the floor test by floor crossing but decided to keep away.

The opposition parties, riddled by factionalism, failed to secure majority seats to form a new government and Sher Bahadur Deuba, chief of the main opposition Nepali Congress and other allies, informed that he would not be able to put together a coalition that has majority in the House.

Nepal’s tryst with democracy is interesting. In the aftermath of the dramatic Royal Family Massacre in 2001, the monarchy was abolished on 28 May 2008 by the First Constituent Assembly in Nepal. But democracy is still an evolving process in the country and fraught with its own set of challenges both internal and external.

Nepal lies between two leading economies of the world—India and China. While India is a Socialist state, China is ruled by the Communist State, and it does have a bearing on the local politics of Nepal.

It can be a bit confounding to an outsider and particularly to someone who is from the West. For example, US economist and social theorist Thomas Sowell had noted that whole political vision of the left, including socialism and communism, has failed by virtually every empirical test, in countries all around the world. But this has only led leftist intellectuals to evade and denigrate empirical evidence.

Interestingly China is now the Trade Titan of the world whose economy is almost five times larger than that of India’s. Also as per the 2021 Military Direct’s study, China has the world’s strongest military where as India stands at the fourth place.

But there is a notion in the Chinese strategic circle that though India always had a strong influence over many South Asian countries’ decision-making on foreign policy, India’s hegemony in South Asia is not that firm. Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences mentions the same.

Indeed, the argument by Hu Zhiyong holds a great merit because the disparity between India and China has resulted in the latter’s significant interference in the South Asian region that has affected the state of local equilibrium.

With the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) losing its steam in Pakistan, China’s  intrusion in the Ladakh region of India last year and in May 2021 the reports of  Chinese Villages and Security Forces revealed inside Bhutan’s borders are incidents that make one very circumspect of the Chinese strategic design for the region.

In June 2020, it was reported that China had occupied Rui village of Nepal and annexed it to Tibet. Jeevan Bahadur Shahi, former Tourism Minister of Nepal had said that Chinese troops had crossed the border and built nine concrete structures about 1 km inside Nepal, at Limi in the district of Humla bordering Tibet.

During his recent visit to Dhaka, the Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe had warned Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government that China does not want any form of participation of Bangladesh in QUAD alliance as Beijing sees it as an anti-China grouping.

On 21 May 2021, China’s State Council Information Office brought out a white paper titled ‘Tibet Since 1951: Liberation, Development and Prosperity‘ which is interpreted as a means to blunt India and the West’s diplomatic advantage.

Democratic processes especially elections across the world are like a bird on a wire which is a temptation for any bird of prey. China’s embrace of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the US during the 2020 Presidential elections can be seen as an example of this.

However, in the case of evolving democracies where violence and power still hold sway, time tried tactics of gunboat diplomacy can still work. On 8 May 2021, the U.S. 5th Fleet seized weapons shipment from a stateless dhow in the North Arabian Sea which was mainly of the Chinese origin.

The pertinent question is who wanted these weapons that were confiscated between Pakistan and West Asia? Arms and ammunition just like money and drugs, can be transferred illegally anywhere in the world to cause unrest and also to compromise democracy.

However, the forthcoming elections scheduled for November 2021 in Nepal not only outside factors along with local issues will matter but also COVID-19. One has witnessed how great an impact COVID-19 can have in the recent state elections in India such as in West Bengal.

This will be a very tricky affair. India recently had some glitches in its vaccine production capacity which the country is trying to fix so that a country of over a billion people can be inoculated while meeting its international commitments. Not to mention India made vaccines are amongst the cheaper and most effective ones in the world that have a special relevance for developing countries.

There are very serious doubts about the efficacy of the Chinese vaccines in the international community. Seychelles, world’s most vaccinated country, where majority of vaccinated received China’s Sinopharm vaccine, recently reported an unprecedented Covid-19 surge among fully inoculated individuals. UAE and Bahrain have also questioned the efficacy of Sinopharm vaccine.

How policymakers in Nepal will meet this challenge posed by COVID-19 before the elections are held needs to be seen. With only six months to go, one way could be that the government of Nepal directly talks to its Indian counterpart so that the vaccines can be secured without the involvement of middlemen or explore the international market where it might have to pay more.

Between Nepal and India, the situation is very unique as both the countries share economic and military ties besides the people-to-people, cultural, historical, and religious ties. Even the Communists are bound by Nepal’s religious traditions, says Nepalese scholar Dr. Ramesh Dhungel, so the latter assumes significant importance. Trying to ride the fine line of balancing these concerns is the key.

There is no doubt that no country can close its eyes to China’s participation in its economic development because of its sheer economic prowess and might. But in the context of Nepal, the issue of India’s security concerns and problems of over dependence on China also raise their head.

The forthcoming elections will give an opportunity to the peoples of Nepal to move beyond the clichéd connotation of ‘buffer’ between India and China that has been associated with it for a very long time.

Nepal has the potential to be the “Switzerland of Asia.” It must harness and make the best of the opportunities that it is receiving from its neighbours while treading prudently on the path of development to deliver fruits of progress to its peoples. [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 May 2021]

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Photo: (From Left to Right) Manish Uprety F.R.A.S. Mr. Bimalendra Nidhi, Ex-Deputy Prime Minister of Nepal and Jainendra Karn.

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