The political volcano has once again erupted in Nepal, pushing the Himalayan nation into a fresh bout of uncertainty with far-reaching implications in the region, particularly for India. President Bidya Devi Bhandari’s decision to dissolve Parliament, on the advice of the Cabinet headed by Prime Minister KP Oli, has exposed the vulnerabilities of an already unstable regime. India cannot afford to adopt a hands-off approach towards the tumultuous developments in the neighbouring country, given the security interests, trade links and civilisational ties between the people of the two countries. Moreover, China’s aggressive intervention in the internal politics of the tiny nation needs to be countered with mature and deft handling. Despite the caretaker PM’s shady reputation, New Delhi needs to formulate a reliable policy framework towards Nepal in tune with the public mood there. The fresh turmoil comes when the country is grappling with an acute shortage of hospital beds and vaccines in the face of a surge in the Covid-19 cases. Despite the recent tensions over certain bilateral issues, India is seen as a reliable neighbour, always willing to step in to help in the hour of crisis. This was demonstrated in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake and also during the ongoing pandemic crisis. New Delhi’s “vaccine diplomacy” allowed Nepal to be one of the first countries in the world to vaccinate its people.
The emerging developments in the Himalayan nation are bound to have an impact on India, particularly against the backdrop of a slide in bilateral ties after the boundary row last summer under Oli’s leadership. In view of the changing internal political dynamics, India needs to navigate carefully, striking a balance between Oli, who has of late scaled down his anti-India narrative, and the combined opposition under Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba. India’s interests are better served by maintaining a neutral stance, promoting bilateral cooperation and seeking stability and peace in the region. Oli, who rode to power by whipping up anti-India sentiments but later made amends to his policies, has been on the downswing since December last year when he got the President to unilaterally dissolve the House. The President also announced fresh elections in April-May, but the House was reinstated by the Supreme Court early this year. The ruling Nepal Community Party’s pro-China tilt is well known, so much so that Chinese ambassador Hou Yanqi tried her best to broker peace among the warring factions of the ruling coalition. Once cornered in the intra-party feuds at home, Oli began clumsy efforts for rapprochement with India and extended an olive branch. However, New Delhi chose to remain neutral to the rivalry between Oli and Prachanda factions.