India must remain neutral to the rapidly changing political developments in Nepal and stay focused on the development projects being carried out in the Himalayan nation. Any overt interference in domestic politics could be counter-productive for New Delhi, given the bitter experiences of the past. The Indo-Nepal ties are founded on a civilisational bond between the people of the two nations and this must be leveraged to broaden the bilateral relationship. The tiny Himalayan nation has been hurtling from one crisis to another with power politics being reduced to a game of musical chairs. The country’s Supreme Court has now appointed Sher Bahadur Deuba as the Prime Minister, dealing a severe blow to KP Oli who tried devious tricks to retain power. Besides damaging Nepal’s young democracy, Oli’s cynical ultra-nationalism also damaged ties with India. Deuba, who becomes the prime minister for the fifth time, looks like a stop-gap arrangement and the onus is on Nepalese politicians to provide stability. It would be an uphill task for Deuba to prove majority in Parliament within a month — a constitutional obligation — in the face of rapidly shifting political loyalties. The situation would be back to square one if he fails to muster the required numbers and recommends the dissolution of Parliament. As it is, Nepal’s transition to democracy has been a torturous process with several roadblocks along the way.
On its part, India should desist from any moves that could be seen as backing autocratic regimes. Instead, it should stand for constitutional and democratic governance in Nepal. At the same time, a sustained engagement with the political leadership, without amounting to interference, is necessary for India to safeguard its vital interests. A totally hands-off policy will only create space for other external influences, notably China whose aggressive intervention needs to be countered with mature and deft handling. A strong people-to-people bond between the two countries happens to be our greatest strength and no other country can match this. The challenge is to leverage this precious asset to ensure a stable and mutually productive bilateral relationship. The evolving situation in that country is 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. India’s interests are better served by maintaining a neutral stance, promoting bilateral cooperation, and seeking stability and peace in the region. 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. New Delhi’s “vaccine diplomacy” allowed Nepal to inoculate its people at a rapid pace.
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