Home / News / World /  Nepal’s Prachanda and India: A love-hate relationship

New Delhi: India is looking to re-craft its ties with Nepal with a new Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal who took office last week following months of acrimony, with the previous administration of K.P. Sharma Oli over its inability to address the grievances of a major section of the Nepalese population over the country’s new constitution.

This is the second time that Dahal—a former Maoist guerrilla leader and known more popularly by his nom de guerre Prachanda (the fierce one)—is taking office as prime minister. His previous term was during 2008-09.

Against the immediate backdrop of hostility between New Delhi and Kathmandu over the latter’s lack of enthusiasm to assuage concerns of a large section of the Nepalese population over their constitutional rights, Prachanda seems to be viewed in India as a welcome change.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quick to congratulate his Nepalese counterpart designate on Wednesday, posting on Twitter: “Spoke to Nepal’s PM-elect Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ ji & congratulated him. Assured him of our full support & invited him to India."

The greeting, said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal who was posted to Nepal during 1982-85, showed “that India considers him someone it can do business with".

According to the reasoning in India, Prachanda has made all the right statements since he was elected prime minister. For instance, the 61-year-old leader promised to lead the nation towards economic development and work as a bridge between various ethnic groups in Nepal following deadly protests over the divisive new constitution. The Madhesis, Tharus and Janajatis, who constitute over half of Nepal’s 28 million population, have been up in arms against the new constitution approved in September which, they felt, tilted the balance in favour of the upper caste hill tribes.

The view in New Delhi seems to be that since Prachanda draws support from the Madhesis and lesser privileged constituencies, he will try and address their concerns which, in turn, will spare India any blowback from the protesting groups. India and Nepal share an open border and India has been concerned about the unrest in Nepal spilling into India.

India’s apparent embrace of Prachanda in 2016 seems to be a far cry from its ties with the former guerrilla leader during his first term as prime minister.

“Prachanda spent a good deal of time in India during the days of the insurgency. But when he became the prime minister, he did a number of things that were seen as unfriendly to India," said Shiv Mukherji, who was India’s ambassador in Nepal during 2004-08. “He played what is called the China card (against India)," Mukherji said in a reference to Prachanda trying to cultivate close ties with India’s strategic rival China.

One of the first actions of Prachanda after he became prime minister last time was calling for parity between Nepal’s ties with India and China, ruffling feathers in India.

Prachanda, who had been in India for a good part of the two decades that he had been in hiding as a Maoist guerrilla leader, further upset India by making China and not India the destination of his first foreign visit— seen as a break from tradition. But when he visited India in 2008, he was given a red carpet welcome.

As prime minister, Prachanda also called for a review of all bilateral treaties with India, including the 1950 India-Nepal friendship treaty that puts bilateral ties on a special footing. Bilateral ties seemed to hit a nadir after the Prachanda government in 2009 decided to sack Nepalese army chief Rookmangud Katawal, who was seen as close to India.

Katawal’s sacking was stayed by then Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav but Prachanda blamed India. And when he was replaced as prime minister by Madhav Kumar Nepal, Prachanda reportedly said he believed it had been engineered by India.

More recently, in January 2016, during the protests against the constitution, Prachanda charged India with “bullying" Nepal using various Nepali political outfits against the landlocked Himalayan nation, news reports said.

But the view in India currently is that Prachanda “has mellowed", from the time he last served as prime minister. Added to this is the fact that his party has seen many splits, with leaders like Baburam Bhattarai, his once close aide, leaving his fold and forming a new party.

That does not mean Prachanda will not be tempted to play the China card against India. Still, what could be a moderating influence is the presence of the Nepali Congress, which is the largest party currently in the Nepalese parliament in Prachanda’s governing coalition. The United Democratic Madhesi Front and other smaller parties, besides his own United Communist Party of Nepal–Maoist Centre, are part of the ruling combine at present. India is seen to have close ties with the Nepali Congress, which means it could rely on the party to moderate any extreme position Prachanda could take.

“The Nepali Congress is more realistic about relations with India. They are seen as more amenable to reasonable dialogue," said Sibal.

According to Rakesh Sood, another former Indian ambassador to Nepal, “From all accounts, Mr Prachanda is wiser today than in 2008-09. He now publicly acknowledges that it was a political mistake. He too had blamed India for his debacle but now has his task cut out to restore bilateral ties. The Nepali Congress can be helpful in this too.

Subscribe to Mint Newsletters
* Enter a valid email
* Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.
Recommended For You
Edit Profile
Get alerts on WhatsApp
Set Preferences My ReadsFeedbackRedeem a Gift CardLogout