In what could only be described as opportunism, Nepal’s Parliament approved a bill that unilaterally sought to annex three disputed regions in Uttarakhand. Nepal Prime Minister K P Oli redid cartography to seize three disputed territories—Kalapani, Lipu Lekh and Limpiyadhura—to divert attention from the power struggle within his Nepal Communist Party, as former PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal, better known as Prachanda, is pulling out all the stops to stage an internal coup.
Prachanda has the party under his thumb while Oli runs the government. But the complete mismanagement of both the economy and the coronavirus outbreak has made the government unpopular despite having a clear mandate.
Also, the spiralling youth protests and Oli’s poor health gave Prachanda enough opportunity to rock the boat.
With bigger brother China playing peacemaker, Oli parried the attack, whipping up ultra-nationalistic sentiments to contain the national rage. And Defence Minister Rajnath Singh opening a new road to Mansarovar via Lipu Lekh gave the Nepal PM the fig leaf he was waiting for.
His map-making exercise is widely seen as a China-led poke, which itself is locked in a stand-off with India on the Ladakh border. But such theatrics do not always ensure political stability. Prachanda is already complaining that his idea of creating an all-party panel to fight Covid-19 has not been not taken seriously.
That said, India has added another adversary on its border, raising questions over its foreign policy’s efficacy. The transnational oil pipeline it built for Nepal and its humanitarian assistance during Covid apparently counted for nothing when it sought to encash its IOUs.
The foreign office bristled, saying such artificial expansion of territory was not sustainable. But within the BJP, there has been some loud thinking on how it went wrong.
Its outspoken MP Subramanian Swamy tweeted, “How can Nepal think of asking for Indian territory? What has hurt their sentiments so much that they want to break with India? Is it not our failure? Need RESET in foreign policy too.” As for Oli, he is punching way above his weight. He ought to remember that poking the elephant in the eye can lead to a stampede with unforeseen consequences.