Having won back the prime minister’s office again, in yet another political drama in Kathmandu, Oli needs to leverage his equity with his cabinet, the people and New Delhi.
K P Sharma Oli is set to be sworn in as Nepal's Prime Minister for the third time today, a day after he was reappointed to the post, after a no-confidence motion against him which he lost, as the country’s opposition failed to secure majority seats in parliament to form a new government.
Oli had lost a confidence vote on 10 May plunging the country into political turmoil at a time when it is battling a second wave of coronavirus infections. It was expected that political parties would try and put together a new ruling coalition, but they failed to secure the required number of seats to make a bid for power.
Despite being under the scanner in his country Oli has proved to be an expert at walking on the knifes edge when it comes to retaining power in Nepal. He previously served as prime minister from October 11, 2015 to August 3, 2016 and again from February 15, 2018 to May 13, 2021. Among other charges against him he has been accused of side-lining party leaders, ignoring collective decision-making and undermining the role of parliament.
Oli assumes his role as prime minister while Nepal is plunged in political uncertainty and experiencing a spike in the new Covid-19 variant infections. Numbers till Monday recorded 9,127 infections, 27 times the number recorded on April 10. The total caseload stood at 403,794, with 3,859 deaths, according to government data.
A stable Nepal government is imperative for administering at home and ensuring that its ties with India do not suffer further reverses as it did last year, thanks to the involvement of third-party actors coupled with Oli’s penchant for reckless diplomacy.
In keeping with the GoI’s Neighbourhood First Policy, India accords Nepal with the strategic importance that it deserves. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s four visits to Kathmandu, in the course of six years, is a reflection of this strong alliance.
Nepal and India are bound more than just diplomatically. There are many other factors that integrate the interests of these two nations - culturally, socially, economically and politically and not to forget the over 80 percent Hindu population in both countries that binds the two nations together.
Even while his own position looks periodically weak – there is no guarantee that the opposition cannot force another motion of ‘no confidence’ against the government and come up with the numbers next time to bring the administration down - Oli cannot afford to let his equation with India lapse into a state of decay. Nepal needs to work on strengthening its ties with India to ensure that both nations remove the bottlenecks, and the pandemic which has put Indian sponsored projects on the shelf.
Oli’s own party members have coaxed him to put his diplomatic skills on display and ensure he draws up a path to resolving disagreements with India thanks primarily to a few provocative statements he has made in the past. The Nepali prime minister’s leanings towards China are well documented.
The growing Covid crisis in Nepal is yet another reason for Oli to spend time reflecting on his country’s diplomatic ties with New Delhi.
China’s growing engagement with south Asian nations would ensure that India too can least afford to ignore Nepal now specially when several development projects - trade, transit, water resources, floods, development projects, the submission of the EPG report and the border – need to be fast-tracked.
All eyes will now be on Oli to gauge if he can consolidate his position as Nepal’s prime minister, arrest the growing pandemic infection rates in his country and make that outreach to India.