Did Oli Ever “Stand up to India”?

By Prashant Jha

Last week, in Kathmandu, one of the things that struck me the most was the almost unanimous opinion of the editorial writers that the former Prime Minister of Nepal Oli’s legacy “was standing up to India”. This is an astounding claim.

For one, there is enough evidence to suggest that Oli was desperate to do a deal with India through the Madhes Andolan. I have it on impeccable authority that he told Indian diplomats, “Aap Madhes chod dijiye, aur jo projects chahiye le lijiye – you drop the Madhes issue, and take whatever projects you want.” He also told another official that Madhesi leaders would never be able to deliver core projects to India but he would be able to do so and that is why they should support him.

Second, the private efforts to strike a deal never stopped, till the very end. For this purpose, he used every constituency possible. A key businessman was used as a channel, a religious godman was wooed, and oli lobbied with all ends of the political spectrum, from the RSS and VHP to the left. He told far-right RSS that Nepal would eventually become Hindu and to the Indian left, he said that this was all a Hindu right-wingers ploy to make Nepal Hindu. If he was “standing up to India”, why did he need to do this?

But the clearest proof of striking a deal with India is in the four point paper that Kamal Thapa as the foreign minister brought to Delhi. Oli did not strike a deal with Madhesi parties. He decided that he would rather focus on the Kathmandu-Delhi end of the equation. For this, he externalised what should have been a domestic solution to the crisis. And he sent his foreign minister with a roadmap to Delhi – this included an amendment on two issues, a mechanism to address federalism and clarification on citizenship provisions. When Indian Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, asked Kamal Thapa whether this had the PM’s sanction, he said yes. Oli then spoke to Swaraj and told him he was committed to it. Further proof, he did the amendment before coming to Delhi and he formed a mechanism right before his visit to ostensibly give the impression to Delhi that he was working on the issue. (It is another matter that this was a ploy and he was not serious about addressing aspirations and the mechanism did not even meet once.) Is this a sign of “standing up to India”?

Oli deployed rhetoric of standing up to India. But through his term, all he wanted was a deal with India – and formally allowed Delhi space by submitting a roadmap to resolve Madhes issue in Delhi. It was because India held him
up to his commitment that Oli was so bitter about Delhi. I am astonished that seasoned Kathmandu editors who know how this game works cannot see this and have decided to turn Oli into a nationalist icon.

In my humble opinion, Oli’s legacy remains that he is the most incapable Nepali PM in at least the last 25 years. He divided the country (perhaps irreversibly) and has jeopardised national unity. He has introduced ethnic majoritarian politics (like the Hindutva lot in India) as an electoral tactic which will lead to constant social tensions. He alienated a generation of Madhesis, the consequences of which we will see a decade or two from now. Lastly, he emboldened the far right and far left lumpens who in the name of nationalism will always be a threat to democracy.

The more I think about it, the more I feel that maybe the editors are not hailing Oli for standing up to India as they are hailing him for ‘standing up’ to Madhes, not recognising diversity, not addressing aspirations of marginalised. Maybe they are hailing him because they believe in the same politics of exclusion and majoritarianism.

Editor’s Note: This article has been adapted from a facebook post by the author.