As Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda prepares for an official visit to India, the “southern neighbour” maintained silence as fast-paced developments in Nepal remain the talk of the town here. The air of caution around Mr. Prachanda’s visit is partly due to the volatile political condition in Nepal which has witnessed two successive changes in the ruling coalition that came to power in December 2022 and has been beset by a number of corruption scandals ever since.
Sources have confirmed that a four-day visit is expected to take place beginning on May 31 during which the two sides will hold discussions on a few lingering issues and seal multiple deals.
The Kathmandu Post on Friday said Nepal was likely to sign an energy deal during Mr. Prachanda’s visit to Delhi and that the two sides would conclude at least six agreements during the exchanges here. Quoting Nepal’s Foreign Minister N.P. Saud said the agreements might include those on water and agriculture cooperation.
The prime ministerial visit has been in discussion for the past three months with Mr. Prachanda himself often talking about it which, however, did not find a quick response from the Indian side, with officials merely indicating that such a visit would take place “in fullness of time”.
Mr. Prachanda’s government came to power in December in a dramatic coalition somersault after he dumped the Nepali Congress and was joined by former Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli-led CPN-UML that helped him become the Prime Minister for a third time since the end of monarchy in Nepal.
However, the leftist coalition broke up in February over a disagreement regarding the candidature of the post of President. Subsequently, Ram Chandra Poudel was elected President with support from the Nepali Congress and Mr. Prachanda’s Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre.
The revival of the Nepali Congress-Maoist Centre coalition, however, has been hit by several controversies over the past three months which have drawn attention to the role of the post-monarchy power elite. Topmost on the list of embarrassing revelations is the scandal involving fake Bhutanese refugees who took refuge in the U.S. during the past two decades. An independent MP in the Pratinidhi Sabha, Amaresh Kumar Singh, earlier this month made a forceful intervention in the House and sought an independent investigation into the scam. This was followed by a demand for an investigation into the scam from Rabi Lamichhane, leader of the Rashtriya Swatantra Party.
Mr. Lamichhane, who served briefly as the Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, had to resign on January 27 after the Supreme Court said he did not hold Nepalese citizenship. Despite that setback, he continues to remain a potent challenger to Mr. Prachanda because of a sizable chunk (20 seats) of MPs under his command. Apart from the shifting political sands, the Prachanda government has been in the news for a multi-billion rupees defence deal that Kathmandu has been reportedly negotiating with China. Nepal has not made any official announcement about the arms deal but Mr. Amaresh Kumar Singh continues to argue that the deal has not been cancelled and that it is on track.
Against this backdrop, Mr. Prachanda may have to fall on his past exchanges with India to take forward the agenda for a possible visit beginning on May 31. Mr. Prachanda is one of the longest-serving Maoist leaders in modern Nepal and has been a contender for the top post since the Maoists joined mainstream politics in November 2005. In August 2008, Mr. Prachanda became Prime Minister for the first time, marking a decisive break from Nepal’s past. Ever since he remained a top-level player and served in between a second term as the Prime Minister during 2016-17 when he handled India-Nepal relations in the aftermath of the economic blockade imposed by the agitating Madhesis of Nepal’s plains.
Though India is yet to announce the visit, Nepal’s Ambassador to Delhi, Shankar P. Sharma, called on External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar on Thursday. “Both of us expressed our desire and commitment to further broaden and deepen our strong, age-old multifaceted relationship in days ahead,” said Mr. Sharma after the meeting.