How real is the fear of foreign interference? What does the statement of five former PMs indicate?

Five Pms
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Kathmandu: Foreign interference in the internal matters of Nepal appears to be the latest fad among analysts, critics, politicians and leaders. 

In an extremely unusual move, five former Prime Ministers of Nepal–Sher Bahadur Deuba, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhalanath Khanal and Baburam Bhattarai–on Saturday had issued a statement stating, “We, Nepalis, should solely decide on internal affairs. We appeal to all to be cautious about covert and overt interference or engagement of external forces and power centers affecting Nepal’s internal politics.”

This particular statement has generated a fresh debate on the supposed role of external actors in influencing internal politics of Nepal.

This is the first time in the history of Nepali politics that former prime ministers have jointly issued a statement indicating the external interference in Nepal’s internal affairs. With this, questions have been raised: Who they are indicating to? Why did they decide to issue a public statement on such a sensitive issue? Why did they fail to provide detailed anecdotes and evidence, if at all, if there was fear of external interference?

Timing of the statement

Why should not the statement be decoded as just another statement? It is because of the portfolio of leaders who signed the document and timing of the statement. It came at a time when the country is reeling under a fluid political situation. 

This particular statement has generated a fresh debate on the supposed role of external actors in influencing internal politics of Nepal.

On the one hand, there is a strong feeling that former PMs have failed to realize that sovereignty is vested in the people and that they are undermining the role of the political parties to decide the state affairs of the country. Also, the statement has been criticized for raising such sensitive issues without giving proper evidence and explanation. While, on the other hand, there is a discussion among the intelligentsia that the incumbent Oli government has compromised Nepal’s constitution, democratic system, even vital national interests, to hold on to power. Critics describe Oli’s relations with India as ‘unnatural.’ They argue that Samanta Goel’s meeting with PM KP Sharma Oli should be considered as an overt instance of external interference. 

What the analysts say

Nepal Live Today spoke to commentators and analysts to dissect the foreign interference debate. Excerpts:

Geja Sharma Wagle, analyst

The relationship between Indian government and Oli government was mysteriously strengthened, improved and sweetened after the secret meeting of Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Oli with Indian RAW chief Samant Goel. But after that meeting, the political incidents in Nepal are heading toward an unfortunate and negative direction. The House dissolutions are the examples. The statement of five former PMs reflects the grave situation of late, regarding the external influence in Nepal’s politics. 

Oli had reached power using the nationalist card,  against the economic blockade of 2015. Now, a reality has come up about how he is compromising the national interests in the name of improving the relationship with India.

It is natural that two neighbors want to expand their influence in Nepal. Nepal’s two big neighbors want to expand their impacts and influence on Nepal because they are the emerging global powers. That’s why they try to interfere in Nepal’s internal affairs sometimes. China also worked hard to keep the NCP united a year back. There is a kind of strategic rivalry between China and India to extend their influence in Nepal as per their own national interests. So they keep on interfering in Nepal’s internal affairs. 

On the other hand, Nepal’s political parties and leaders seek the blessings of the external powers to get into power and save their power and they serve the interests of external powers. But, no one exceeds Oli in this regard. Of late, KP Oli is also equally or even more responsible for inviting foreign interference than New Delhi and Beijing.

Khadga KC, Executive Director, Center for International Relations, TU

On sensitive issues such as the influence and interference of the internal affairs, either the five former PMs should have provided some categorical evidence on the matter or they should have met the prime minister directly to talk about the matter. 

Most of the Nepali public does not have in-depth political knowledge, they tend to believe what their leaders say. That’s why the former PMs holding such a responsible position should have brought some evidence and facts while speaking on such an issue.

Dr Nischal Nath Pandey, Director at the Center of South Asian Studies

Our nationalism is seasonal. Whenever leaders are in power, they seek help of foreign powers to establish democracy. When the same neighboring countries or foreign powers support the opposite faction, politicians feel like there is foreign influence in domestic politics. They, who seek help from foreign power while being in power, again say foreign influence is not needed in domestic politics.

Currently, there is a representation of a Madhesi party in the government. This might have been a triggering point for five PMs to issue the statement.