New Delhi: In his first visit abroad since being sworn in, Nepal’s Prime Minister Pushpa Kumar Dahal ‘Prachanda’ will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday for a visit expected to see a big push for Indian infrastructure projects in Nepal and the post-earthquake reconstruction.
On Thursday, Mr. Dahal attended a big reception at the Nepal Embassy attended by Union Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh. On Friday, he will meet
separately with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Power Minister Piyush Goyal, who will call on him at the Rashtrapati
Bhavan where he is staying as a state guest.
But even as New Delhi welcomes Prachanda, as the Nepal Prime Minister and former Maoist guerrilla leader is popularly known, it is acutely aware of his challenges,
which one foreign diplomat described as “Himalayan”.
To begin with, Prachanda has a limited tenure in office, as he is due to hand over charge to Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba next April as part of a
power-sharing arrangement, paving the way for elections under the new Constitution in 2018.
However, the changes to that Constitution, which would incorporate Madhesi demands for inclusion, reconfiguring state boundaries, proportional representation for
elected representatives as well as changing citizenship laws, are all extremely complex and will take time.
They will also take a two-thirds mandate, or 397 votes, in the Assembly that Prachanda does not have at present. The CPN (Maoist Centre)-Nepali Congress ruling
coalition garnered 363 votes during the vote of confidence when he ousted the then Prime Minister Oli. Even with the addition of RPP leader Kamal Thapa’s 25
votes, he would be nine short — observers say each amendment will be a hard task.
Despite promises to register the amendments that India has strongly advocated before arriving here, Prachanda has not yet moved on them.
When asked, Indian officials said they did not want to be seen as interfering in Nepal’s affairs and would like to focus, during this visit, on projects India had
promised, including the 5,600-MW Pancheshwar multi-purpose dam project, and others such as the Upper Karnali and Arun III. Kickstarting a 600-km stretch of
the Postal Highway, or Hulaki Rajmarg, is a priority.
To speed up the process, India is now shifting from constructing the projects to outsourcing them to local contractors and overseeing them.
Another challenge for Prachanda remains reconstruction work after the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal, even when the GDP grew at a miniscule 1 per cent last year.
While India has announced $1 billion in aid for the reconstruction, strained ties and the lack of work on the ground have held up its disbursement.
According to officials, Prachanda’s government has made some headway in distributing the first tranche of Rs. 50,000 per home destroyed, but that is a small start
given that much more is required to reconstruct close to 8,00,000 homes damaged or destroyed.
Prachanda’s biggest challenge, however, is the tightrope walk between good ties with India and not being seen as too close, given the anti-India rhetoric of his
opposition UML party.
“I urge all the people in the country not to dictate to me and let me take a risk in favour of our national interest,” Prachanda said in a telling statement at a think-tank
before leaving Kathmandu for India.