Oli, Oil and the Alternative

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Oli, Oil and the Alternative

--By Akhilesh Tripathi 

In event, Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli or KP Oli, as he is more popularly known, has become the 38th Prime Minister of Nepal. Every time when there is a change of guard at Singha Durbar, the hopes and aspirations of the Nepalis rise. They hope that things will get better. Very few prime ministers have risen to the occasion and met the people’s expectations. Let’s hope and wish that Oli will be one among these few leaders. Our best wishes to him!

Oli has taken charge at a very difficult time in the country’s history. On the one hand, India’s unofficial blockade against Nepal continues. On the other, Madhes remains agitated, going on now for more than two months. It perhaps feels more detached from Kathmandu than ever. These are two immediate challenges for which Oli will have to find quick solutions.

In recent times, Oli has earned himself the image of an anti-Madhes politician. It is not that he is unaware of this public image of his. But according to him, this public image is “nothing but an illusion.” That should be why while informing parliament about his candidacy for the election of the new Prime Minister, he expressed commitment to tear down this “illusion” about him in Madhes. “I am not anti-Madhes and my actions will prove this,” he told parliament. This commitment of Oli is positive but now it is the time to walk the talk. We cannot imagine a strong national unity as long as a certain community sees the government head as being against them.

The country has moved ahead on the constitutional front since Oli’s appointment as the new chief executive. Key constitutional positions have been filled and we have recently got a new President, a new Vice-president and a new Speaker and Deputy Speaker. Former communist cadres have been elected to all these vital posts. The President is from Oli’s own party, the CPN (UML). So, we can say that Oli has got what he wanted. Now let’s see what he can do with it!

The signs, however, are not very good on the political front. Two rounds of formal talks have been held between the government and the agitating United Democratic Madhesi Front. But these talks have been inconclusive. Worse, the Madhesi Front has said the government’s crackdown on protesters at the Birgunj-Raxaul border point has sabotaged the environment for talks.     

The Crisis
The long queues of vehicles at petrol pumps and LPG cylinders lined up at gas depots show the impact of India’s unofficial blockade on Nepal. What the country faces is a clear fuel crisis and the shortage of many essential goods including medicines. The government has failed to address this crisis. Nearly 80 percent of public vehicles are off the roads. People are taking risks and travelling on the rooftops of buses that are operating.

It has been more than two months since Madhes shut down. Nearly 2,200 industries that are in Madhes remain closed. Similarly, it’s been more than a month since India imposed the unofficial blockade against Nepal. 

On top of this, the government has been very late to respond to this crisis. It took a long time to sign a memorandum of understanding with China for petroleum supply to Nepal. Amidst this crisis, China has acted like a good neighbour, offering to supply petroleum to Nepal. But the fact is given our poor connectivity with China, we are not in a position to bring enough petroleum and other goods from our northern neighbour.     

Meanwhile, one interesting thing has happened. The Indian media which has been deliberately ignoring the news of India’s blockade against Nepal has, with priority, published/aired the news of China’s decision to provide a million litres of fuel to Nepal. The purpose behind this move could be to draw the Indian government’s attention towards the Chinese gesture and encourage India to become more aggressive against Nepal.

Or is India feeling the fear that Nepal could tilt towards China?

It is difficult to understand why India is angry with Nepal. If India is angry over the promulgation of the new constitution in Nepal as is being said, then that is an utterly wrong decision. The new constitution was promulgated by 90 percent of the members of the second Constituent Assembly which was elected by 80 percent of Nepali voters.

The Alternative
Now Nepal and Nepalis must learn the lesson which they couldn’t after past blockades by India. An alternative source of fuel supply must be found. China could be that source for us. The historic MoU signed between PetroChina, the Chinese government agency dealing with petroleum supply in China, and Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) has not only ended the Indian monopoly but also opened up a new frontier. If India has become a source of sorrow for us in the east, west and South, then there is optimism in the north with China. If India continues to remain a question for us, then the answer perhaps has to be found in China not only for petroleum import but also for third-world trade. 

This is not using the ‘China card’ against India. This is just being pragmatic. This is the geographic compulsion of Nepal. The whole world is trading and wants to trade with China. Then, especially as one of China’s closest neighbours, why shouldn’t we?   

And that is the alternative.

It’s not going to be easy in the beginning. Infrastructures linking the two countries better have to be put in place. And this great task has to begin now. This should be part of the lesson.

If you can’t change your neighbour, where is the harm in changing yourself?

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