US Deputy Secretary of State calls KP Oli aka ‘senior comedy artist’; Nepal on collision course with India

Nepal and India on confrontational mode, yet again

A day after police in Nepal shot dead three protesters in the eastern plains district of Morang, a concerned United States hastily contacted Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli on Friday to express its concern and urge restraint.

A press statement said Deputy Secretary of State Antony John Blinken called Mr Oli, who has lately been referred to as a ‘senior comedy artist’ due to his series of comical rhetoric, to discuss the ongoing political unrest in the country.

Deputy Secretary Blinken ‘urged Prime Minister Oli to represent the interests of all Nepalis and take concrete steps to resolve the political impasse, emphasizing the importance of all sides working toward a compromise and not taking unilateral steps’, a statement issued by the Department of State said yesterday.

Antony Blinken
US Deputy Secretary of State Antony J Blinken, left; PM Oli, top right and four leaders of the Madhesi Front, bottom right.

The tone of the US statement represents a rising concern both in Nepal and across the world that the Nepalese security forces are resorting to unnecessary, excessive force to control crowds of Madhesi agitators who have been demanding re-demarcation of the federal states. “Deputy Secretary Blinken called for Nepali authorities to exercise restraint in responding to protests,” the statement added. Mr Blinken also reminded Nepal that the United States stands ready to ‘partner with Nepal to ensure earthquake reconstruction efforts are efficient, transparent, and inclusive’.

As for the deaths in the eastern township of Rangeli on 21 January, although Madhesi leaders claimed that the demonstration was largely peaceful, local journalists reported witnessing protesters with knives, sticks and other items that could be used as weapons.

Madhesi Front, a coalition of Terai-based political parties, represents Nepalese citizens living the southern and eastern plains districts of Nepal who share common linguistic and cultural ties with India. They claim Kathmandu as well as its new constitution are unjust towards their cause.

India has been openly supporting the Madhesi agitators and their cause and earlier indicated that the blockade along Indo-Nepal border would be relaxed if the constitution was amended to address demands of the Madhesi people.

However, Indian ambassador to Nepal Ranjit Rae told PM Oli yesterday that the southern big brother would not do so if the security forces continued to use force to suppress the protests. The envoy reportedly met Mr Oli and expressed his concern at the failure of the talks between Madhesi Front and the three main political parties of the country (Nepali Congress, CPN – UML and UCPN-Maoist). The controversial diplomat apparently told the Nepal PM that if his government unilaterally went ahead with the First Amendment Bill to the Constitution of Nepal (without taking Madhes-based parties into confidence) then the blockade would not be lifted, Onlinekhabar reported yesterday citing its source.

The deliberations on the First Amendment concluded on Friday but without the participation of Madhesi lawmakers. Now the problem is, the parties have vowed not to stop even if they cannot reach a deal with the Front on the Bill. They have agreed to put the bill to vote today, January 23. According to local media reports, a revised proposal incorporating the concerns of the Madhes-based parties will be endorsed if there is an agreement with them prior to the vote but if not then the bill will be endorsed in its current form.

This line of the Nepalese political parties has put the Himalayan nation on a definite collision course with the Modi Government.

“The amendment will be endorsed with or without a deal with Madhesi parties,” said Nepali Congress Chief Whip Chin Kaji Shrestha to local journalists, “However, it is also likely that the bill will be revised to incorporate the concerns of the agitating parties.”

A total of 394 lawmakers will have to endorse the Bill for it to be passed. There are 597 lawmakers in the parliament.

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