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Nepal PM, his deputy at odds over foreign policy

Publication Date : 04-09-2012


Serious differences have cropped up between Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Narayan Kaji Shrestha over the foreign policy conduct.

This manifested again during their recent visit to Iran where the PM held a one-on-one with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the Non-aligned Movement (NAM) summit last week.

Shrestha "felt deeply humiliated" by the PM who conspicuously sidelined him at the talks and denied access to the crucial bilateral meeting, according to a source close to the DPM.

Moreover, the foreign minister’s aides saw the move as violation of diplomatic code of conduct where none of the officials from the foreign ministry was present.

There was also no de-briefing from the PM’s side after the meeting, a standard diplomatic practice, officials said. No official communique was prepared following the talks between the two PMs.

Sources at the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu said there was no attempt on the Indian side to bypass Nepali officials. This happened because the Indian PM was busy because he was put at the podium at the inaugural session, a move that was not planned earlier. “This led to the cancellation of several bilateral meetings,” said the embassy source, “including those with Nepali officials.”

The two PMs met for five to seven minutes after the inaugural session and it wasn’t planned either, said the embassy sources. “Because it was an unplanned meeting, no one was present from the Indian side either.”

The talks focused on two issues -- Nepal’s political situation and prospects of 200 MW electricity export from India.

The PM shared some contents of the talks with the DPM while still in Tehran. However, that was only after the DPM read news reports of the bilateral talks online and asked the PM whether such a meeting had taken place between them.

The spillover of the Tehran summit started right after the Nepali delegation landed at the Tribhuvan International Airport late on Saturday when DPM Shrestha remained conspicuously absent from the press meeting addressed by the PM.

This, however, is not the first time that the two Maoist leaders have been at loggerheads over the foreign policy conduct. “This is a downright disgrace for the foreign ministry and Minister Shrestha,” former Foreign Minister Prakash Chandra Lohani said yesterday, adding this is typical of a dysfunctional cabinet.

The cold war between the two started as far back as October last year in New Delhi where the PM embarked on his first bilateral visit to India and signed the Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (BIPPA). After the BIPPA signing, Shrestha has been constantly telling journalists and party colleagues that even the Indian PM had asked Bhattarai “to think carefully whether the bilateral agreement will have any political fallout back home.”

“But the PM still went ahead and signed BIPPA,” Shrestha told the Post. “I have been opposing the move since then and I am of the view that the accord was ill-timed.”

In December last year, Shrestha took exception to the PM’s early public disclosure of the dates of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s Nepal visit.

“That was a very premature act on the part of the prime minister and that has been perceived as a serious diplomatic lapse,” the media quoted the DPM as saying.

Still, party insiders see the differences between the two “more in conduct than on policy issues, though they view New Delhi differently”.

“Please note, both are party vice chairmen, both come from the same district, Gorkha. That makes them natural competitors in domestic politics which manifests in their conduct,” said a party leader who has maintained close ties with both the leaders.

“Both do not have a stronghold in the party organisation and both are constantly vying for support from the party chairman,” said the leader.

There is a deep division and confusion in the Maoist party over what is nationalism and how should Nepal conduct its foreign policy and that finds it reflection in the way the two leaders approach their foreign policy, the leader said.


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