Why former Nepal PM Sushil Koirala's death is bad news for India

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The death of Nepal's former prime minister Sushil Koirala could pose a potential threat to the efforts to reconcile the minority rights in the country's new constitution which saw a lot of controversy in the recent past.

And moreover, with the departure of one of the moderate figures of Nepal's biggest political dynasties, Kathmandu's relation with New Delhi could also witness some uncomfortable moments.



Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who said that "India lost a valuable friend" with Koirala's death, must have sensed the challenges that lie ahead now, both in respect to the bilateral relations between the two neighbours as well as South Asian politics.


Koirala's moderate stand helped finding a way out of Nepal crisis

Speaking about Nepal's domestic politics first, India-born Sushil Koirala had made a big contribution towards preparing the Himalayan country's first republican constitution which, it was hoped, would take the nation towards peace and stability. But the new constution saw a serious locking of horns with the ethnic Madhesis claiming that it they were deprived of a bigger say in the government. Clashes ensued and it led to India expressing its dissatisfaction over the Nepali constitution, something which hurt Nepal's nationalist sentiments. Kathmandu accused India of imposing a 1989-90-like blockade, causing Nepal's people immense difficulties.

It was then Koirala, who preceded the current Nepali Prime Minister K P Oli, who acted as a bridge between the more radical Oli and the Madhesi protesters. Two months after the crisis began in September 2015, an ailing Koirala and Oli came together to hold a dialogue with the fellow Nepalis of the Terai/Madhesi region. Even after his return from the US in November 2015 after a treatment for his lungs, the Madhesi leaders went to his residence and started talks that ultimately opened the doors for breakthrough with both the Indian and Nepali leaderships.

The next Nepali Congress leadership: India hopes it is moderate too

Koirala, as the prime minister, had also initiated amendments to the constitution on India's suggestion amid opposition from the CPN-UML. His departure is certainly going to create a vacuum in the centrist Nepali Congress and New Delhi would not know how the successor to Koirala in the party would be like. The Nepali Congress's new untested leadership might now focus fully on registering the downfall of Oli over the Madhesi issue. A polarisation in Nepali politics could create more problems for New Delhi. It is where it will miss a moderate figure like Sushil Koirala.

Koirala was one of the first audience of Modi's fresh neighbourhood policy initiative

In terms of bilateral relations, Koirala also holds significance for he was among the first with who Modi's revived neighbourhood policy found its first audience. He had agreed to "review, adjust and update" the peace and friendship treaty of 1950 so to reflect the new realities in the two countries' relations.

Koirala's efforts in breaking the ice between India, Pak at Saarc summit 

Another important contribution that Koirala had made towards peace in South Asia was during the November 2014 Saarc Summit in Nepal. Then, the prime ministers of India and Pakistan were under immense pressure from various quarters to sit and talk but the strained relations had stopped both from doing so. It was then Koirala, who was the prime minister then, appealed to Modi to take the initiative of reaching out to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, given India's bigger size and clout. He was also behind creating a conducive ambience at the picturesque Dhullikhel retreat where Modi andved the way to some proposed agreements.

When Koirala was asked about his role in breaking the impasse between India and Pakistan, he said: "Saarc means a family. It is natural that hands and souls match here. It should happen and it is happening."

India and PM Modi will be missing the old man and not without the reasons.

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