By Deepak Adhikari
Only hours before his election as new Nepalese prime minister on Oct. 11, K.P. Sharma Oli pledged to steer the country out of a weeks-long political and diplomatic crisis that has brought it toe-to-toe with powerhouse India.
Nepal’s southern flatlands had been rocked by weeks of unrest, including violent protests by local groups upset over a new constitution and who -- to Kathmandu’s chagrin -- enjoyed the support of the Indian government.
Oli -- chairman of the Unified Marxist-Leninist Party, the second largest party in Nepal’s parliament -- had his work cut out for him: he was expected to both hold talks with protesters and persuade New Delhi to lift an unofficial blockade on his country.
More than one month on, however, the 63-year-old veteran politician has done precious little to show that he is the man-of-action he presented himself as before assuming the premiership.
For over one month, government negotiators -- led by deputy PM and Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa -- have been holding talks in Kathmandu with the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha, a coalition of four protesting regional parties.
Talks, however, have dragged on for over a month, with both sides blaming each other for deliberately tripping up the negotiations.
At the heart of the deadlock is the issue of federal boundaries enshrined in the country’s new national charter, which was promulgated on Sept. 20 by the overwhelming majority of a constituent assembly.
For the last three months, the Madhesi people -- lowlanders with close ties to their kinfolk in India -- and the Tharus people -- indigenous to Nepal’s southern plains -- have been protesting against a seven-state federal model laid out in the new constitution, which they say is discriminatory.
Protesters demand proportional representation for their people in all state institutions and changes to the new constitution giving protesting groups two federal states in the country’s southern plains.
Delivering his first address to the nation on Sunday, Oli urged India to lift its weeks-long blockade on Nepal, which he said had led to a humanitarian crisis.
"Hundreds of trucks carrying fuel, medicine and food have been stopped on the Indian side of the border," he said in a televised speech.
"As a result, there’s shortage of fuel and medicines threatening the lives of patients," he added.
Oli’s detractors, for their part, have criticized the new prime minister for what they describe as his slow response to the crisis and failing to inspire confidence.
"The address failed to inspire confidence in the general public," Subhash Ghimire, editor-in-chief of Nepal’s Republica newspaper, told Anadolu Agency.
"It [the address] was the usual list of long-term projects, which people are not interested in at this point," he said. "All people care about is fuel, schools and a regular supply of goods."
"He [Oli] has proven himself to be a man of words and no action," Ghimire added. "One month is more than enough for a government… to resolve at least some of the issues."
Krishna Khanal, Nepal’s leading political scientist, for his part, echoed these sentiments.
"The government doesn’t seem much interested in the talks," he wrote in a recent opinion piece for prominent Nepalese newspaper Kantipur. "Nor do the Madhesis have faith on it [i.e., in the talks]."
"Above everything else," he added, "the government’s priority should have been to resolve the current crisis, which has made the circumstances bleak."
Ghimire, for his part, said Nepal stood to lose the most from its ongoing standoff with India, which has consistently supported the protesters.
"It appears the two capitals are talking past each other," he said. "Of late, there has not been any serious talk at the highest levels to resolve the crisis."
"We will have to normalize our relations with India," added the editor-in-chief. "The shortsightedness of our leaders will only destroy our already-crippled economy."
Others, however, like New Delhi-based political observer Niranjan Koirala, say the current crisis is the making of politicians only interested in staying in power -- not in the plight of ordinary people.
"By default or design, the political dispensation in Kathmandu has landed this country in the present difficult situation," Koirala said.
"In its undue rush to distribute the spoils of government perks and position, it [the government] promulgated the [new] constitution against the advice of many of its own informed citizens," he added.
"Now, to cover up for its follies," he went on, "the government is deceiving its own people by diverting their attention and raising a xenophobic atmosphere that makes it very difficult for dissenting voices to be expressed without being accused of being anti-national."
Koirala added: "At the receiving end are the simple and voiceless people, who find themselves fighting a battle not of their making."Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.