Nepal’s Prime Minister, K P Sharma Oli, has reshuffled his cabinet, holding the main defense portfolio with himself, in an attempt to strengthen his hold on the fractious ruling party and allow his government to operate smoothly.
Oli has introduced three new ministers, including Finance Minister Bishnu Poudel, and has changed the portfolio of Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ishwor Pokharel.
However, the dissident faction of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal led by Executive Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” was not pleased with the latest move by Oli, which they considered to be one-sided, a source close to the ruling party.
Oli and Prachanda, bitter political rivals, have been trying to build up their party base in recent months.
The finance ministry had remained vacant for some time, and the appointment of Poudel, who is also the general secretary of the ruling party, to the department was a natural phenomenon, the party’s source said.
Though, Oli’s decision to relieve Pokharel from the Ministry of Defense and to retain his portfolio has fuelled speculation in the Nepalese political spectrum and the media.
“Pokharel, who is known for his tilt towards the North, has been transferred to the Prime Minister’s Office, apparently in a signal to New Delhi ahead of the forthcoming visit to Nepal by the Indian Army chief,” senior journalist and editor of Janamanch Weekly Pralhad Rijal said.
Indian Army chief Gen. M M Naravane is scheduled to visit Nepal in the first week of November and the details of the visit are being worked out, a Nepal Army spokesperson said in a statement.
Mainly there might be two reasons behind the removal of Pokharel from the defense ministry – one is his tussle with the Nepal Army leadership and another is that Oli wanted to send a signal to Delhi for holding a dialogue to resolve the border issue with India diplomatically, Rijal said.
Pokharel also came under criticism when as the head of the Corona Crisis Management Committee he procured expensive medical supplies from China to fight the deadly disease without following proper procedures. He has been dragged in alleged irregularities in the procurement process.
Pokharel as head of the COVID Crisis Management Committee could not show a good performance in containing the infection in the country, and he has not been able to make a good rapport with the Army, which is why he has been relieved from the defense ministry, said a senior Standing Committee member of the ruling party.
However, senior advocate and political analyst Dinesh Tripathi said that the Oli government has been a failure in dealing with its neighbors as it has no clear cut vision regarding the country’s foreign policy.
The communist government neither took into confidence the northern neighbor (China) nor the southern neighbor (India) and it is being isolated internationally too, he pointed out.
The defense minister’s growing tussle with the Nepal Army and poor handling of the corona crisis might be the reason behind his removal from the ministry, he said.
Removing Pokhrel as the defense minister is largely guided by his “not-so-good” relations with Army chief Purna Chandra Thapa, The Kathmandu Post reported, citing some knowledgeable sources.
“The Army chief was especially not happy when the national defense force was dragged into the controversy over the procurement of medical equipment to fight COVID-19,” the paper said.