Fears of an army coup in Nepal are rising after the country's prime minister sacked his army chief
Nepal was thrown into fresh political crisis on Sunday after prime minister Prachanda sacked the country's army chief Rookmangud Katawal leading to fears of an army coup.
The fallout of the decision was immediate with the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), a key Maoist ally, withdrawing support to the government undermining the political stability of the shaky coalition. The standoff between the army and the Maoists has been brewing for weeks and has now finally come to a head.
New Delhi had urged caution and asked Mr. Prachanda to wait till Gen Katawal's retirement in August. For India the concern is the fallout of the decision on the peace deal. Sources said that the multi-layered consensus, which is key to the peace deal, is breaking down in Nepal.
The decision to sack the army chief was taken at special cabinet meeting that was boycotted by four key allies of the coalition pointing to the politically divisive nature of the decision. "The army chief was removed because he failed to give satisfactory explanation on why the government orders were ignored," information minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara was quoted as saying.
The differences were over new recruitment and the army's alleged refusal to acknowledge the superiority of the civilian government were said to be reasons for the sacking. But Nepali president Ram Baran Yadav, who has to approve the decision and is the supreme commander of the armed forces, asked Mr. Prachanda to seek political consensus over the decision.
Adding to the mess, the Maoist-led government had immediately appointed that Lt Gen Kul Bahadur Khadka, who is said to be sympathetic to Prachanda and the next in command, as the new army chief. However, reports from Kathmandu said that the Gen Katawal not only refused to step down but also called an emergency meeting of top generals at the army headquarters.
In the run up to the sacking speculation has been rife about an army coup with a Nepali newspaper suggesting that the army was plotting a coup against the Maoist-led government and that India had stopped it. This allegation was dismissed by New Delhi.
India had warned Mr. Prachanda that the sacking would have a negative impact on an already divisive polity. Over the last two weeks, New Delhi has repeatedly tried to dissuade Mr. Prachanda from sacking the army chief. Sources pointed out that this was still an interim arrangement where concensus was key to the success of the process.
New Delhi has been telling everyone concerned to rebuild the consensus and get on with the drafting of the new Constitution for the country. Last week, India's ambassador to Nepal Rakesh Sood flew to New Delhi to apprise headquarters on the developments in neighbouring country. India does not want instability in Kathmandu especially as it is faced with a difficult situation in Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
The sacking of the army chief comes in the backdrop of serious differences between the UML and the Nepali Congress.