KATHMANDU, Oct 23: The “political gamble” that Prime Minister Dr Baburam Bhattarai took by signing Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement (BIPPA) to win Indian investors´ confidence and attract investments has drawn mixed reactions from major political parties.
While the main opposition Nepali Congress (NC) welcomed the step, stating that the move is in line with the liberal regime and investment policy that the NC embarked on some two decades ago, another opposition party CPN-UML
has fiercely criticized the prime minister for signing the deal.
Chairman Jhalanath Khanal not took strong exception but also threatened to launch nationwide protest against the prime minister´s move.
The prime minister has also been criticized within his party UCPN (Maoist).
Though the establishment faction hailed the deal, hard-liner Baidya faction has opposed it.
“Provisions of BIPPA are no different from Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agreement (MIGA). We have been members of MIGA for years. Clearly, I do not subscribe to the idea that BIPPA is anti-national,” NC leader Dr Ram Sharan Mahat told Republica.
Dr Mahat also noted that pledging security to investors to minimize political risks of investment is not unusual. “What I feel good about this deal is that the UCPN Maoist has finally upheld the correctness of NC´s policy. We welcome the ideological shift on the part of UCPN (Maoist),” he stated.
UCPN (Maoist) stands divided
Reacting to the agreement, the Maoist hard-line faction stated that Bhattarai signed the agreement violating the mandate of the party.
“The standing committee meeting had asked the prime minister to limit his trip as a goodwill visit. So it is against the party decision,” said Maoist Vice-chairman Mohan Baidya who leads the party hard-line camp.He said he would comment on the agreement after going through the details, but argued that the agreement obviously consolidates “India´s monopoly” over Nepal´s economy. But he did not elaborate how.
“The country is facing political instability. So the agreement signed with India would have adverse impacts on the national economy,” he said, adding that the country is not in a “condition to compensate the Indian industries”.
But Maoist spokesperson Dinanath Sharma, who is loyal to the party establishment, stated that the agreement was signed as per the decision of the party standing committee and that his party welcomes the signing of the treaty.
UML Chairman lambastes PM
Former Prime Minister Khanal has threatened to launch nationwide protests against the agreement saying it is against the interests of Nepal.
“The UML will protest against the deal,” said Khanal.
Khanal said the parties have so far not reached consensus on whether or not to sign the bilateral agreement nor have the major political parties adequately discussed the matter so far.
“The prime minister has signed the deal despite his commitment that he wouldn´t sign any deal that would have long-term impact for the country,” Khanal told Republica. He said he is yet to study the provisions in detail and his party would come up with an official view after studying it thoroughly.
Not all the CPN-UML leaders agreed with him though.
Surendra Pandey, former finance minister and politburo member of CPN UML said it was too early to react and give harsh comments on the agreement, particularly as the leaders are unaware of how the agreement has defined and dealt with the long-debated provision on “non-commercial losses” that is supposed to be paid by the state to the Indian investors.
Chairman of Madhesi People´s Rights Forum (MPRF) Upendra Yadav said Bhattarai should have forged national consensus before signing the agreement.
“Had there been consensus in this regard, no one would have protested against the agreement,” he said. Yadav added that he could comment on the agreement only after studying it in detail.
BIPPA had remained controversial so far mainly because New Delhi for almost a decade had been insisting Nepal to compensate Indian ventures for losses due to “civil disturbances”.
But as political strikes and labor stirs can also be interpreted as civil disturbances, Nepal had asked India to categorically define “civil disturbances”.
“As India had been insisting us to agree on its terms, we had not inked the agreement during then Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal´s visit to India in 2010,” said Pandey.
“But I have been told India showed flexibility this time around and the signed BIPPA has changes that Nepal sought. Hence, I think it will be inappropriate to react harshly on BIPPA until we clearly know how the past concerns have been dealt with in the agreement,” Pandey stated.
Nepali officials in New Delhi have clarified that Nepal signed the agreement on Friday only after India agreed to replace the wording “civil disturbances” with insurrection and riots.
What this means is, BIPPA singed on Friday does not compel Nepal to pay Indian ventures for losses due to strikes and bandas. However, the government will have to compensate the Indian firms if they suffered losses due to insurrection and riots.
BIPPA not anti-national: PM
Prime Minister Dr Baburam Bhattarai on Saturday said the BIPPA signed with India is not anti-national and that the investment pact was the need of the hour.
“Everything is trust and confidence,” he said, adding his visit has strengthened the bilateral ties between the two neighbors.
“BIPPA is in the national interest,” Dr Bhattarai said during a press meet on Saturday. “We are open to cooperation in all spheres of common interests. All genuine concerns of India will be addressed,” he said.from republica