Nepal PM Oli sends a quiet message to India with a change in his cabinet

Nepal Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has shunted out the country’s deputy PM Ishwar Pokhrel out of the defence ministry in Wednesday’s cabinet reshuffle, a move seen as an effort to reset ties with its giant neighbour India, people familiar with the matter said. As defence minister, Ishwar Pokhrel had been one of India’s sharpest critics in PM Oli’s cabinet.

The change of guard at the defence ministry – PM Oli will hold the charge of this portfolio – has been timed ahead of the Nepal visit of Indian Army Chief General MM Naravane on November 3. Pokhrel has been attached to the Prime Minister’s Office, an assignment that Nepal media said, effectively means he will be a minister without portfolio.

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Random people to the Ishwar Pokhrel

Pokhrel, who was considered one of PM Oli’s most-trusted lieutenants, faced corruption charges in the procurement of medical equipment from China and has also been blamed for messing up Nepal’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. PM Oli had appointed him to lead the country’s high-level Covid-19 crisis management centre.

During his Nepal visit, General Naravane would be conferred the honorary rank of general of the Nepali Army by Nepal’s President Vidya Devi Bhandari in keeping with a long-standing convention between the armies of the two countries on a reciprocal basis. Nepal Army Chief Gen Thapa was conferred the honorary rank of general of the Indian army in January 2019.

PM Oli had laid the groundwork for his India outreach in August when he dialed Prime Minister Narendra Modi to greet him on the occasion of India’s 74th Independence Day. Last month, he stopped the distribution of a new text book that included the country’s revised political map that has riled India. The map shows three strategically-important Indian areas as part of its territory.

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