Sunday, September 20, 2020

Aww Sorry, If It Helps

Here we go again.
A newly unified (sort of) ruling party says it’s going to work toward parliamentary endorsement of the US Millennium Challenge Corporation compact. With clockwork precision, reports emerge of China having encroached Nepali territory in Humla. And just in time, a B-grade freelance journalist in India is arrested for spying for China, and the handler happens to have a Nepali associate.
All this comes amid vibrant discussions among academics and analysts (mostly the YouTube kind) predicting the polity is on the verge of collapse. You might not think so from how well Constitution Day just went. Yet, we are told, some major realignments are occurring. COVID-19 infections and isolations have provided the cover for extensive political consultations.
China, which worked so hard to unite the Communist Party of Nepal and toiled even harder to keep it so, now wonders whether it was all worth it. The Indians and Americans are intent on destroying the current polity, we hear. The Indians, yeah, since they can get rid of Nepal’s new map. But the Americans? They might want the MCC endorsed really bad, but to the point of regime change?
Or maybe it’s the wily Indians there, too. They dragged the Americans kicking and screaming to the 12-Point Agreement in 2005. We know that the Modi government has, for all practical purposes, renounced that course. But what about the External Affairs Ministry and Research and Analysis Wing blokes who wrote the script? Maybe they want Uncle Sam to take the fall with them.
Some suggest Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli’s inner-party composure comes from the satisfaction that he is on the verge of handing the keys of Narayanhity Palace to the ex-monarch. (Now let’s be honest here. From the status the ex-monarch has been enjoying under republicanism within the country and among our immediate neighbors, can we really say that he’s not still the de facto head of state?)
The way Oli seems to be cozying up to the Indians these days may give credence to such suggestions. But the Chinese probably feel a sense of betrayal, too. The last time they could blame Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Sher Bahadur Deuba for not following through on the agreements Oli the anti-embargo crusader had signed up north. But Oli not following through on his own commitments?
Now, don’t for a minute believe that the Chinese aren’t still seething from Nepal’s last-minute refusal to sign the extradition treaty during President Xi Jinping’s visit last year (prompting that Beijing-datelined ‘bones and bodies’ rhetoric when the guest was still here.)
Flashing the ‘India card’ to Beijing after the rancor with New Delhi over the past year may be good tactics. But it’s certainly not good optics, especially when all you’ve got are nine new structures in a remote part of the country. How do we know they’re not structures China built as part of its security arrangements with Nepal when we were fast-tracking our constitution five years ago?
Yet the Indian media are running with the story faster than they did with the last – and subsequently discredited – one. Worse, they are citing those same disgraced stories to back up their current claims.
You’ve got to ask. Is our internal disarray giving the three principal external powers the space to fight? Or is our political establishment letting them brawl to avoid blame for the collapse of Delhi Compromise II?
If it’s all about taking the blame, how about we, the Nepali people, do that? We did let them con our senses out of us, didn’t we?

Monday, September 14, 2020

Waving That Worn Tibet Card, Again?

You’ve got to feel for the Dalai Lama. He’s sitting somewhere minding his own business when his Indian hosts start howling they might now support a Free Tibet.
Yeah, he’s otherworldly. But much can the guy take? He fled Tibet once in his late teens to see if that might help his homeland. Nope. He returned. The blokes in Beijing (or, Peking then) strung him along until 1959. The Americans egged him on to leave once more. They wanted Sri Lanka to take him in. In the end, the Indians did and had to fight a war for that (okay, at least partly).
Over the decades, he won the Nobel Peace Prize, hung out with Hollywood and counterculture celebrities before joining the fraternity himself. His homeland? Barely recognizable. So he sent his older brother in Kalingpong over to talk to the Chinese communists. Just as things seem to go well, it turns out they don’t. China’s rise ushers in a love-hate relationship with the world. His Holiness adjusts his itinerary accordingly. Things go wrong with Beijing, and the Dalai Lama enters the White House through the front door. And when things sour, well, the kitchen door is splashed across television screens.
The recent clashes in eastern Ladakh have weirdly weaponized the Tibet issue. A leaked report to the media revealed the secretive Special Frontier Force, recruited mainly from the Tibetan community in India, was used in the operations in southern Pangong Tso. One soldier Tenzin Nyima died in a mine blast, and independent Tibet’s flags were flown at the funeral. A top Bharatiya Janata Party leader attended the funeral and tweeted about it, before taking it down.
The hyper-realists couldn’t contain themselves. The ‘Tibet card’ was alive. Not sure how the leak affected Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow. The influential Global Times wasn’t impressed. ‘Playing Tibet card will incur damage to New Delhi’, was the headline of Li Qingqing’s commentary. Too cliched? Wait for the money quote: “If India openly supports ‘Tibet secessionism’ on border issues, does it mean that China can also support the insurgencies in Northeast India?”
Granted, Li didn’t say that. He quoted Qian Feng, director of the research department of the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University. But you get the drift.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been gutsier than his recent predecessors. In 2014, he invited Lobsang Sangay, the ‘prime minister’ of the Tibetan government in exile to his swearing-in ceremony. The Modi government has allowed interfaith conferences other events before and after President Xi Jinping’s visit to India. Furthermore, references to Tibet being a part of China ceased being a regular part of  Sino-Indian bilateral statements, ostensibly to force China to be more explicit about India’s sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.
But then, two years ago, the Modi government forced the Dalai Lama to cancel events marking the 60th anniversary of his exile in India. And now, this?
His Holiness is too good a host not to play the part. But he’s probably not too bothered. He’s about to exit the scene. He’s done the most he can: insist that his successor may be a female born outside Tibet. Yet the Dalai Lama probably knows that Chinese intelligence operatives must have already gotten to all would-be parents.
Moreover, he has a pretty good idea that Taiwan might be independent before Tibet. The world can instigate India all it wants, but who else is going to join India on the high Himalayas. The same blokes who missed Bin Laden in Torah Borah?

Monday, September 07, 2020

For Dahal, Too, Enough Is Enough

We’ve been hounding Nepal Communist Party co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ so hard that he has started looking for a new home.
Contractor Sarada Adhikari, whose home in Khumaltar Dahal currently rents, has long been accused of using Dahal’s influence to advance his business. The other day someone even claimed that Dahal was the real owner of the home.
The former Maoist leader’s name has been linked to billions inside the country and abroad. A trip to Dubai, and the predictable headlines come pouring in. The word ‘cantonment’ has become synonymous with you know what. Still, Dahal has rarely responded to such allegations. Enough is enough.
In a candid and wide-ranging interview with Janata Television, Dahal said he had no clue what the house owner did or did not do. “Any contracts he might be working on were signed before I moved in,” Dahal explained. “I have no relationship with him even as remote as that of a cattle seller. Now, I have started looking for another house.” It’s that bad, eh?
Far from being complicit in nefarious acts, Dahal said he actually has been busy exposing them. On the irregularities surrounding fertilizers, the former Maoist chief insisted, he had actually pressed the Minister of Agriculture to identify the offenders and take prompt punitive action.
Dahal appeared particularly stung by what he characterized as below-the-belt allegations of nepotism incessantly heaped on him over the years. Invoking what you could call the Koirala defense, Dahal explained that his entire family had involved themselves in the ‘People’s War’. Why should the sky fall when some happen to get minor responsibilities, he asked?
“Prakash didn’t just take pictures. He carried a gun,” Dahal said of his late son.“Renu formed women’s organizations all over Rolpa and Rukum. How is it nepotism when she contests an election and wins?”
“Bina was active in politics before coming into our family,” he said of his daughter in law, who serves as Prime Minister K.P. Oli’s Water Supply Minister.
Turning to allegations that he has always betrayed someone or the other during his political life, Dahal asked why, if that were so, people like Khadga Prasad Oli, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Narayan Kaji Shrestha would unite with him. I guess we’d have to ask them.
Describing himself a conciliator, Dahal claimed he possessed the natural traits of someone who could bring everyone together. “I used to play the role of mediator in the village, even when I was a child.” So it was because of the state’s callousness that he had to take up arms.
On the party’s ideological orientation, Dahal said that it would be against the spirit of party unity to speak in favor of either multiparty democracy or ‘Prachanda Path’. The party would have to move forward synthesizing both. Perpetual motion, if not permanent revolution, huh comrade?
Addressing charges of ideological deviancy by former Maoist allies such as Mohan Vaidya and Baburam Bhattarai, Dahal said history would be the judge of whether he left them or they had left him. Whatever the truth, we do know who’s better off, don’t we?


Saturday, August 29, 2020

Can This Circle Be Squared?

Despite projecting an outward image of consideration and composure, the Indian government must be wondering how things turned out the way they did in Nepal.
Around this time a decade and a half ago, Indian intelligence agents were ‘chaperoning’ – to borrow one of the more colorful descriptives of the time – Nepali Maoist rebel leaders around New Delhi in preparation for the 12-Point Agreement they were expected to sign with the Seven Party Alliance arrayed against Narayanhity Royal Palace.
Although signed separately in November 2005 by the two Nepali parties, the deal would be set in motion the following month, after the South Asian summit in Dhaka brought China more firmly within the region.
It looked like the Indians believed they could really cut the pesky palace down to size and reverse Nepal’s ostensible northern tilt.
Today, as sections of the Indian media are reduced to portraying Nepal as an appendage of China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi can perhaps afford to shrug his shoulders a bit more than others. After all, the myopia of the then-ruling Indian National Congress myopia created the mess. He was a meager provincial executive.
Shyam Saran, India’s ambassador in Kathmandu who was subsequently promoted to foreign secretary, is in an unenviable spot. His reputation in the international diplomatic fraternity is too remarkable to expose his fiasco in Nepal. Yet somewhere, sometimes his conscience does perhaps bother him. After all, India’s post-2006 doctrine in Nepal still bears his name, even if unofficially.
Between the two royal proclamations in April 2006 in response to mounting street protests, Saran, accompanying Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s special envoy Karan Singh to the palace, succeeded in pulling India back from its support to the twin pillars of constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy.
Galling as the transience of that triumph must be to its architect today, it must pale in comparison to the what Saran sees the Chinese doing in Nepal. Seminal to our story is that Saran went to Beijing as part of their bilateral strategic dialogue and felt he had persuaded the Chinese that a post-monarchy Nepal would still have room for its northern neighbor. Beijing may have pulled the rug from under the palace just a bit, but the wily mandarins had something else up their sleeves.
No one knows what really transpired during those tumultuous days. Karan Singh later conceded that he thought India would continue with its post-1990 policy of a constitutional monarchy and democratic parties. He appeared to suggest that there might have been another Indian conduit with greater sway over Nepal that was responsible for the monarchy’s removal.
Today, as the so-called ‘Shyam Saran Doctrine’ – the purported ‘democratization’ of Nepal’s political space to restore its geostrategic core firmly within India’s sphere of influence – lays exposed, the man still feels he can square the circle.
“While India should reject the Nepali state’s ill-conceived territorial claims, it should do everything to nurture the invaluable asset it has in the goodwill of the people of Nepal,” wrote Sharan, concluding a recent commentary.
Through a mixture of rough banter and convenient historical digressions that only an evocative ex-journalist could pull off, Saran nevertheless mounts a valiant effort. If he succeeds in nurturing the goodwill of Nepalis while negating our territorial claims as ‘ill-conceived’, let’s hope success proves less fleeting.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Why The Messages Keep Getting Murkier

As the task force the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) created to resolve the dispute in the ruling party prepared to submit its report to co-chairs K.P. Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, the other key disputant, Madhav Kumar Nepal, used an uncanny forum to explain what the ruckus always has been about.
“The recent controversy within the ruling party is not for the post, but an effort to make the government change its working style,” the senior CPN leader and former prime minister said during Zoom seminar convened on combatting the coronavirus.
Predictably, the NCP task force suggested a division of labor with Oli continuing to head the government and Dahal exercising all executive powers. The issue of Oli’s resignation would be removed from the agenda of the party’s standing committee meeting.
Similarly, critical political appointments would be made only after discussions within the party, the federal and state cabinets would be reshuffled as required to enhance government efficiency.
These platitudes do little to conceal the reality that this is basically a power-sharing deal that would be sealed more tightly. Recognizing that, Madhav Nepal perhaps felt an urgency to preempt the headlines. Citing his own record of having resigned both the premiership and the party when the situation demanded, Nepal has sought to define the dispute in more palatable terms.
That’s a hard sell. Madhav Nepal, to be sure, possesses a temperament and personality that Nepal’s politics could benefit from in these volatile times. His record, however, is less reassuring. The former general secretary of the erstwhile CPN (Unified Marxist-Leninist) would like us to forget his performance between 1990 and 2006. Those memories are too embedded in our consciousness to exorcise.
From the outset, Nepal had the disadvantage of being perceived as the prime political beneficiary of the mysterious death of UML general secretary Madan Kumar Bhandary. Yet Nepal did lead the party to power in the mid-term polls, even if in a minority capacity. He all but ran the government as deputy prime minister.
His role in the ratification of the Mahakali Treaty, readiness to hold parliamentary democracy hostage to further partisan aims during Girija Prasad Koirala’s second-but-last premiership, and propensity to use the Maoist card against non-communist forces more than blemished his credentials.
Having suggested then-Prince Gyanendra to form an inquiry commission following the Narayanhity Massacre in June 2001, Nepal inexplicably refused to serve on it. In retrospect, that move did much to exacerbate the political rancor the findings unleashed. Without that flip-flop, could the obsequiousness he projected after King Gyanendra’s enthronement at Hanuman Dhoka have seized our imagination?
Madhav Nepal’s eagerness to see Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba postpone the elections in 2002 despite senior Nepali Congress ministers’ assertions that the Maoists were in no position to subvert the vote stood out so vividly.
When King Gyanendra dismissed Deuba and took executive control later that year, the UML made half-hearted protests. Yet instead of mobilizing the party against what he would subsequently term ‘regression’, Nepal diverted the UML to a hastily scheduled party convention.
Whatever instigated the alacrity with Nepal applied for the premiership at King Gyanendra’s call, the move smacked of intense political ambition. When that quest fizzled, he seized the opportunity for the UML to return to power as a ‘partial correction’ of royal regression.
Such irresolution went on to define his republican politics. A doubly defeated candidate becoming prime minister couldn’t have burnished popular faith in the new order. Yet Madhav Nepal expected mitigation of that transgression amid our political transition.
His post-Madan Bhandary alliance with Oli couldn’t have lasted long, especially given the latter’s own conversions. Still, something far more serious must have gone wrong between them. Why would Oli so publicly repudiate Nepal’s offer of good wishes as he prepared to fly to Singapore for medical treatment?
Madhav Nepal’s sustained criticism of the two NCP co-chairs settling vital matters couldn’t gain traction because that’s how they decided to arrange things until the unity convention. Nepal did little to question or explain how the two men could unite such unnatural partners as a duopoly. Did Nepal think coopting Dahal and his cohorts would be as easy as overwhelming Manmohan Adhikary and his Marxist supporters? Madhav Nepal, Jhal Nath Khanal, Bam Dev Gautam and Narayan Kaji Shrestha are as responsible as Oli and Dahal for the state of the NCP.
Implicit in Nepal’s latest observation is displeasure with our disinclination to take him at face value. How can we when he continues to baffle us with enigmatic assertions? For instance, he is alone among top leaders today demanding that the Republic Monument be shifted out of the former royal palace premises. Why? So that it gets a more prominent place in the city landscape commensurate with the momentousness of what it commemorates?
Or are we to give free rein to our imagination? After all, we are told, he singlehandedly drafted the second royal proclamation restoring a legislature whose natural five-year life had expired, hurtling Nepal into nebulous newness. If Comrade Madhav could so conveniently renounce the Constitution of 1990 he was so central in drafting, what’s there to stop him anywhere?