Sunday, June 26, 2016

Doctoring The Body Politic

Dr. Govinda K.C.
Lok Man Singh Karki
When Dr. Govinda K.C. demanded the impeachment of Lok Man Singh Karki, the last thing he expected was a prompt official diagnosis of the state of his own mental health.
Yet that was what the prominent orthopedic surgeon got in return for pressing parliament to start proceedings to dislodge the chief of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) for gross dereliction of duty.
Responding to the anti-corruption crusader’s latest campaign, a spokesman for the CIAA went beyond proffering a diagnosis and urged the government to provide prompt and appropriate medical treatment to Dr. K.C.
It’s not hard to understand why the anti-graft watchdog would growl and bite so sharply. Forget the success rate of Dr. K.C.’s hunger strikes. Who does he think he is to so blatantly encroach upon the CIAA’s jurisdiction? If that body’s actions, or lack thereof, were a problem, there are proper remedies for the sovereign people to pursue.
If all it took to fight abuse of authority was for someone going on an indefinite hunger strike, we wouldn’t have had to keeping on bestowing on the CIAA the constitutional responsibility to do so regardless of the political system, right?
And, moreover, doesn’t this penchant for starving yourself go against the Hippocratic oath every doctor, we are told, is supposed to breath in and out at all times? Now, Dr. K.C. isn’t his own patient so that oath doesn’t count, you might say. Okay. But, still, why does such a prominent medical expert get to harm himself, regardless of the nobility of the cause, when millions of Nepalis are in dire need of his healing touch?
Far more people have the ability to deprive themselves of vital nourishment at will than to use surgical and nonsurgical means to treat musculoskeletal trauma, spine diseases, sports injuries, degenerative diseases, infections, tumors, and congenital disorders. What happened to the concept of optimizing the utilization of a nation’s scarce resources?
Yet the issue Dr. K.C. has raised requires investigation at a broader level. Consider the career trajectory of Karki. During the final decade of the bad old partyless system, he was one of the last ‘direct hires’ of the palace. Which meant he didn’t have to go through the normal civil service procedures – exam, interviews, background checks – mandatory for the rest of us schlubs.
Although that degenerate system collapsed a few years after Karki’s induction, many of its ills persisted. During the early multiparty years, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala wanted Karki as the top bureaucrat in the lucrative water resources ministry so bad that he was ready to sacrifice his loyalist minister, Baldev Sharma Majgaiya.
During the much-maligned royal regime, Karki rose to become chief secretary and was accused of aiding and abetting the subversion of democracy and the suppression of the people. Yet half a dozen years later, Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal lobbied so hard in favor of Karki’s appointment as CIAA chief that no one could just say no. To cut a long story short, how does someone like Karki continue exist in our body politic? Maybe Dr. K.C. has a diagnosis?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Right? Wrong? It Depends.

As Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli insists on ‘implementing’ the Constitution within a defined structure and specific time-frame, two of his six deputies find themselves in an interesting position. Kamal Thapa of the Rastriya Prajantantra Party Nepal and Chitra Bahadur K.C. of the Rastriya Janamorcha vociferously oppose two key planks of our new Basic Law.
To their credit, both deputy prime ministers are carried by the courage of their convictions. Thapa has been a tireless campaigner against secularism and federalism. For long, K.C. was almost the lone voice against federalism on the left end of the political spectrum. Bucking political correctness and popularity, they have won the grudging admiration of opponents.
Ordinarily, such convergence between those two coalition partners should have posed a perilous roadblock to Oli. Yet the prime minister is unperturbed. He doesn’t even joke about it in the way he does most other things. He has left it to his minions to point out the crude inanity of it all. What kind of morality allows you to be part of a government whose core agenda you oppose?
Thapa never tires of telling party members and supporters that he would not rest until secularism and federalism are scrapped. Same old, same old. Things, however, are getting interesting on the Rastriya Janamorcha side. After the party announced a two-month-long movement against federalism, some K.C. loyalists can be heard fuming against the tendency in certain quarters to equate their struggle with the one launched by the one-time royalists.
The structure and character of the Rastriya Janamorcha’s movement is pro-people and in keeping with the spirit of People’s Movement II, party spokespeople maintain. The Rastriya Janamorcha sees the RPPN’s movement as going against popular aspirations and the spirit of the times. Essentially, K.C.’s party believe the ex-royalists are waging a religious battle with all its attendant ills for the country and people.
When you have single-issue parties in power as part of a broad coalition, you need to distinguish between – to borrow Mao Zedong’s phraseology – the principal and secondary contradictions every step of the way. If the Rastriya Janamorcha is correct to see federalism being against Nepali nationalism and territorial integrity, then it must at least concede the right of the RPPN to see secularism as an equal threat. Amid the flimsiest layer of common ground, the Maoists would have found it easier to forge a working alliance. But, again, K.C. is not a Maoist for a reason.
So the Rastriya Janamorcha has to justify its participation in the Oli government. And where else to turn but the flip-flopper par excellence? Didn’t Oli’s old party – the MaLe – send legislators to the partyless assembly with the express purpose of exposing the inequities of the palace-led Panchayat system? Didn’t Oli’s current party – the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist – come out in critical support of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 1990 before deciding to become a full and inalienable part of the mainstream?
In an important way, K.C. is doing Thapa’s job for him. Does that mean the RPPN should in any way feel morally compromised vis-à-vis the Rastriya Janamorcha? Certainly not. Thapa knows that if republicanism, secularlism and federalism can somehow be retroactively instilled into the spirit of the People’s Movement, popular will really is in the eye of the beholder.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Spinning Our Heads In The Shadows

Even for a populace inured to clandestineness as the central political contrivance of the soil, the prevailing confusion over the latest ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ is getting a bit out of hand.
Did Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli reach a secret three-point agreement with Pushpa Kamal Dahal pledging to hand over power to the Maoist chairman after the passage of the budget? It depends on who you ask. Oli acts as if he’s heard the term for the first time, while Dahal thinks he has something substantial signed in triplicate. Everybody else is either confident one way or the other or is scratching their heads.
Granted, it took nine years for the secret letters the Ranas and the Nehru regime exchanged alongside the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship to come to light. But at least they did. In today’s age of openness and transparency, we don’t know how Nepal really became a republic. You think that is a mere historical footnote? Try telling us how long you think we will continue to have a president.
This episode is far more serious. From all outward appearances, over a month ago, Oli looked like a man ready to step down. Dahal seemed poised to return to Singha Darbar, with Sher Bahadur Deuba, the freshly elected Nepali Congress president becoming kingmaker. Barely 24 hours later, Dahal made a 180 and pledged his party’s support to the Oli-led coalition government.
The two men sealed a nine-point deal on April 29 in which Oli pledged, among other things, that the government would withdraw all ‘politically motivated’ cases against Maoist leaders and cadres, what really riled the ex-rebels all along. Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhal Nath Khanal and Bam Dev Gautam Oli’s principal rivals in the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) also reportedly pushed Oli to commit to hand over power to Dahal after the budget’s passage.
As Dahal stepped back, it became clear that it was only to reunite with most of the Maoist groups that had broken away from him in the past. In retrospect, Dahal needed that reprieve more than Oli. Cognizant of the favor he extended to Dahal, Oli seemed secure enough to continue selling his dreams – on land, air and sea. (The discrediting of Deuba was no small byproduct.)
So Oli comfortably dismissed the notion of a separate shadowy three-point agreement. If there was one, the premier said, it had to be the draft that he rejected. Of course, Madhav Nepal and Khanal, in their own ways, continue to insist that a power-sharing deal exists. But you could see that as normal politicking.
Then, at a party meeting the other day, Oli suggested that India and the United States were out to get him, his government and his party. The next day, the CPN-UML came out with an official statement denying that Oli ever uttered words even remotely making such an allegation. In fact, the prime minister is still said to be seething at the timing of the ‘conspiracy’ against him, coming as it did on the eve of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States.
The report was carried by a prominent Nepali daily, which, predictably, spawned creative adaptations on online portals. Who ‘planted’ such a story – if that what this was? The Chinese? If so, they seem to have really made inroads in Nepal.
What about the Indians and Americans themselves – either individually or in concert? After all, Sikkim-ization and Bhutan-ization are so yesterday. Nepali-ization has its own characteristics and traits, which are taking shape here and losing it there. One discernible element seems to be the imperative of leaving our collective heads spinning in perpetuity.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Tale Of Twists, Turns And Tangles

Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been boldly proclaiming the inevitability of his ascension to the premiership after Parliament passes the budget.
Ordinarily, Nepalis ought to be biting their nails in anticipation of the composition of the new coalition and cabinet. However, we seem to have become too chastened by other events going on around us.
Suddenly, the air has become thick with talk of the imperative of writing a new constitution. If the recent wave of Kathmandu-centric protests launched by Madhesi and ethnic parties does not bring that about, there is another clock ticking.
Should the country fail to hold provincial and local elections within the stipulated time-frame, we would be back to a situation a la October 2002. No wonder, then, that former king Gyanendra has begun assuring ordinary Nepalis beseeching his intervention that all is about to turn well.
Still, there are too many nagging questions here. Why was it so important for Prime Minister K.P. Oli to be able to present the budget? So much so that Dahal could barely last 24 hours in his avowal to form the next government? What difference would it have made had Dahal replaced Oli last month? Was it a no-no because he was riding on the back of Sher Bahadur Deuba and the Nepali Congress, which has turned quite conservative following the last party election? Never one to forgo an opening, did Dahal seek rehabilitation via a New Delhi-backed regime change, even at the cost of pledging himself to remain a titular head?
If so, China’s much-ballyhooed intervention does makes sense, to the extent that it bought time to facilitate the unification of the various Maoist factions. If Dahal now has a wider berth, surely the Maoists have become decidedly pro-north in their geopolitical orientation.
Publicly, some Nepali Congress luminaries are still trying to blame the fiasco on the misplaced ardor of their newly-elected party president. Yet even they look like victims of wounded pride. Not so much because Dahal buckled but because Oli got a breather. The consolidation of the Maoist forces raises the chances of the Nepali Congress turning further right, precipitating a broader realignment on that flank.
Granted, Dahal was detailing his political plans with the greatest candor while speaking to pro-Maoist media representatives. But he was also the most categorical about things at that venue, stressing that his succession as the new prime minister was inevitable following a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ implicit in the nine-point agreement with Oli. Indeed, Dahal went a step further and pledged to provide impetus to the implementation of the constitution, post-earthquake reconstruction and national unity.
Still, you cannot forget Oli’s record as the longest serving prime minister-in-waiting. Who can really say he is ready to give up so easily. With the local elections having become so central to the survival of the constitution, Oli might strike his own understanding with the Nepali Congress to run the government until then. After all, the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist-Leninist and the Nepali Congress are both interested in ensuring that the Maoists – no matter how rejuvenated internally – still stay in third place in national politics. In that scenario, much would depend on the ‘arrangements’ made during Minister for Law and Justice Agni Kharel’s visit to New Delhi.
And that is where Mohan Baidya’s and Netra Bikram Chand’s strenuous decisions to desist from the Maoist backslapping would make the most sense.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Your Guess Is As Good (Or Bad) As Mine

Against the subdued backdrop of the 50th anniversary of the eruption of the Cultural Revolution up north, efforts at unifying our half a dozen groups still professing fealty to the Great Helmsman gained traction over the weekend. Paradoxically, however, the provisional steps toward unity came after the formal split of the increasingly fractious Communist Party of Nepal-Revolutionary Maoists.
The stark differences in ideology and unsheathed ambitions of leaders that have stymied unity efforts over the past year nevertheless persist. Despite the latest split, the dominant Mohan Baidya faction remains opposed to unity with the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Baidya and his loyalists want a new ‘democratic revolution’ to complete the ‘unfinished tasks’ of the ‘people’s war’.
Still, the latest development represents a symbolic boost for Dahal’s efforts to maintain the relevance of a once-formidable movement within Nepal traditionally splintered left. After months of rumblings of discontent, a majority of the members of the Communist Party of Nepal-Revolutionary Maoists’ central committee decided to elect general secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa as chairman after ousting Baidya. Moreover, Thapa and Dahal have agreed on 13 bases to accelerate formal unification.
In response, issuing a six-page appeal, Baidya accused the Thapa faction of being opportunist and neo-reformist, claiming that the supposed unification process was an effort to destroy the revolutionary ideology of Nepal’s Communist movement.
The compulsions for Maoist unification are evident. Following the triumph of its decade-long rebellion against the old Nepali state, Dahal’s Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), became the largest party in the Constituent Assembly in 2008. From that apogee, crowned by Dahal’s nine-month tenure as prime minister in 2008-2009, the party has systematically gone downhill.
Amid numerous splits, there are currently at least seven separate Maoist formations. The largest of these, the UCPN (Maoist) – still led by Dahal following the Baidya faction’s walkout in 2012 after the dissolution of the constituent assembly – ceded ground to the traditional mainstream parties in the 2013 election. Meanwhile, the CPN-RM itself split in 2014 when Netra Bikram Chand broke away from Baidya and created the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist.
Over the past year, as Dahal has been in negotiations with Baidya, major divisions grew within the latter group over reunification. Thapa, a leading architect and early commander of the ‘people’s war’, wanted the party to give up revolution as its plan of action and instead focus on unification with other Maoist parties. He finally threw the gauntlet with the support of key figures like Dev Gurung, Pampha Bhusal, Hitman Shakya and Lekhnath Neupane.
Substantively, however, questions do remain. For one thing, several senior leaders like Chandra Prakash Gajurel and Hari Bhakta Kandel still back Baidya, who is considered Dahal’s ideological mentor. Also, the Chand-led Maoists clarified that they were not involved in the unification process of what was essentially an alliance of pro-parliamentarian forces. Complicating that picture, however, a group led by Basanta Gharti from Chand’s party is unifying with Dahal.
For its part, Dahal’s party is still licking its wounds after former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai quit over differences with the chairman’s handling of the party last September. It’s hard enough to conclude whether Dr. Bhattarai – the erstwhile chief ideologue of the ‘people’s war’ – is still a Maoist, now that he is the principal votary of a new force. How far the other fringe factions led by Matrika Yadav, Mani Thapa, Pari Thapa and Hemanta Oli would bolster unity remains anybody’s guess.
That may not necessarily be a bad thing for Dahal, who has thrived on keeping everybody else guessing about his next moves and motives.