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.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

A Red Herring In A Recalcitrant Republic?

Heavens, the Chinese must have promised the sky this time.
If the angle broached about in the barest of terms vis-à-vis the latest political circus is anything to go by, Beijing thwarted New Delhi’s attempt the dislodge the government led by Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli.
Truth be told, the mandarins up north have said a lot of things to a lot of Nepali leaders over the centuries. If the accumulated wisdom is worth anything, it counsels against putting too much stock in those promises.
Prime Minister Oli, however, seems to be breaking new ground here. This begs the logical question: what did the Chinese say that made our once Fierce One step down several notches in the docility index?
That something was cooking somewhere was all too clear to the national olfactory senses. Former king Gyanendra dashed to Delhi and back so suddenly that pictures of a simple ex-royal family rafting excursion merited much more than the society pages.
That was after newly elected Nepali Congress President and parliamentary party leader Sher Bahadur Deuba returned from an extended medical trip to the Indian capital that camouflaged political consultations. United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, for his part, reportedly refused to fly out in that direction for fear of precipitating a political backlash.
Yet Dahal barely lasted 24 hours in his public avowal to lead a new government with the help of the Nepali Congress. Murmurs of a Chinese hand started appearing, but never took a more sonorous form. Instead, Oli advised President Bidya Devi Bhandari not to proceed with a planned visit to India. (That, too, after the head of state breached protocol by detailing part of the substance of her putative agenda.)
Deputy Prime and Foreign Minister Kamal Thapa – representing the ostensibly royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal – ended up becoming the most forceful and seemingly only defender of the Oli government during its hours of gravest peril.
In an address to parliament, Oli became rather outspoken in the second half of his speech against external machinations. When the government announced that it had recalled Ambassador Deep Kumar Upadhyaya from New Delhi for actions incompatible with his status, the weirdness got weirder. Such phraseology, customary when the host government expels a foreign ambassador, was a first in the annals of Nepali diplomatic history.
Granted, the Chinese have reason to be miffed by apparent Indian threats to the Oli government following the ‘groundbreaking’ agreements signed during the prime minister’s recent visit up north. Yet, amid the latest political crisis, nowhere have the Chinese equivalent of institutions like the Research and Analysis Wing or individuals like Sukh Deo Muni been identified as complicit in the machinations.
What specific threats, if any, did the Chinese make to precipitate Dahal’s U-turn? Did they remind Nepal of its responsibilities as the last tributary to the Middle Kingdom? Did they reiterate Sun Yat-sen’s lament over how China had lost Nepal to imperialism? Did they invoke the Great Helmsman’s dictum that Nepal constituted one of the five fingers of the Chinese hand? Or did they implore Dahal to remember Zhou Enlai’s paeans to ‘blood ties’ between the Chinese and Nepali peoples – and all that that implied?
India’s perceived dilution of its vaunted strategic autonomy to join the China containment/encirclement bandwagon gives credence to an escalation of the dragon-elephant rivalry in Nepal. But have the stakes risen so high for the Chinese to mount such an overt move to checkmate the Indians?
Or could all this be just a red herring? Specifically, what are the chances that the entire episode was a by-product of the turf wars within India over its Nepal policy? Those advocating the logical culmination of the 12-Point Agreement process (whatever that might be) have long been contending with the rival school demanding a review and rectification of that approach. After all, passions are as high on each side as are the perceived righteousness of those respective causes to their proponents.
And there is precedent here. The Indians benefited for a while claiming that the Maoist ‘People’s War’ in Nepal was being run by China, while providing support and sanctuary to our Maoist leaders on Indian soil. Of course, Beijing was too smart not have sought to mobilize our Maoists to their advantage. But the irony was the China almost ended up reaping the entire benefit of India’s propaganda campaign after our Maoists rose to power.
Galling as that irony still must be across the southern border, there must be recognition of a greater short-term benefit in pointing the finger to the Chinese as the Indians struggle to come up with a coherent and credible policy on Nepal.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Straight Talk About Self-Image And Identity

Regularly mocked for what many consider his craven jocularity in the midst of epic trials, Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli hardly gets credit for how deftly he often deploys trivialization as a tool of political tradecraft.
Consider this example from just the other day. His government was ready to open talks with the agitating Madhesi parties on their long-standing demand for re-delineating federal provinces, the prime minister said. But those parties should also consider that the non-Madhesi population could begin demanding the redrawing of provincial boundaries along a north-south axis.
Before that latter suggestion could take on the form of pre-emption, Oli conceded that the raw emotions triggered by the recent months-long protests would take some time to settle. However, he was at a loss to explain why concerns over Nepal’s Constitution was more pronounced outside the country than within.
Oli wanted the top job so bad that the gods, too, seemed a little vexed last year. Days after he stood atop Dharahara to usher in a new national spirit in the new year, the fabled edifice collapsed into the rubble of the Great Earthquake of 2072 Bikram Sambat. That calamity should have cast a dark shadow on Oli’s political aspirations.
But the aftershocks produced enough political consensus for the promulgation of the Constitution, assuring Oli’s ascension to the premiership. The Indian ‘blockade’ stymied his next steps. A man who once seemed to bask in a pro-India label as long as it advanced his career turned out to be one of the few Nepalis to stand up steadfastly to the ultimatums of our southern neighbor.
What’s more, he brought in two inveterate critics of India as deputy premiers. Ultimately the Indians gave him a red-carpet treatment in New Delhi to let him subsequently visit Beijing. Any shift in Nepal’s geopolitical locus could be measured later and dealt with accordingly.
The Indians seem divided over the import of and implications from Oli’s Chinese sojourn. His party rivals, too, have chosen to moderate their positions vis-à-vis the premier. Former prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, who until a week ago was moping over the monopoly Oli was wielding as chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist, has climbed down a bit. He now stresses the need for consensus among the three major political parties on implementing the Constitution, preferably by roping in the Nepali Congress into the government.
In public comments made in Dhankuta the other day, Madhav Nepal said the country had witnessed many aberrations and anomalies due to political instability, but was quick to assert that the government’s spirit was being dampened by some unfavorable remarks made by a few leaders from coalition partners.
The prime minister’s warning that his government would not hesitate to confront forces that were taking unconstitutional measures has the ability to enflame the situation, especially amid forebodings of gloom percolating from across our borders. Yet Oli’s straight talk might also force some of us to sit back and assess the deeper roots of our malaise.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Oh Those Garish Alien Growls

Oh those pesky foreigners. Can’t they just shut up, for a change?
It’s been hard enough to ward off snarkiness of the European Union-India joint statement on the so-called ‘non-inclusivity’ of our brand-new Constitution.
Barely had international human rights watchdogs begun growling over our treatment of one of our commissioners than the United States Department of State annual report slammed our record.
The noises Christians are making over the official de-calendarization of Christmas are beginning to be heard on quaint albeit persuasive international outlets. Guess everyone feels safe dumping on us now.
Yeah, yeah, it’s our fault. We promised the sky, knowing full well that our altimeter was screwed up from the start. Sure, we should have been a bit more careful taking in those dollars, euros and pounds circa 2005-2006. But who are we really kidding? It’s not as if those irksome aliens are somehow blame-free.
Of course, we promised to take out the monarchy. And did our bit by dragging the mainstream parties behind us. But we never made specific guarantees about what would follow.
Foreign money came in handy to turn Hindu Nepal secular when the iron was still hot. But who knew that India would get its most zealous Hindu nationalist government ever and set about imperiling republican Nepal?
We did try to tame the Tibetans. The Chinese just kept asking us for more, without stopping to ponder their own role in aggravating the situation.
Today those imbeciles centralizing power in Brussels, Washington DC and New Delhi have the nerve to tell us to move swifter on federalism. There’s a reason why all we’ve been able to do is give the provinces numbers. How can they push us to name provincial capitals already?
As the public face of the change in 2006, I recognized the pitfalls before me personally. The ‘people’s war’ had acquired such mythical status in the anti-monarchy struggle that the mainstream parties found it politically expedient to take a back seat in the months following the April Uprising. It felt good to be able tell our restive ex-fighters that we were driving the peace process. Those scalawags in those seven parties were just biding their time.
Civil society leaders, too, sung paeans to the purity of the Maoists’ pursuit of violence in defense of the people. When they contrasted it with the venal bloodthirstiness of royal army, it even began to sound real.
Did I, as supreme commander of the army that liberated the people, think I possessed phenomenal powers? Not a chance. In hindsight, though, I should have worked harder to pierce the picture that was settling in the public psyche.
Instead, I tried to break new ground as if we were all still in fighting mode. Not that I didn’t notch up successes. Within the first 100 days of assuming office, I met with the top leaders of China, India and the United States, the three principal drivers of our country’s destiny. Little did I recognize the misfortune I was incurring for myself – and for the country.