Saturday, April 12, 2014

Whence Cometh Comrade Nepal’s New Confidence?

When Madhav Kumar Nepal, senior leader of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML), flew out to New Delhi late last month to visit his ailing party rival Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, Maila Baje had an ephemeral sense that the former premier was somehow finally waving the white flag.
After Oli won the parliamentary party leadership contest against UML chairman Jhal Nath Khanal, Nepal seemed more aggrieved than the man who had just lost. Nepal subsequently refused to attend a party meeting convened at the bedside of Oli, convalescing in a Kathmandu hospital, saying it went against organizational propriety. But we all knew that the hurt had not abated. Then Nepal began complaining about how he felt he was being sidelined in the party.
But something different happened in New Delhi and Comrade Nepal returned home with new ebullience. He immediately issued a public challenge to Oli and his newfound ally, Deputy Prime Minister Bam Dev Gautam, to face him first in their bid to wrest control of the full party. “Madhav Kumar Nepal is the man who went head to head with [former king] Gyanendra,” he said at a recent party meeting. “I am ready for the battle as I have not done anything to fear.”
Internally, Nepal sought to rein in Khanal by backing him as the justified chief of the High Level Political Committee in place of Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who got the position.
And not quite wasting a moment, Nepal expanded his sights to Prime Minister Sushil Koirala. He called Koirala a ‘coward’ and ‘incompetent’, ostensibly for the premier’s lack of enthusiasm for holding local elections. Nepal is now mocking the prime minister’s frugal and spartan ways, even to the point of describing them obstacles to progress. “A person who prefers to stay in a Kuti (hut) and behaves like a Jogi (saint) cannot resolve the problems confronting the nation”, he said the other day, suggesting that the constitution was unlikely to be promulgated within the stipulated deadline.
Now, nothing seems to have happened within the country that would suddenly embolden Nepal to fire off thus in all directions. The UML, in the run-up to the party convention, is still busy trying to figure out whether the April 2006 uprising was a political or social revolution.
So something must have happened in New Delhi. Did Nepal somehow get a sense that Oli’s health would not permit him to progress beyond his current status in the party? (More to the point, did someone leak Oli’s medical records to Nepal?)
Or did Nepal confront Oli with ‘goods’ he had on him so as to stanch his ambitions. (Those in the know speak of a lot of skeletons in both closets predating the mysterious death of the UML’s founding general secretary, Madan Bhandari.)
Given that Khanal, Gautam and party general secretary Ishwar Pokharel all visited Oli in Delhi, could there be some grand party compromise in the offing?
Or might Nepal’s renewed confidence be traced to separate talks he might have held with an entirely different group of interlocutors somewhere deeper in the bowels of the Indian capital?

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Revolt Rant And Rude Reckoning

Just as it seemed our constitution-drafting process was gaining some traction, we had to be sent twizzling on threats of another revolt.
The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, led by Mohan Baidya, had been threatening a return to armed violence well before he and his hardline loyalists broke away from the main organization a couple of years ago. The party, which boycotted last November’s election, used some violence in an effort to subvert the exercise, but you could sense some dithering there.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s faction had ceased using the R-word for some time, perhaps seeking to contrast itself from the Baidya faction and cement its role in mainstream democratic politics.
The United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist’s poor showing in the election certainly disheartened the leadership. But they still behaved responsibly enough to accept the outcome, while deciding to mount a slugfest internally.
Dahal’s patience has now run out. What evidently snapped him was the latest Supreme Court ruling that serious crimes committed during the conflict period could be processed under existing judicial provisions.
Dahal, whose party wants to see such cases – involving both sides during that tumultuous decade – handled by a putative Truth and Reconciliation Commission, sees in the apex court verdict a ploy to block such a commission. That would derail the constitution-drafting process and jeopardize the entire peace process, Dahal warned in an address to a party affiliate in Kathmandu.
Critics gleefully accuse the Maoists of using the revolt threat to forestall any possibility of their being dragged to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. That may be true. But consider the scenario from the perspective of the erstwhile ‘People’s Warriors’. They joined the political mainstream through the 12-Point Agreement touting themselves as victors, even if partial ones, having dragged the mainstream parties toward their agenda of a constituent assembly and republicanism.
Without their support, the Maoists believe, the mainstream parties would still be mounting their zillionth round of protests against royal rule within the vicinity of Ratna Park.
In the run-up and immediate aftermath of the April 2006 uprising, some mainstream party leaders conceded that the Maoists’ resort to arms was morally loftier than of the then-Royal Nepal Army’s. The Maoists were using the gun to defend the excluded and marginalized while the military was doing so against the people.
Eight years later, the Maoists in both factions feel they are being held exclusively responsible for all 15,000 deaths during the ‘People’s War’. The political parties, for their part, are coddling the military.
In the public domain, Dahal’s latest outburst cannot be viewed outside the shadow of the Indian elections, which looms large over the Nepali political spectrum. Everyone, after all, is debating in every way how the impending victory of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would impact India’s policy toward Nepal.
At first glance, the Maoists may seem to be on the receiving end here. It might serve the Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist and the royalist right well to delve into some history here. It was during Atal Behari Vajpayee’s BJP-led government that the Maoists became more entrenched in their safe haven in India. So much so that, barely a year after the Narayanhity Massacre, our Maoist comrades found themselves in proximity talks with elements of the BJP-led government. And that’s just the story we know so far. There surely must be much more what went on then that we do not know.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Raising Goats? No Kidding

When Dr. Baburam Bhattarai expressed his desire the other day of spending life after politics rearing goats in his home district of Gorkha, Maila Baje for a minute thought the man had finally thrown in the towel.
Yours truly should have realized that retirement would be a long way off for a man who has just inspired a national debate on the urgency of a new national political force.
Still, Maila Baje couldn’t be blamed for jumping the gun on this one. In the aftermath of the United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist’s electoral whipping, more than once our perpetually malcontent luminary has been rumored to be considering retirement.
Since he appears to have lost his latest do-or-die battle with party supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal, there was little our comrade really had to live for, politically speaking, that is.
And isn’t a threat to return to the rustic reaches of the family farm tending livestock what President Ram Baran Yadav has perfected as a response to every political assault he has been facing in recent years?
That said, Bhattarai’s speech served to reveal more about the ideology he has long represented. “The Kathmandu-centric attitude of people must be changed and we should go back to the villages,” Bhattarai told a gathering organized by the Gorkha Tourism Society. “Parents send their children abroad for further study. The children finally settle there and their parents end up in the capital to spend rest of their lives. This trend has to be discouraged.”
Whether anyone ventured to ask why was not clear from the published reports. The we-know-what’s-best-for-you-better-than-you-do conviction is at the root of the international left. When the ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’ that left the lips of leftists usually had the force of coercion in the old days, it was one thing. In their headlong plunge into the democratic mainstream, the Maoists have not quite realized that there is no reason for the rest of us to keep conceding the premise of the debate.
Why indeed should the Kathmandu-centric attitude of the people change? And why must the trend of children settling abroad and their parents ending up in the capital to spend the rest of their lives be discouraged? Just because some have the opportunity and most don’t mean that the few should forgo their desires?
Bhattarai also suggested that the new generation of people switch to entrepreneurship by giving up the mentality of doing a job. How can they do that in the climate of diminishing opportunities for the regular guy? After all, Bhattarai, who railed so much against this stacked deck, did little to even the field.
People like Bhattarai might still want us to judge them by the purity of their motives, not by the results of their actions. Nepalis have long crossed that river. Yet he persists in grandiosities by sending acolytes like Bhim Prasad Gautam to tell us that he wants to revive the global communist movement from Nepal in the twenty-first century through the articulation of new thoughts and ideas. And what might those be?
Let’s consider what Bhattarai did say at Gorkha. First, his village lacked fertile land suitable for agriculture, which was why he would rear goats, an undertaking with greater prospects locally. Then he committed himself to developing Gorkha as a ‘model zone of development’. Now, aren’t those strings of words coming straight out of King Birendra’s vocabulary?
Ultimately, Bhattarai is free to raise goats in his village or raise arms nationally again. If things don’t work as planned, he better not start blaming the rest of us again.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

All He Said Was 'Let’s Leave Politics To Politicians'

Amid the national jubilation over the Nepal’s spectacular debut at the ICC World Twenty20 cricket tournament, it was safe to assume there was a party-pooper or two lurking somewhere out there.
Comrade C.P. Gajurel struck faster than Maila Baje expected anyone would. The senior leader of the hard-line Baidya faction of the Maoists described the national craze as an ‘anomaly’, which would not help change Nepal. In his estimation, only politics could.
So this bloke Gajurel had to inject politics into sports. We started burning him in effigy, forcing a man rarely on the defensive to apologize, although he did not exactly walk back his comments.
How dare he attempt to politicize sports at such a moment of national glory? But wait a minute. Have the two ever really been separable in Nepal? And let’s not forget that we’re talking about cricket here.
The game, to be sure, has come a long way in the country over the past two decades. It is no coincidence that this happened after the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990.
During the Panchayat era, cricket was largely perceived as a relic of the British Empire. Since Nepal was never officially part of that constellation, cricket was kept at bay.
Moreover, with India dominating the game in the region and beyond, the drivers of the partyless system felt they could not afford to open another vulnerable front for cultural encroachment from the south.
So dismal was cricket’s lot here then that its patrons, many of whom were part of the partyless system’s elite, had to work in the shadows, often pouring their personal resources into the game.
Today, when cricket has gained so much ground, constituencies skeptical of India’s motives and intentions in Nepal are understandably upset the most. (One wonders how the story might have evolved had the Chinese, too, been enthusiastic cricketers.)
But before indulging in wholesale criticism of Gajurel, you have to consider what he really said. It wasn’t the game per se that annoyed him. He has since clarified that the ‘anomaly’ he referred to pertained to politics.
Come to think of it, Gajurel himself may have found some solace in TV or radio coverage of cricket matches when his existence in India – both subterranean and in incarceration – had tended to become particularly stifling.
What really irked Gajurel was the contrast being drawn between our cricket players and our politicians. Specifically, that our players were a disciplined fraternity capable of producing results than were our politicians. Yet even the most avid follower of the game knows that running up and down the pitch is the same thing as running the country.
We’ve been here before. There was a time, after the April 2006 uprising, when civil society luminaries arrogated to themselves the task of leading our leaders. Once the scale and scope of ‘transforming’ Nepal into nebulous newness became apparent, prominent civil society leaders returned to becoming back-seat politicians, pretending to be mediating between the people and the state.
Our cricketers have done us proud. They have lifted the national morale in a way that would be hard – if not impossible – for politicians to replicate anytime soon. Sportspeople, like other important members of society, will always have distinctive roles to play in our national life. But politics should be the preserve of politicians. This also means that – to stretch Gajurel’s point a little further – politicians should quit acting like batsmen and bowlers.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Madhav Nepal’s Futile Fear Of Irrelevance

Electoral triumph has been kind of unforgiving on Madhav Kumar Nepal. Having won from both constituencies he contested in the last November’s elections, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) leader should have been exuding a palpable sense of pleasure, if not an outright aura of vindication.
Regularly derided for having snuck into the last assembly through the backdoor before maneuvering his way to the premiership, Nepal, in a sense, became emblematic of the general ailment gripping the post-2008 polity. Yet, as head of government, he ended up projecting much confidence here and abroad, even if at times it seem quite surface-deep.
Of late, though, our comrade seems uncharacteristically forlorn. Sure, he continues to banter along, but it comes laced with an unmistakable strain of bitterness. Those close to him – admittedly a rapidly dwindling community – attribute this to his sense of being sidelined in the party.
After K.P. Sharma Oli defeated party chairman Jhal Nath Khanal to become the UML’s parliamentary party leader – in effect, the party’s candidate for prime minister – Nepal started aching and agonizing more than even Khanal did.
As Nepal began voicing dissatisfaction with the way things were going in the party – even boycotting some organizational meetings – critics stepped up attacks on the former premier. Members within his own party castigated him for trying to scuttle the Nepali Congress-UML governing alliance. So much so that Comrade Nepal had to come out publicly and deny that he was playing any kind of ‘double game’.
We really don’t know what Nepal did or did not say to Nepali Congress leaders upon his return from that visit to New Delhi. If there was any quarter that benefited the most from the perception that Nepal had suggested to Prime Minister Sushil Koirala that handing the Home Ministry to Bam Dev Gautam would not be viewed kindly by the Indians, it had to be our friends across the southern border. This might sound counterintuitive until you acknowledge the deviousness of the attempt to delay the inevitable without the real perpetrators’ leaving fingerprints anywhere.
Maila Baje feels Nepal’s private disenchantment with the way he was ‘used’ by foreign ‘friends’ in this episode explains much of his public posture in the weeks since. He is not the first Nepali politician to harbor such frustrations and certainly won’t be the last.
Understandably reluctant to expose the real roots of his exasperation, Nepal has taken a more acceptable tack: the man wants us to know that he doesn’t want to be perceived as the person who, so to speak, spoiled the party.
Thus, in recent days, Comrade Nepal is pressing home a message of unity and hope as the UML prepares to hold its crucial ninth general convention. But that doesn’t seem to be flying with his party rivals. While speeding up the process of drafting the new constitution, Nepal also wants the government to hold local elections to fill the long vacuum restraining the lower rungs of our body politic. In a recent speech, Nepal asserted that the elections had to be held within next three months, if they were to be held at all. That contention prompted a rejoinder from Deputy Prime Minister Gautam, who has some experience with the power of incumbency and local elections. Gautam, who has emerged as the public face of the anti-Madhav Nepal coterie in the party, believes organizing elections on such a schedule would be impossible in view of the time constraints and the onset of the monsoon rains. Gautam’s latest stance goes against the positions taken by the government and the two major ruling parties. The DPM, however, must have been impelled to speak by the opposition the two Maoist factions mounted against such polls.
As far as his fear of being ‘sidelined’ goes, Maila Baje feels that is unnecessary. Comrade Nepal has proven himself adept in the art of maintaining relevance. That is a skill that will prove far more handy amid inter- and intra-party contradictions. So count on him to temper his discontents with the right dose of altruism and magnanimity, tinged, of course, with his caustic wit.