Sunday, August 06, 2017

Coalition Of Convenience For The Quarry?

Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist Centre candidate Renu Dahal’s election as mayor of Bharatpur Metropolitan City has left the country pondering the potentials and pitfalls of what presents itself as an alliance between the Nepali Congress and Maoist party over the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML).
Dahal razor-thin 203-vote victory over UML candidate Devi Gyawali, who garnered some 42,924 votes, could be the result of any number of things, ranging from outright state favoritism to a genuine reflection of the popular mandate in tight contest.
Gyawali, who conceded that Dahal had won, was careful to insist he had not lost. His accusation that the government, Election Commission and the Supreme Court had all connived to ensure the triumph of the daughter of Maoist Centre chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ resonates well in the UML. So the election result, following a controversial repolling in Ward 19, might herald a hardening of the main opposition party’s stance vis-à-vis the two major ruling parties.
The question, though, is whether the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre have really thought out an enduring alliance against the UML ahead of the upcoming provincial and national elections. The Nepali Congress of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, for its part, appears uninhibited in letting us know every which way that it sees the UML as its prime competitor. That way, it would have to wash fewer of its own dirty linen in public.
The Maoist Centre, on the other hand, clearly resents having to cede leadership of Nepali communism to the UML. But that party is careful to camouflage its discontent. Subterfuge, after all, has fueled its rise.
Daddy Dahal has publicly praised UML chief Khadga Prasad Oli for having demonstrated much sagacity during the local elections staggered over the months. That statement could be emblematic of many things. A proud father’s impassioned pre-emptive strike? Intimation to the UML that every door slammed shut can open another vis-à-vis the Maoist Centre? An admonition to the Nepali Congress not to take its junior partner in power for granted?
Speculation over motives and intentions of the Maoist Centre chief has been fueled by the fact that Province No. 2 still has to vote. How does Daddy Dahal know that Comrade Oli does not have surprises up his sleeves?
Regardless of the endurance or viability of any Nepali Congress-Maoist Centre alliance, the UML sees momentum on its side. The party has seized the banner of ‘nationalism’ and will seek to tighten its grip, especially after the split in the Rastriya Prajatantra Party. We can all lament how that term has been abused to the point of emptiness, but the fact remains that nationalism is still a vote getter.
The UML not only stood up to an Indian ‘embargo’ but also succeeded in cementing the Chinese as a credible geo-strategic counterweight. Does it really matter what we really got and really lost in the entire episode?
In the perception battle, the UML sees it has the most to gain. Maybe Oli & Co. will begin hammering harder the message that the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre is ganging up on the UML so that it becomes a crisp winning slogan for the upcoming elections.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Get Back To Where You Once Belonged...

If the expression ‘damp squib’ can be associated most aptly with any political formation in Nepal, it has to be the Naya Shakti of Baburam Bhattarai.
Indeed, the dude himself has been remarkably candid about the dud his organization has become. So you would have expected Dr. Bhattarai to be a wee bit sympathetic to calls for a homecoming. But, no, the one-time Maoist ideologue has shut the door on going back to the once-formidable Maoists.
Now, you could easily sympathize with Dr. Bhattarai here. It’s not as if Maoist Centre chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ is anxious to vacate the party leadership in favor of Bhattarai. For his part, the Naya Shakti chief, whatever the disaster his decision to break away in September 2015 may have turned out to be, is not too keen to return to the veep slot.
Moreover, Dahal’s unity appeal was directed to the Mohan Baidya- and Netra Bikram Chand-led groups as well. Truth be told, for Dr. Bhattarai, that might have been the real ultimate insult.
The Naya Shakti chief’s almost visceral instinct for distinctiveness was also apparent in the botched merger with the Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal (FSF-N) led by Upendra Yadav. Dr. Bhattarai’s explanation for the last-minute breakdown earlier this month is a bit bizarre. Naya Shakti espouses federalism, he said, while the FSF-N supports ‘federal socialism’. This is akin to splitting hairs, unless Dr. Bhattarai wants us to believe he isn’t too keen on federalism anymore.
Also, if there were differences on “some ideological and political issues” besides the party’s name and organizational issues – as Dr. Bhattarai suggested the other day – then wasn’t Naya Shakti’s decision to contest the local elections on the FSF-N symbol an act of duplicity.
Dr. Bhattarai also says the FSF-N is “reluctant” to transform itself into a new force. But isn’t that the exact thing people leaving Naya Shakti have been accusing the party of?
It’s one thing to oppose ‘careerism’ and advocate ‘good governance’ philosophically. Practically, you need to do more than going after the Chinese company building a hydro plant and demand the scalp of the water resources minister who let it in.
So here’s the deal, Dr. Bhattarai, coz this sure ain’t working. Step back two steps or even three and recall where you were before you joined the Maoists (or formed it). Doesn’t it feel like you’re almost back there after parting ways with Dahal and Co?
Admit it, your best days were with Dahal, as his deputy. Sure, you two never got along. That was the beauty of it. Each of you could craft ideologically laced but seemingly incoherent charge sheets that we took as prose of profundity and watch you duke it out.
Clearly, Dahal misses you a lot. Deep down, you seem to, too, if not specifically the man then all those moments with him. So what if you have to step down a notch? Do it for us.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Dreary Dance Of The Bit Players

It took less than a year for skeptics of the viability of a reunited Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) to exude a vigorous sense of vindication. Senior leader Pashupati Shamsher Rana has taken strong exception to party chairman Kamal Thapa’s decision to appoint 42 central committee members “without holding consultation”.
Thapa, with no less defiance, responded by insisting that the party’s decision was binding on all. Rana’s statement accusing Thapa of running the party “in an autocratic way” echoed the indictment delivered by another erstwhile senior leader, Prakash Chandra Lohani, while breaking away from the RPP weeks after the much hyped reunification in November.
Fears of formal split loom large, adding pressure on Thapa and Rana to settle their differences urgently. But, then, the roots of the rift transcend the two personalities.
The circumstances surrounding the unification between the two groups were not entirely clear. After all, until a few weeks prior to the development, Thapa and Rana were regularly exchanging vitriol. Unity, moreover, had suspiciously come close many times before it equally suspiciously was called off.
The RPP’s poor showing in the local elections no doubt exacerbated the internal divisions. It was no secret that the Rana faction opted for unity after realizing that it could not beat Thapa’s group. Implicit in that decision was an acknowledgement that Thapa would take a sustained victory lap.  In other words, if Thapa has been running the RPP as his personal fiefdom, Rana has enabled him in no small measure.
Equally natural, therefore, is Rana’s decision to pounce on Thapa the moment he smelled blood. If Thapa continued to claim single-handed credit for positioning the RPP as the fourth largest force in parliament, Rana was not unjustified in holding the party chairman responsible for the drubbing at the local polls.
When asked, second and third-tier RPP leaders do not shy away from conceding that former king Gyanendra is a factor in the party’s current travails. Whether or not he is actively fomenting the divisions and even instigating a possible split, it is undeniable that the former king is a major stakeholder in the RPP.
While Thapa’s pro-monarchy and Rana’s anti-monarchy platforms remain authoritative albeit antagonistic dynamics in the RPP, both factions are united by the espousal of the Hindu statehood agenda, which the former king also personifies.
As to personalities, king Gyanendra, during his direct rule, had an opportunity to study his supporters as much as he did his opponents. Thapa’s record as home minister and Rana’s role as a pro-democracy critic despite leading the best-organized pro-monarchy group must have come into sharper focus during the waning weeks of April 2006.
If the former king saw in Thapa’s articulation of a monarchy-restoration campaign as a mere electoral tool, some of the RPP chief’s public comments – before and after the party unification – certainly served to fuel suspicion in the ex-monarch as well as among the public.
Thapa, too, must have been gripped by his own anxieties, particularly over perceived insufficient appreciation by the ex-monarch of his contributions to the royal cause. While ex-king Gyanendra surely found the RPP useful in keeping the agenda alive, he is too deeply rooted in Nepali realities to expect – and even accede to – a monarchical restoration on the narrow base of Thapa & Co.
Should the monarchy be restored, it would be on the edifice of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist and the Nepali Congress, with the acquiescence of the Maoists. How the three major forces would conjure up such a seemingly implausible common agenda is theirs to figure out. Time and circumstances would certainly help them arrive at a decision, especially given their demonstrated proficiency in devising last-minute deals and 11th-hour compromises over the past decade.
As for the RPP, leaders and followers would just have to learn harder how to live together or live separately. It has been fun so far to watch their antics, but the show is becoming a tad bit tedious.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Tibet Sanguinity In The Sikkim Missive?

If the Indians seem to be shrugging off China’s latest threat to support Sikkim’s independence against the backdrop of growing tensions on their Himalayan frontier, they have good reason.
Admittedly, the former Himalayan kingdom was incorporated into the Indian union through a series of highly underhanded maneuvers. And, yes, it took Beijing three decades, having pursued a sustained campaign of cartographic legerdemain, to formally recognize that Sikkim is part of India.
The fact remains that there is no tenable sentiment for Sikkim’s independence manifestly palpable inside the territory. One cannot delve into the hearts and minds of the Sikkimese people. For practical purposes, the independence movement – if there ever was one – has been snuffed out.
‘Sikkimization’ and ‘Bhutanization’ are useful slogans for rabid Nepali nationalists on the left and the right. Beyond that, Bhutan seems hardly bothered by its own ‘subjugation’ by India to feel strongly about Sikkim’s status.
How the Indians managed to pull that off continues to baffle many Indians. The formula has not been replicable in Kashmir, Punjab or any other restive part of the world’s largest democracy.
Could New Delhi’s ethnic cleansing in Sikkim have done the trick long before the term ever was conceived of as a prosecutable offense in an international tribunal? If Lhendup Dorje, the prominent native Sikkimese politician whose exertions were central to the merger of the state into the Indian union, was subsequently forced to spend his life frying fish in a West Bengal transportation hub, one can easily surmise the plight of his compatriots.
The ethnic Nepalis – a concept hard to fathom given the identity crisis in Nepal – who control Sikkim today seem quite content with the status quo. They have no reason to look admirably or enviously towards Nepal or the perennially agitated putative Gorkhaland, while New Delhi’s largesse continues to flow in.
As the writers of that Global Times editorial suggest, Sikkimese independence is a notion that could gain wider credence inside China. New Delhi knows that regime change long ceased to have a part in Beijing’s playbook under Mao Zedong. Switching the sovereignty of states, too, flows more from the history of Chinese humiliation. It is not an investment Beijing can afford to make in its rise to global prominence.
So what should be garnered from that hard-hitting editorial? This gem: “In the past, China was wary of India playing the Dalai Lama card, but this card is already overplayed and will exert no additional effect on the Tibet question.”
The Dalai Lama turned 82 the other day and can only wilt further into the twilight of his life. Is the editorial emblematic of China’s confidence in the full and formal incorporation of Tibet into the Chinese state? If so, it would be immaterial whether the 15th Dalai Lama is designated or discovered, is done so by the Chinese or the Tibetan exiles, comes from inside Tibet or outside, is a man or a woman.
Now, if a Sikkim independence movement were to be launched from Tibet as part of the “certain conditions” that would “rewrite southern Himalayan geopolitics” – as the Global Times postulates – then that would be something to write home about.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Finding Our Way Through The Stars

If you listen to his critics, the ‘incompetent’ tag bestowed twice on Sher Bahadur Deuba over the last decade and a half is closing in on him early in his fourth innings as prime minister. Yet the man remains visibly undaunted.
The opposition, led by the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML), was quick to pounce on Deuba’s decision to postpone elections to the local bodies in province number two to September 18 as a portent of disaster. Our prime minister, for his part, doesn’t think his latest term in office has even begun.
Deuba has been waiting for the stars to align properly before moving into the prime ministerial residence in Baluwatar. Juxtaposing his birth chart with the current planetary line-up, Deuba, we are told, has found Rahu in particular to be inherently unpropitious. Well-placed Jupiter alone has not been able to mitigate the malevolence of the dragon’s head. Conjunctions, aspects, combinations here, dissociations there, combustibility, exaltation, debilitation, retrogression, square, trine, every which way he looks at it, he just can’t leave Budhanilkantha.
The prime minister, having focused the two weeks following his swearing-in on remedial measures, has finally found a way. All things considered, Deuba’s real tenure would begin on Monday, June 19 around 6 am following completion of the prescribed religious observances, rituals and rites.
As the nation’s fate is inextricably tied to that of its most powerful citizen of the moment, Nepalis will have to exercise the requisite forbearance and fortitude. Yet the postponement of the local polls in Province 2 has cast a shadow perhaps unrivalled by the shadowiest of the celestial bodies.
The government said the postponement was announced in consultation with the agitating Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N), which has denied any such meeting of minds. RJP-N leaders maintain they will boycott the elections, but some cadres have gone ahead and filed their nomination papers.
Furthermore, there are fears that Province 5 will go the way of Province 2, especially since the realities on the ground are similar. And we’re not even talking about the form of the constitutional amendment the RJP-N wants, not to speak of the content. Leader of the opposition, K.P. Oli of the CPN-UML has pointedly asked the premier, given the current pace of deferments, when he intended to hold provincial and federal elections.
Oli’s implication is obvious. Failure to hold elections to the remaining 481 local bodies, the seven provincial assemblies and the federal legislature by the constitutionally mandated deadline of January 21, 2018 would represent the failure of the experiment that began in April 2006.
Not to worry, according to Deuba’s personal soothsayers. The prime minister’s position will only get stronger once he is comfortably placed in Baluwatar.
And what’s so sacrosanct about a human-imposed deadline anyway? There are enough planet-specific chants and sacraments in our collective cache to untie the knot even if that magic potion called consensus failed to do the trick this time around.