Sunday, August 30, 2015

You Don’t Want To Mess With This Guy

“How could a liar like he become a doctor?” Sher Bahadur Deuba bellowed the other day. Ouch.
The question surely cut deeper into Dr. Baburam Bhattarai because Deuba is not generally known for such biting words. But, then, it only goes on to show that the Nepali Congress leader couldn’t put up with the Maoist vice-chairman’s antics anymore.
As chairman of the Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee Dr. Bhattarai seems to be doing everything but promoting those attributes, at least within the context of the federalism fracas. Don’t take Deuba’s word for that. Like any stick-in-the-mud rebel who can’t believe his rebellion is actually over, Dr. Bhattarai has had a hard time accepting responsibility for what he and his folks have done. Nine years after the Maoists’ incessant gloating over how they “won” their “people’s war”, the extent of their loss of the peace is becoming clearer. Still, they consider themselves above any culpability for the mess Nepal currently is in.
During his three terms as prime minister, Deuba recognized full well the kind of chicanery, obfuscation and deceit the chief ideologue of a discredited ideology had to engage in to rope in gullible Nepalis. (For a while, our comrades succeeded in persuading the world that the Chinese were behind the insurgency bearing the name of their Great Helmsman, all the while ensconced deep inside Indian territory.)
From the dribs and drabs emanating in the media, this much is clear: Deuba holds Dr. Bhattarai responsible for spreading the canard that he, Deuba, was somehow against the Tharus. In Deuba’s contention, opposition to splitting Kailali and Kanchanpur districts was not tantamount to opposition to greater autonomy for a community that spans the entire east-west southern belt.
Allegations of the complicity of the Maoists themselves in fanning the violence there certainly could not have appeased Deuba. If anything, they must have brought old wounds to the fore, especially as the patina of erudition and deliberation continued to shield Dr. Bhattarai. After all, anytime anyone recalled Deuba’s association – even in the loosest sense of the word – with the London School of Economics in the late 1980s, sneers and snickers immediately followed. Deuba was sent abroad by his mentor, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, so the Panchayat rulers couldn’t ensnare another promising Nepali Congress youth leader with the offer of a zonal commissionership, we were told.
Such perceptions of ordinariness went on to define Deuba the prime minister. A meeting with the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Britain during the early days of the global war on terror might not rank as an accomplishment to the left-dominated political establishment. However, many ordinary Nepalis do tend to recall those meetings as affirmations of Nepali “normalness” in the comity of nations. Especially considering that Dr. Bhattarai had to sneak past his own deputy and foreign minister for a one-on-one with then Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Summit in Teheran.
To make a long story short: Deuba has an understandable ire against eggheads who deserve to have eggs splattered all over their face. Next time, Dr. Bhattarai riles him, he might want to ask something like: “What kind of architect destroys a nation?”

Monday, August 24, 2015

States Of Mind

Against the multi-pronged attacks the notion of a ‘new’ Nepal has exposed itself to, the ‘old’ nation continues to acquire its own luster.
Sure, the past carried its share of iniquities. Without real and perceived exclusion, after all, no amount of internal machinations or external meddling would have fueled the Maoist insurgency.
The end of the Hindu monarchy – the supposed starting point of our trudge to newness – instead of injecting clarity to the pursuit of a harmonious future, rendered the idea of inclusiveness even more amorphous.
In that nebulousness thrived a massive enterprise of social engineering. Each one of us proffered our two cents along the way, but what the country really needed was a single viable road map.
When we got bogged down in that search, weirdness and wackiness proliferated in the public sphere. From Brahmins and Chhettris demonstrating for fair representation to Muslims demanding the restoration of Hindu statehood, events have acquired an unparalleled ability to keep confounding us.
The pursuit of inclusiveness has long lost connection with a determination of the number of provinces Nepal might need. Appeasing one group has invariably ended up alienating several others. Things are not likely to change in that regard. A sense of belonging is a state of mind. Millions might feel comfortable within a given framework. The perils of ignoring the thousands who might not are all to clear.
We know we are Nepalis because we are not Indian, Chinese, Pakistani or Sri Lankan. But there must be something more to our identity. If Nepaliness were indeed an artificial formulation imposed by the custodians of a predatory state intent on preserving their monopoly on power, then, yes, erasing every remnant of that dark past might make sense.
But what purpose would smashing statues of Prithvi Narayan Shah serve when at the same time we set ablaze our own stores every time a Bollywood star has something nasty to say about Nepalis?
Wouldn’t fostering a spirit of belongingness during such trying times be a more worthy demonstration of our willingness and ability to build inclusiveness?
Of course, such ramblings have lost utility, as we have long crossed that bridge. If anything, we need the new constitution to be promulgated soon to mark the official failure of the experiments spawned by the 12-Point Agreement.
Perhaps then, the five development regions would begin sounding like a basis for a viable solution, instead of something to be shunned outright.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Broader Import Of A Cross-Border Tale

Philosophically, Anil Jha hit the hammer on the nail. Okay, sort of.
India would be solely responsible if the putative Constitution of Nepal did not guarantee rights to the country’s Madhesi population, the chairman of Nepal Sadbhavana Party told a recent programme organized by the Sitamadi Media for Border Harmony across the southern border in Bihar.
Speaking on the topic “New Constitution for Nepal and State of Relations between India and Nepal”, the former minister accused India of being nonchalant towards the plight of our Madhesi population.
Now, that would be news to most non-denizens of the region. But, then, who are we to know, right? “We are aware that India has great stakes in Nepal,” published reports quoted Jha as telling the attendees. “India’s say holds greater importance in Nepal. What [India] wants happens in Nepal.”
Nothing earth-shattering in those assertions. The refrain has had a menacing echo since 1950, if not before. However, Jha’s critics imply that he brazenly invited India’s intervention at a time of such prodigious political fluidity here.
But, pray, haven’t we already crossed that bridge? The 12-Point Agreement India forged between the mainstream parties and the Maoists in New Delhi in November 2005 and its copious offspring have precipitated an eight-year-long experiment that only its architects and signatories see as having continuing relevance. Thus, the show must go on.
Collectively, every Nepali should hold India responsible for our mess. According to the Pottery Barn rule, which Colin Powell famously invoked before George W. Bush on the consequences of his planned military action in Iraq: “You break it, you own it.” If everything is stuck on federalism, secularism and republicanism, then let the architect take care. 
Which begs the deeper question. Was Jha, by narrowing India’s culpability to a region, providing India cover? After all, we don’t really know where New Delhi really stands on the post-quake agreement that paved the way for the apparent breakthrough our leaders have been touting every day.
Add to the above the fact that the full geopolitical import of the Lipu-Lekh controversy has yet to emerge. Although Nepalis initially seemed annoyed by China’s sudden propensity to emulate India and play territorial mischief in Nepal, anti-Beijing sentiments have not spiraled to levels many in New Delhi must have expected.
Instead, there seems to be some realization that China, by that agreement signed during Indian Prime Minister Narinder Modi’s visit, might have succeeded in inserting itself as a legitimate party in Nepal’s territorial disputes. Given Beijing’s growing assertiveness in Afghanistan following the drawdown of the American military – and Beijing’s unexpected lack of inhibition in publicly asserting its interests in that landlocked state – Nepalis could be in for a new kind of tripartite political compromise.
For that to happen, though, we need the current experiment to run its course. Meanwhile, it would be imprudent to dismiss the comments Jha made in Sitamadi at a forum avowedly linked to border harmony.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

In Sickness And In Stealth

Since today’s political machinations revolve around an ailing leader’s attempt to grab power from an equally infirm prime minister, we can forget about the new constitution being promulgated any time soon.
So sayeth Upendra Yadav, chairman of the Federal Socialist Forum Nepal, seething at what he sees is the expropriation by the Prime Minister’s Office the authority of the Constituent Assembly.
Now, with the major parties having hammered out a six-province model – a key stumbling block all these years – the prospects of the new statute have once again brightened.
Khadga Oli, the leader of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist, has foresworn the notion that the constitution is merely the route to his ascension to the premiership. (Although some politicians have candidly credited his ambition with the series of post-earthquake political breakthroughs.)
Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, too, has sought to disabuse us of the idea that the constitution is at the center of political skullduggery, notwithstanding clear appearances on the surface.
Let’s face it. Fatigue has set in. The political class cannot go on holding their primary task in abeyance. The April 2006 ‘consensus’ – if there was ever one – holds political legitimacy in the collective consciousness of the constituents of the erstwhile Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists. Individual parties and personalities therein have long acknowledged the shift in public perceptions. The external drivers of change still hold enough political and economic sway to make them collective pretend that republicanism, federalism and secularism remain the operative aspirations of the Nepali populace.
When you perpetuate a fiction, you have to play the part, no matter how tiresome it may get. We see the lethargy on the faces of our political class, the civil society luminaries that once egged them on, and motley crew of social engineers still bent on foisting upon the nation a nebulous newness.
Behind the apparent steadiness of decision-making lies a lack of self-assurance. We cannot have fewer than six states because the Panchayat system had already segmented five regions. And that sucked, right? The logic and lucidity of the six provinces need to be invented anew, but no explication seems to be able to placate the votaries of federalism. Who can concede today that federalism was introduced as a tool to destroy the existing order, not to build a new one.
Yet the constitution must be promulgated, if only to prove that the political class is capable of delivering on its promise. In that regard, Upendra Yadav’s allegory of illness may have more relevance than even he imagined.
We read last week that the Great Earthquake turned out to be not as deadly as it was supposed to be because it merely unzipped a process that is likely to result in greater devastation soon.
How serious could the political tremors unleashed by contrived tentativeness really be, even factoring in our individual and institutional infirmities?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Be Of Good Cheer, Comrade Prachanda

It’s quite tempting to dismiss them as rants of a broken man. Yet the frustration Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, Chairman of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN), vented in public the other day deserves our collective attention.
“Whenever we meet for a party meeting, we share similar views”, Dahal said, referring to his party colleagues Baburam Bhattarai and Narayan Kaji Shrestha.  “I have no idea what happens when we hold separate meetings [and when] we only talk of our group.”
Although UCPN leaders shared the same ideology and strategies, Dahal contended, they tended to criticize one another during factional meetings. “No matter what I do, there is always fault in it,” Dahal said. “Prachanda is the only one to be blamed. [It’s almost as if a] dirty person turns clean if Prachanda is criticized.”
Surely, our comrade is not as naïve as he sounds. Once he emerged in public 2006 from decades of shadowy subterraneous existence, the only direction Dahal could go was down. 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.
Civil society leaders sung paeans to the purity of the Maoists’ pursuit of violence in defense of the people, contrasting it with the venal bloodthirstiness of royal army. A large section of the international community, even while supporting the Nepali state’s campaign against terrorism, romanticized the rebels.
The prevailing narrative? The supreme commander of the army that liberated the people must be endowed with phenomenal powers. Dahal, as a consummate politician, was never going to puncture that perception. Nepalis and everyone else would have to judge him by his actions.
To be fair, as prime minister, Dahal did try to break new ground. He defied convention and made Beijing his first foreign port of call. Weeks later, he tried to assuage his Indian hosts that, technically, his first official visit was indeed to the south, considering that he had flown up north only to attend the Olympics.
A few months later, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, he met with US President George W. Bush, even if briefly in a group setting. All in all, within his first 100 days in office, Dahal had met with the leaders of China, India and the United States, the three principal drivers of the country’s destiny.
Anyone familiar with the intricacies of Nepali politics knew that was not going to sit well domestically. The questions Dahal started getting from reporters upon his return from foreign trips were telling. (“Which relatives did you take on your trips and how many dollars per day did the state spend on them?” “Can you explain why, as a warrior for the poor and downtrodden, you lavish in the official luxury of Baluwatar?”)
Of course, Dahal’s personality and temperament did a lot to do him in. Days after accusing the Indians of having masterminded his ouster as premier, he gave interviews to Indian reporters on how he had sought greater intervention from New Delhi in resolving the crisis precipitated by his standoff with the incumbent army chief.
Old videos and new vitriol combined to create in the public mind an image of someone who was unstable, self-serving and outright slimy. Bhattarai must have had a lot of old grudges. Shrestha, himself a surprising entrant to the top echelons of the party, could hardly have been expected to relish the halo Dahal monopolized. Mohan Baidya’s agony over the ideological drift gripping his one-time protégé and Netra Bikram Chand’s outrage over Dahal’s abandonment of the cause could easily mesh with their more personal prejudices. Leaders of the other parties were merely biding their time. The surprise therefore is that it took Dahal so long to speak out.
Yes, Comrade Dahal, people criticize you to cleanse themselves. But be of good cheer and use that line as your battle cry. It might help to cleanse the body politic, after all.