Thursday, December 08, 2005

‘Meaningless’ In So Many Words

For Nepal’s opposition parties, King Gyanendra’s latest cabinet reshuffle is meaningless. No quibbling with that. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion in a democracy. What struck Maila Baje was the plethora of politicians and wads of words it took to convey that simple sentiment.
Does this incongruity stem from bruised feelings? There were rumors, after all, that some prominent members of the seven-party alliance had received that much-awaited ‘signal’ from the royal palace after King Gyanendra returned from a three-week foreign tour on December 2.
In the Nepali Congress, the cover was, of course, the growing feeling that UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal was demanding full credit for the deal with the Maoists. (To set the record straight, NC leader Girija Prasad Koirala had to acknowledge for the first time he had held face-to-face talks with Maoist leaders in New Delhi.)
For some UML leaders, their stint in the Sher Bahadur Deuba cabinet either as members or mentors left a lasting stain. The grilling from the rank-and-file was becoming gruesome. (Remember that ‘Godly’ comrade who was released on a Supreme Court order but couldn’t find anyone waiting with vermilion and garlands outside the prison gates?) Moreover, some ex-UML members had prospered by not repudiating the “royalist” label.
A lot of aspirants will be venting their spleen in the days ahead.

Staying Power Of A Fortunate Few
Among the fortunate few retaining their positions, Radha Krishna Mainali and Prakash Koirala were the most vocal in criticizing the parties-Maoist pact as New Delhi’s creation. As former UML and Nepal Congress bigwigs, they carry much political content.
Ramesh Nath Pandey, who has endeared himself to almost everyone in power since B.P. Koirala, probably worked his charm again. What worked in favor of Salim Miya Ansari and Niranjan Thapa – apart from religion in the case of the former and strong Panchayat credentials in the latter -- is less clear.
Interestingly, Pandey and Mainali are the only unbattered members of the Group of 10 with which King Gyanendra began his direct rule on Feb. 1 Six ministers were dropped while two were demoted.

Ugly, Bad And…
Everyone knew that Jagat Gauchan and Senate Shrestha were a liability from the start. Maila Baje felt all along that Gauchan’s induction was intended as a snub to Girija, who ordered his early release from prison in exchange for some “consideration.” Shrestha’s appointment was perhaps more of a personal favor to his father, Dil Bahadur Shrestha, one of the first ex-panchas urging the palace to sack the elected government and assume direct command.
The other sackings were less explicable. Home Minister Dan Bahadur Shahi and Finance Minister Madhukar Sumshere Rana, named in a fertilizer smuggling scam a few months ago, were expected to be shown the door. But Agriculture Minister Badri Prasad Mandal – directly in charge of fertilizers – received slap on the wrist – transfer to a less lucrative ministry.
So must we assume that Shahi's fall came after Crown Prince Paras' motorcade was pelted with stones by angry protesters? Or, worse, for having ordered tight security to prevent irate royalists from ransacking UML headquarters?
Maybe Rana, scheduled to head the Nepali delegation to the WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong from Dec 13-19, fell into that perennial double trap: coming to a ministry with few resources and unlimited demands after criticized successive incumbents’ “nonperformance”?
Durga Shrestha probably had an inkling of impending disaster when she received a missive from the anti-corruption body for misusing government funds and vehicles. Krishna Lal Thakali, Khadga Bahadur G.C. and Ram Narayan Singh had made few waves for their departure to have made news.
Instead, a few of those who stayed have. Tanka Dhakal, the government spokesman, was shunted to the Local Development Ministry, once a lucrative post. With not much local or development happening in the rural hinterland these days, the shift was probably a shunt. (His successor, journalist Shirish Shumsher Rana, among the few in the trade with remarkable proficiency in both English and Nepali, has a tough challenge.)
Some months ago, Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Buddhiraj Bajracharya was in the news for having made “donations” to the Maoists. If that was his crime, then how could he be good for the cabinet without a portfolio? At least Kirti Nidhi Bista – the other man in the cabinet without a specific ministry – remains the junior deputy to King Gyanendra.
For Bista’s Panchayat-era rival, Surya Bahadur Thapa, this was payback time. During his last premiership in 2003-04, Thapa couldn’t bring onboard the rival faction of his Rastriya Prajatantra Party, let alone representatives of other parties. So the Brave Sun disowned his long-time loyalist Buddhi Man Tamang. In Thapa’s view, Tamang is in the cabinet in his personal capacity, not as a representative of the Rashtriya Janashakti Party the former premier formed after breaking away from the RPP.
With Kamal Thapa and Bhuvan Pathak having joined Niranjan Thapa and Tanka Dhakal, there has never been such a heavy concentration of ex-mandales.

Party Bosses In And Out
Keshar Bahadur Bista, the sports minister who resigned on “moral grounds” when a hailstorm-induced stampede at the stadium resulted in the deaths of over 70 people, returns as head of his brand-new Prajatantrik Nepal Party. The strange part was that he registered his party at the Election Commission insisting that the government could not hold the polls.
Another party chief Narayan Singh Pun of Samata Party, who brought the Maoists to peace talks in 2003 but then had receded in influence, has come in as land reforms minister. Is Pun’s Maoist link Sagar Chettri (aka Comrade Ram Bahadur Thapa “Badal”?) plotting a mass defection to the government in response to Prachanda and Baburam’s capitulation to India?
Bista and Pun, along with Mandal, chief of Nepal Sadbhavana Party, have given a multiparty hue to the government. By roping in the RPP and RJP (regardless of what Surya Bahadur Thapa says), the government might be able to hold the local elections after all.
Who could have imagined that Thapa and his long-time critic RPP chief Pashupati Sumshere Rana – both of whom have been hesitant about participating in the royal government’s polls – would ever find themselves on the same boat?
In this sense, maybe the reshuffle is indeed meaningless.