Monday, December 25, 2006

‘Chanakya’ On A Roll

Considering the number of physical attacks his party has come under from the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the Maoists, you would think Rabindra Nath Sharma is the most reviled politician in Nepal. But the man is certainly on a roll.
With every assault, he sounds more persuasive as a committed constitutional (note not ceremonial) monarchist. Sharma probably expected the current spree of revulsion from the moment he took over the presidency of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) faction that was part of King Gyanendra’s regime.
Pashupati Shamsher Rana, the head of the united RPP, refused to recognize King Gyanendra’s takeover. The SPA and Maoists refuse to recognize his RPP faction as anything but a palace appendage. Sharma, who unsuccessfully challenged Rana for the RPP presidency in late 2002, has taken a huge political risk by taking over as head of faction led by disgraced home minister Kamal Thapa. He seems to have drawn much of Thapa’s zeal to build the faction as the real RPP.
To understand Sharma’s persistence, you have to delve deeper into his politics. (Actually, those close to him say he beat great odds in a highly fractious extended family to survive childhood. But that is a different story.)
Rising up the Panchayat ranks, Sharma became quite candid about his prime ministerial ambitions. When King Birendra announced the referendum in May 1979, Sharma was among the few panchas that crossed over to the multiparty side. As campaigning progressed, Sharma braved a number of physical attacks.
He didn’t amount much in the anti-panchayat camp. He didn’t seem to ruffle feathers in the palace, either. Those who saw King Birendra attend Sharma’s daughter’s wedding easily put their money on the man.
He lost the first direct elections to the Rastriya Panchayat in 1981, but won a seat in the unicameral partyless legislature five years later. He was among the four serious prime ministerial candidates after the death of Lokendra Bahadur Chand’s father put the frontrunner out of the race. (The monarch could not swear in a man in his year of mourning, we were told then.)
Once Marich Man Singh had added Shrestha to his name, it was clear he was the palace top choice. Asked whether he would serve in a Shrestha cabinet, Sharma reminded many that the prime minister-designate had once served as his assistant minister. If that sounded like a resounding no, the pledge didn’t last long. About a year later, Sharma briefly joined Shrestha’s cabinet.
The collapse of the Panchayat system thrust Sharma into the wilderness. But not for too long. Many credit him with ensuring that the RPP was born as twins. From the convoluted electoral formula emanating from a hung parliament, Sharma won a seat in the upper house.
When Girija Prasad Koirala conned Sher Bahadur Deuba into taking that vote of confidence he was not constitutionally required to and then prevented two Nepali Congress MPs from casting their ballots, Sharma was quietly waiting in the wings.
Before Koirala could stake his claim to form the next government, Sharma had already struck an alliance with Bam Dev Gautam of the UML and intimated the palace.
He became finance minister in the cabinet nominally headed by Lokendra Bahadur Chand. Yet Sharma was the only RPP man who could stand up to Deputy Prime Minister Gautam. By now, he had earned the soubriquet of ‘Chanakya’ of Nepalese politics.
Acknowledging that he was not the first and would not be the last finance minister to preside over financial malfeasance, Sharma collectivized responsibility for corruption. In the RPP, he seemed to be allied with Surya Bahadur Thapa, who succeeded Chand as premier. Apparently, the wily man refused to anoint Sharma as his successor. (Maybe he never forgave Sharma for having catapulted Chand to the premiership first.) Rana beat Sharma as Nepal headed into uglier conflict.
When Thapa returned as the second premier King Gyanendra directly appointed, Sharma was overseas. He was persuaded to return to serve as a minister, some say by Thapa himself. When Sharma landed at Tribhuvan International Airport, he was detained on corruption allegations. Thapa probably wanted to prove that he wouldn’t spare his own, but it didn’t help him get Koirala’s support. In fact, the RPP couldn’t unite behind its former president, forcing Thapa to form his own Rastriya Janshakti Party.
Amid such complexities, it was hard to see Sharma heading a party of his own. Now that he has, the contours of realignment are becoming apparent. Although they differ on the exact adjective to precede the institution, Koirala, Thapa and Sharma are leading advocates of the monarchy. All three share close allies in New Delhi’s political establishment. The youngest of the three, Sharma’s ambitions must be the most zestful.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Can Any Premier Have Greater Power?

An all-powerful prime minister replaces an “autocratic” monarch as head of state to the glee of the dominant political class. When he asserts that role days later, his partners in peace and reconciliation erupt in anger.
True, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala exercised his prerogative rather prematurely – before the interim statute empowering him to do so had come into force. But, then, when did constitutionalism begin defining Nepal’s post-royal regime politics?
An acknowledged straight-shooter for much of his political life, Koirala began indulging in theatrics during the first phase of royal assertiveness that began on October 4, 2002. He accused Narhari Acharya and Gagan Thapa – the two preeminent republicans in the Nepali Congress – as agents of the palace. During the height of the hype surrounding the Nepali Congress’ abandonment of constitutional monarchy from the party charter, Koirala privately suggested that republicanism was only a slogan to intimidate the palace.
Age has entitled Koirala to use poor health as an excuse to procrastinate on critical issues. He couldn’t take the oath of office on the appointed day and skipped the early sessions of the legislature he single-handedly struggled to reinstate. Instead of traveling to Bangkok for medical treatment as announced, Koirala changed directions and flew into New Delhi to be hailed as South Asia’s preeminent statesman. When he came back, the premier inked the eight-point accord that brought Maoist supremo Prachanda into full public glare. The Reds had cautioned national vigilance against another Tanakpur Koirala might do in Delhi. No evidence to that surfaced. But Koirala returned a committed constitutional monarchist. Narhari Acharya is waiting for a propitious moment to defect to the Maoists and Gagan Thapa has receded into silence.
The day after he drew up the eight-point accord with Prachanda and virtually forced it on his Seven Party Alliance (SPA) partners, Koirala left for Bangkok. The other SPA leaders, ever reticent in Koirala’s presence, regretted how they had inked the accord in haste. Instead of receiving treatment for his longstanding respiratory problems, Koirala underwent prostate surgery in Bangkok.
After the premier’s return, Prachanda hit a Baluwatar stonewall that, among other things, shattered his claim to the co-premiership. The rebel supremo’s talks with a Chinese academic created some sensation – primarily across the southern border – that galvanized the peace process. It took Prachanda’s visit to India – preceded by US Ambassador James F. Moriarty’s and UN special representative Ian Martin’s own missions – and a formal renunciation of Maoism as an exportable commodity to complete the broader peace accords. The interim constitution was inked in time for Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s arrival in Kathmandu. Koirala used Mukherjee’s presence in the country to meet a Chinese delegation and reiterate his government’s refusal to allow Nepalese territory to be used against its northern neighbor.
With his control of the Nepali Congress never really in doubt, Koirala is carefully treading between the Maoists and monarchists. The palace is his tool to tame the Maoists and vice versa. As for the preeminent political player in Nepal, Koirala has been deferential even amid the deepest personal humiliation, outdoing his Nepali Congress contemporaries.
By choosing the Panchayat prison over Indira Gandhi’s emergency-era detention centers in 1976, B.P. Koirala clearly registered his views of India. Of course, his prison memoirs are more explicit vis-à-vis the world’s largest democracy’s considerations in Nepal.
Ganesh Man Singh, “supreme commander” of the 1990 movement, used surrogates to blame the defeat of his wife and son in elections the following years on Indian designs. When post-Rajiv Gandhi Indian National Congress began cultivating the palace, Singh became more candid about New Delhi’s motives.
Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, stung by the “common rivers” tag he acquired during his interim premiership, used anti-Indianism as a plank in his unsuccessful by-election campaigns. The fallout from the December 1999 Indian Airlines hijacking perhaps reminded then-prime minister Bhattarai of the kind of Nehruvian pressures B.P. Koirala faced during his last months as Nepal’s first elected head of government.
Girija Prasad Koirala has strenuously desisted from anti-Indianism. The only time Maila Baje can recall this emotion taking hold of his politics was during the aftermath of his ignominious resignation in 2001. He accused the palace and India of being behind the Maoist insurgency. When both rejected the allegations, Koirala attempted to sound apologetic, but without retracting the substance of his allegation. (“Alright, but I am still surprised at how the Maoists could have thrived as they have.”)
When Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee refused to meet him during one of his medical-treatment sessions in New Delhi, Koirala kept silent. He couldn’t have been prescient enough to recognize that someone held personally responsible for the worst of Nepal’s post-1990 multiparty politics would become the savior of democracy on his terms. Yet Koirala must be human enough to recognize the impermanence of the “statesman” title foreigners confer.
The scary part now is that Nepal’s peace and reconciliation hangs on the life – literally and figuratively – of a man who has spent almost all of it. How much more power can any prime minister exercise over his country?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Making Head Or Tail Of The New State

The king is no longer head of state. The interim constitution is silent on who is. As political solutions go, Nepalis have strictly conformed to tradition.
In the 1951 “revolution” Mohan Shamsher Rana succeeded Mohan Shamsher Rana as premier and our fathers and grandfathers rejoiced at the brilliant dawn of democracy.
In the aftermath of the 1990 “People’s Movement,” the triumphant supreme commander, Ganesh Man Singh, proposed that King Birendra become head of government as well in the run-up to the installation of full-fledged multiparty democracy. It fell upon the monarch to point out the absurdity of his heading a government whose main objective was to clip the palace’s political power.
This time, the Maoists seem to be wearing the widest grin. The king has been “suspended” until the constituent assembly elections. (Didn’t the Historic Proclamation of the reinstated House of Representatives already do that a couple of months ago?) They can prove to their cadres that their republican campaign was not entirely in vain.
Of course, Prachanda’s soulmates across the southern border aren’t buying that rubbish. They want the Maoists to prove their bona fides as people’s warriors by pulling out of the peace process at this late stage.
Poor Prachanda has come too far out into the democracy sunshine from his underground anonymity to do any such thing. It was his firm commitment to capitalism, expressed at the global leadership summit in New Delhi, which untied the arms management knot. Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara and one-time chief Maoist military strategist Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal are already locked in a dispute over who has the final say in the disbursement of government money to their foot soldiers. (Many of whom, by the way, have taken ill in the new camps and need all the help they can get quick.)
Our buddies in the CPN-UML are still hurting. Madhav Kumar Nepal is hollering himself hoarse reminding everyone that his party played the principal part in striking the Seven Party Alliance (SPA)-Maoist 12-point accord last year.
With the Maoists having monopolized all there is to the communist agenda, the UML is in a real mess. Overtures to both the Maoists and the Nepali Congress are ongoing. But, then, the party has been in an identity crisis ever since Madan Bhandari came out with that multi-point conditional support for the 1990 constitution. It has thrived on contradictions and may yet pull through this existential crisis.
With Sher Bahadur Deuba having virtually thrown in his neck in a single noose with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, the leaders of the two Nepali Congress factions have united. Sensing some kind of conspiracy, several Deuba’s lieutenants are about to defect to the mother party. The only conspiracy seems to be the readiness of Koirala and Deuba to provide ample time to the Narahari Acharyas and Bimalendra Nidhis to cobble together a pro-republic Congress faction or party. No wonder Rabindra Nath Sharma mustered the courage not only to take over the leadership of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party faction in the royal government but also to organize conferences and processions in support of the king.
The external stakeholders are equally baffled. Having failed to prevent the Maoists’ political ascendancy, American Ambassador James F. Moriarty has taken his mission to the Terai. In rather impressive Nepali the other day, he said he felt for the grievances of the madhesis. Maybe Hridyesh Tripathi and the other Sadbhavana Party people can, after all, expect to file election nomination papers from Sankhuwasabha and Solukhumbu in their lifetime.
Even after having disarmed the Maoists on paper – a feat unthinkable before Prachanda’s Delhi sojourn – New Delhi remains wary of the Maoist rebels. Ostensibly, India wants to track down all the arms that may have found their way to the criminal underworld and the Naxal underground before contemplating engagement with any Maoist minister.
Yet the real worry of New Delhi, Washington and the rest of the west seems to be a four-word qualification in Chinese official media. The People’s Daily consistently refers to the Maoists as the Communist Party of Nepal (formerly known as guerrilla). The full import of that suffix is still being analyzed in India in the afterglow of President Hu Jintao’s recent visit.
As for the monarchy, the official international position seems to be: let the people decide. Here, too, things have changed. Of the two Nepali media houses most critical of King Gyanendra’s takeover, one has put out a poll portraying 68 percent of Nepalis as being in favor of keeping the monarch as head of state. The other has been urging Indians not to lionize Prachanda. Where they intersect is in echoing the contents of a recent Times of India editorial advocating a continuation of the monarchy for stability in Nepal.
As for the king, well, he has started paying taxes. That brings to mind the no-taxation-without-representation rule governing politics. Reverse that, and it becomes clear that the citizen king can demand the vote, patronize political candidates and even parties and officially run his business interests.
You can no longer blame the palace for any acts of commission or omission of the government because it no longer acts in the king’s name. If the Nepal Army really mounts that coup, you can’t link the palace to that setback to democracy.
Returning to the interim constitution, it will come into effect once the United Nations completes its arms management mandate, paving the way for the Maoists’ inclusion in power. The fogginess surrounding both the mandate and timetable allows us ample time for us to make head or tail of the emerging Nepali state.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Maoists’ Anti-Feudalism Masquerade

Despite its economic and social backwardness, Nepal is a capitalist, not a feudal, country. Even King Gyanendra is known for his business dealings. The program of the Maoists does not represent the interests of ordinary working people, but sections of the business elite that are keen to reap the benefits of opening up Nepal to foreign investors and regard the monarchy as an impediment.

It took a formerly pro-Maoist writer and platform to point out the incongruity of Nepal’s much-hyped anti-feudalism fight.
W.A. Sunil and the World Socialist Web Site are no strangers to Nepali netizens. Until recently, they longed for the beacon a People’s Republic of Nepal would provide revolutionaries worldwide. With Prachanda settling for a democratic republic and wowing everyone around him, the writer and website are groaning in pain.
The headline of Sunil’s December 11, 2006 write-up – “Nepali Maoists to lay down arms and enter the government” – makes it sound like one of those regular straight news stories on the historicity of our peace process. Sufficient chunks of commentary are interspersed with the paragraphs to form a cogent opinion piece. The keyword running between the lines is “betrayal”.
“[T]he entry of the Maoists into the cabinet will do nothing to end the country’s deep economic and social crisis and is directed at suppressing any political opposition to the government and its policies,” Sunil writes. “Far from opposing capitalist rule, the Maoists are propping it up.”
Quoting from Prachanda’s interview last month with a British newspaper, Sunil notes that the Maoist supremo offered a guarantee to international investors that their capital would be safe in Nepal. “We are not fighting for socialism,” [Prachanda] bluntly stated. “We are just fighting against feudalism. We are fighting for the capitalistic mode of production. We are trying to give more profits to capitalists and industrialists.”
Prachanda’s comments, in the author’s view, are the direct consequence of the Stalinist two-stage theory, which is the core component of the nationalist ideology of Maoism. “The Maoists have always subordinated the interests of the working class and peasantry to ‘progressive’ sections of the capitalist class and relegated socialism to the distant future. In one country after another, the results have been a disaster as the ruling class has invariably turned on the masses.”
Buttressing his point, Sunil states the Maoists have agreed to help suppress strikes and industrial action. “Point 7 of the [November 21] agreement declares: ‘Both sides believe in the fact that the industrial climate in the country should not be disturbed and production should be given continuity and that the right of collective bargaining and social security should be respected.’ Any disputes with employers should be solved ‘in a peaceful manner’.”
Sunil notes that along with other Nepali leaders, Prachanda has written to former US president Jimmy Carter calling on him to send international monitors to observe next year’s poll. “‘I value your commitment to conducting the [constituent assembly] elections in a conducive environment,’ he wrote. The letter is clearly addressed not just to Carter but is aimed at establishing closer relations with the US ruling elite.”
In fact, Sunil writes, “[T]he Maoists in Nepal are simply the latest in a long line of nationalist guerrilla movements, which in the 1990s abandoned their anti-imperialist rhetoric and, under the auspices of the major powers, cut a deal to enter mainstream capitalist politics.”
In his ultimate indictment, Sunil states: “Prachanda is now joining hands with the very parties that over the past decade helped prosecute the war against his guerrilla army.”
For those wondering why the Maoists and elements of the Seven Party Alliance should want King Gyanendra, for all his purported transgressions, to become president, Sunil’s quote opening this entry should be more than revealing.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Gripping Giri-isms: Southern Playbook

It seems Dr. Tulsi Giri has lost none of his caustic candor amid the debris of what he must have envisaged as a stunning political comeback. At informal political gatherings, we are told, the senior vice-chairman in the 15-month royal regime, mostly rants against King Gyanendra.
For someone who once declared himself the mother of the Panchayat system, Dr. Giri is nothing if not a straight-shooter. A confidant of B.P. Koirala, he ditched Nepal’s first elected prime minister and joined hands with King Mahendra in a new political experiment. Unlike most panchas with backgrounds in political parties, Dr. Giri never made apologies for his conversion.
After India’s humiliating defeat in the 1962 war with China, Dr. Giri said Peking’s real aim was to get India off Nepal’s back. Whether Dr. Giri had any special insight into Chinese thinking is unclear. The fact that his quote still circulates in Indian media and academia underscores its psychological potency.
Dr. Giri’s disenchantment with the partyless system under King Birendra was real. He served as premier only to be shunted – and worse. He was tried for corruption in a carpet-export scandal along with some of his most energetic ministers. When King Birendra announced the referendum in 1979, the palace needed Dr. Giri’s oratory skills. He could oblige so easily because he saw the carpet scandal as a vast scheme of palace secretaries to emasculate the cabinet in a bid to concentrate power.
The victory of Panchayat system the following year brought little relief to its principal living architect. He saw an inherent contradiction between adult franchise and partylessness. Resigning as chairman of the committee organizing the silver jubilee of the Panchayat system, Dr. Giri left for exile in Sri Lanka and later India. This time the message to the palace was more meaningful.
Dr. Giri’s return from Bangalore to become the senior-most commoner wielding executive power in 2005 prompted some to wonder whether he could retain his pro-Nepal – his critics would say anti-India – posture. He was back in form. Hospitality foreigners accord a private citizen need not constrain his or her ability to perform public duties. (Where would we be today had Gandhi and Nehru remained eternally beholden to their lives as students in Britain?)
Rumblings of discontent emerged from Dr. Giri within months of his assuming power. Then, last month, he made the most crucial revelation: King Gyanendra’s Feb. 1, 2005 takeover occurred with India’s approval.
So why the Indian volte face? Because it is part of the Indian playbook. After foisting the 1950 Treaty on the tottering regime of Mohan Shamsher Rana in exchange for continued support, India crafted the Delhi Compromise. Now, Indians like to ascribe that policy “evolution” to the People’s Liberation Army’s invasion of Tibet after the signing of the 1950 treaty.
Yet the actual reason may be the inroads the isolationist Rana regime had been making in the Truman administration. With London and Washington on the verge of recognizing King Gyanendra I as the new monarch in November 1950, New Delhi used the tripartite consultations in many ways. Today Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala knows that the Nepali Congress erratic anti-Rana insurgency owed more to the unpredictability of India’s support than to any inconsistency in the insurgents’ zeal. Of course, he won’t say so.
Convinced he had kept the Americans and Brits out, Jawahar Lal Nehru didn’t lose a minute in ditching Mohan Shamsher. Of course, he emulated his Raj forbears in offering Mohan exile. (Kings Rana Bahadur Shah and Rajendra Bikram Shah spent time in Benaras.)
When King Mahendra dismissed B.P. Koirala’s government, deputy premier Subarna Shamsher Rana could evade arrest because he had left for Calcutta days earlier. It is said that the king had spoken of his intention during his trip to the west. As Subarna Shamsher was in the entourage, this departure was intriguing. Also noteworthy is that King Mahendra preferred Subarnaji as premier and had delayed inviting B.P. to form the government after the 1959 elections.
So the logical question is: Was Subarnaji supposed to have led the Nepali Congress faction backing the palace takeover? Was his departure to Calcutta to attend property matters merely a ploy to prevent that from happening? Was Subarna Shamsher’s 1968 statement of loyal cooperation with the palace a delayed version of the one he was to have returned to Kathmandu with six years earlier?
When Nepali Congress insurgents intensified their armed campaign after King Mahendra signed the agreement with the Chinese on building the Kodari Highway, New Delhi ruled out any link between the two developments. Here, too, Dr. Giri was at his brightest.
Asked by a Time magazine reporter to comment on Indian denials, Dr. Giri said: “The rebel leadership is in India. The money comes from India. The propaganda comes from India.” (“War in the Mountains”. March 9, 1962) A brilliant triple whammy.
For a government that could keep the letters exchange with the 1950 a secret for a decade, India sought mileage by “revealing” that King Mahendra somehow sold out Kalapani and compromised Nepalese sovereignty by signing the 1965 arms agreement. Twenty-two years later, few Nepalis recalled that Prime Minister Kirti Nidhi Bista’s eviction of the Indian military checkposts and mission included the repudiation of the 1965 accord.
Kalapani was very much on the royal agenda until King Mahendra’s death in 1972. No one in New Delhi will reveal what kind of implorations their government made to the palace to maintain their defensive posture after the Humiliation of Sixty-Two. Especially since India gets to denigrate King Mahendra’s nationalism as well as occupy the territory.
Against this sordid background, Dr. Giri’s latest disclosure warrant greater attention. Clearly, India used the first 10 months of the royal regime to bargain with the palace. It was only when King Gyanendra led the initiative to grant China observer status in South Asia’s premier organization that the Seven Party Alliance-Maoist combine gained traction in New Delhi. What kind of concessions was New Delhi trying to extract? A more stringent extradition treaty? Passage of the citizenship bill? Priority in the development of Nepal’s water resources? The oil concessions that helped catapult Cairn into the FT 100 index? Perhaps we can expect Dr. Giri to keep up his candor.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Story Of Betrayal Amid Peace Tantrums

Protestors injured in the April Uprising want representation in the interim parliament. Can the relatives of those killed be far behind? Yet this is just a fraction of the farce masquerading as our peace process.
The elaborately named Comprehensive Peace Agreement brought out our euphoric tendencies in a multiple hues. Those who rejoiced at how King Gyanendra had now become the most humiliated man in Asia perhaps didn’t expect the palace to issue a statement hailing the accord. It does, after all, take uncommon effort to extol the success of your adversaries.
Since that couldn’t be the story line, the palace’s motives dominated the news. But the fallout was conspicuous. For the same critics, Asia’s most humiliated man now retained the power to take over the state if the political actors failed yet again. (Talk about the irrelevance of the monarchy.)
On the republican side, exasperation at the monarchy’s staying power is becoming more and more evident. The feeling in this camp seems to be that Nepalis might not be able to part with the institution so easily. Privately, key campaigners now decry the people as imbeciles.
The anti-monarchy constituency across the southern border remains equally vexed. Why hasn’t the monarch fled the country with whatever he can managed to stash aboard his aircraft? A passive monarch’s motives are being pursued with equal vigor.
It was interesting to read, courtesy an Australian newspaper, how King Gyanendra must be feeling. The monarch feels betrayed, according to former army chief Sachit Sumsher Jung Bahadur Rana, a close adviser to the royal regime.
“The Indian envoy told His Majesty if he stepped down he could become a ceremonial king again,” Rana said in an interview with The Age. “The next day (they) said, ‘India has no role in the future of the monarchy, it’s for the people to decide’,” he said.
Rana added: “The king felt he had been set up… He reinstated the defunct parliament and then everything started to go wrong … the agenda coming from the south (India) was to remove the king, weaken the army and weaken religion.”
Rana makes a point that needs to be advanced. King Gyanendra’s second proclamation on April 22 must have come after hectic negotiations among the principle political players and external stakeholders. The palace’s climbdown was apparent in the text. The draft must have been okayed by the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) in advance. Who took part in those negotiations and what was on the table? With the monarch available to swear in Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, the SPA must have made certain commitments to the palace.
We do know that a U.S. House of Representatives delegation led by Speaker Dennis Hastert called off a visit to Nepal as the protests grew ugly. We also know that the American Embassy had closed down, shifting its visa operations to Delhi. Ambassador James F. Moriarty had warned of a “messy abdication.”
The SPA must have been power-hungry to have accepted the palace offer to reinstate the house. Why didn’t the Maoists continue with the protests and unfurled their flag atop Narayanhity? Were the rebels so convinced of the palace’s opposition to a reinstatement of the legislature that they focused only on the divisions a bloodier crackdown would have created within the royal regime?
Sure, Prachanda and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai savaged the SPA for having accepted royal crumbs. But that sounded more like a cover for restraining their cadres’ from marching on the palace. Was the 12-point SPA-Maoist accord that set the alliance rolling actually intended to maintain that tripartite balance of power New Delhi has always thrived on in Nepal?
Perhaps the palace should claim its share of nominees in the interim parliament. If it hadn’t cracked down on all those curfew violators, we’d still be living under the royal regime.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Anxiety Behind The Exultation

Behind their exultation in the Rayamajhi Commission’s indictment of King Gyanendra for “suppressing” the democracy protests in April, you can feel a deepening disquiet among the monarch's opponents over his seeming indifference to the successive pounding his image has taken.
For all his bluster at the New Delhi leadership conference and in media interviews on the sidelines, Maoist chairman Prachanda still believes the monarch is capable of preventing things from going the rebels’ way.
Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala said more about the state of the Seven Party Alliance (SPA)-Maoist consensus than about the palace’s plight in rejecting demands for a referendum on the monarchy. A referendum, the prime minister said, would allow King Gyanendra to demonstrate his standing and thereby demand some “space”. Even the nation’s preeminent ceremonial monarchist doesn’t seem to believe in the soundness of his own platform.
The wily UML comrades, for their part, are quietly keeping their options open. In the emerging realignment, the mainstream Reds know they hold the strongest royalist card fortified by an innate advantage of plausible deniability.
How does King Gyanendra feel about all this? Amused, might be the appropriate word. He is being asked to take responsibility for the deaths of 22 protesters (hadn’t the toll reached 24 at one point?), while the man responsible for 13,000 deaths gets to rub shoulders with former prime ministers in the world’s largest democracy where his organization is still considered a terrorist group. (Who knows when Prachanda will disclose how and where he met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi? When neither is able or unwilling to respond, perhaps.)
Forget the 13,000 lives claimed by a decade of violence the Maoists started. Take the Madi bus bombing in June 2005 that killed 36 people. What kind of responsibility are Prachanda and his people going to take? The rebel chief once said he would offer compensation to victims’ family, but then demurred after discovering how that gesture might prompt an enquiry into Maoist finances.
At least the 22 (24?) dead protesters and their families knew there was a curfew in place and that the state had vowed to enforce it with the full force of the law. The Madi bus passengers couldn’t have known there were soldiers on board even if they had been aware of the “crime” in sharing a trip.
King Gyanendra knew he was gambling his throne when he took over direct control. From February to November of last year, the hectic haggling of his external critics in exchange for their support was audible. Only when China backed its arrival as an observer at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation with arms supplies to the Royal Nepalese Army did the SPA-Maoist alliance gain any traction. (If the African summit in Beijing and China’s reiteration of its claim on India’s Arunachal Pradesh on the eve of President Hu Jintao’s arrival in New Delhi is anything to go by, Nepal can hardly consider to have attained geopolitical equilibrium.)
If that 12-point accord – and the staid string of successors – had even half of the robustness the signatories flaunted, Nepalis would have by now voted in a constituent assembly elections without the monarchy being in the picture. The Maoists, forget the SPA, wouldn’t have called off the movement if they had really owned the message or momentum.
It was clear when Prachanda reinstated Dr. Baburam Bhattarai to his party positions without having resolved the original dispute that he was acting under some pressure. When Prachanda went a step further and dispatched Dr. Bhattarai to hold talks first with Indian mediators and then SPA leaders summoned to Delhi, he had to either outdo his deputy’s India-friendliness or perish.
With allies like Comrades Gaurav and Kiran in detention in India, Prachanda knew what his priority had to be. Whipping up the bogey of Pakistan’s ISI and making all the sounds his audience would love to hear, Prachanda tried his best in New Delhi over the weekend to burnish his credentials.
How could King Gyanendra not feel the heat from the first official report in the history of Nepal indicting the monarch? For a man who ascended to the throne amid allegations of having committed regicide, fratricide and everything else imaginable, nothing could be painful. Moreover, the monarch knew that whatever he said wouldn’t have stopped the Rayamajhi Commission from blaming him anyway.
As for the notion of a god-king having fallen from his pedestal, well, the palace is most familiar with the pitfalls. The Ranas used the divinity argument to keep successive kings out of public sight and any role.
King Gyanendra, for his part, clearly told that interviewer from Time magazine that he didn’t consider himself to be divine in any way. If the western media love the news peg, then they’re free to use it.
After all, Vishnu’s halo didn’t prevent King Birendra’s entire family from those wicked calumnies nobody could either prove or have the courage to retract. When it came time for the parties to deliver, they had to change course and project him as a model constitutional monarch. Of course, it was only after King Gyanendra’s takeover that party leaders began explaining how the slain king was not the exemplar they had so assiduously made him out to be.
As for the future of the crown amid all of today’s turbulence, a monarch who never planned his official coronation throughout the three and a half years he was in total control, King Gyanendra must have thoughts of his own.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Kingmaker In A Republic?

Khum Bahadur Khadka’s acquittal in a corruption case the other day came as an odd relief. At a time when Girija Prasad Koirala – the embodiment, in the view of many, of the ills gripping Nepal’s second phase of democracy between 1990 and 2002 – leading the campaign for national renewal, corruption has become a non-issue indeed. One hopes this latest development encourages Khadka to come out of hibernation.
Khadka pretty much used to be at the forefront when governments rose and fell. If there was any one person responsible for the split in the UML, by common consensus it was Khadka.
With at least two dozens MPs always in his pocket, Khadka kept his own party bosses constantly on their toes. Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, Girija Prasad Koirala and Sher Bahadur Deuba all needed his support to gain power. Once they did, it was always Khadka they were anxious about.
A few months after snatching the premiership back from Bhattarai with the help of Khadka in 2000, Koirala was forced to sack him from the cabinet. Then a little while later, Koirala tried hard to get him back – and failed.
Deuba couldn’t have created his second premiership or subsequently his separate party without Khadka. For some reason, Khadka and Bijay Kumar Gachchadar seemed to be the only ministers King Gyanendra liked to meet directly and let the country know about it.
When Deuba agreed to postpone the 2002 parliamentary elections and was preparing to make a recommendation to the king, Khadka, as home minister, continued to insist that the government could hold the poll in phases. (Imagine how differently things might have turned out had the country heeded him.)
When King Gyanendra sacked the Deuba government on October 4, 2002, Khum Bahadur soon found himself in the lockup. Rumor had it that he had actually evaded the royal dragnet and had reached a southern Indian city, before New Delhi handed him back to Nepal. But, then, that’s just a rumor.
Incarceration must have spurred much introspection. One of the most powerful home ministers was at the mercy of the police force he reigned over. Then one morning, Koirala made a phone call to assure Khadka his full moral support. Deuba was still sulking somewhere.
When he got out on bail, Khadka returned to the Koirala Congress. His inactivity might have been forced; the coterie that had sought to insulate Koirala after the party split certainly didn’t want to cede any influence. Or maybe Khadka kept quiet because his return was an act of expiation.
Asked to explain the source of his wealth after his acquittal, Khadka reminded a reporter that he belonged to well-to-do family. That’s pretty much the standard defense of most crooks. Except, that in Khadka’s case, it might be true.
You can still find Nepali Congress people who know how Khadka used to sneak into his hometown Dang and slip out with crop-generated cash to sustain himself and allies in exile. Whether there are any people still willing to vouch for that is a different matter.
Khadka was in B.P. Koirala’s entourage when the ex-premier returned from exile in India in 1976 with his national reconciliation plea. Khadka wasn’t particularly thrilled with the monarchy and he didn’t shy from voicing that in the 1990s. And let’s not forget those were times when it was mandatory for the political class to extol the perfection with which the monarchy had conformed to its constitutional role.
Khadka is probably in the ceremonial monarchy wing of the party today, and only because he doesn’t want to undercut Koirala in his current enterprise. If he gets back even a fraction of his former ardor, Khadka can certainly emerge as the preeminent kingmaker in a republican Nepal.

Monday, November 06, 2006

It’s Aishwarya, After All

Coincidences can be cruel and some should not be commented upon, especially where much-earned conjugal bliss is involved. Yet the case here has crucial relevance for modern Nepali history.
Devyani Rana, the women at the center of the Narayanhity massacre five years ago, was formally engaged to Aishwarya Singh, grandson of India’s Human Resources Development Minister Arjun Singh, in New Delhi on Sunday. Devyani can finally hope to put the past behind her. But wishes alone cannot put asunder what chance has put together.
The fact that the bridegroom shares his name with Devyani’s would-be mother-in-law will remain etched in some recess of the Nepali psyche. What happened on that tragic night has been examined from all conceivable quarter. As a political expedient, the Seven Party Alliance as well as the Maoists have used the tragedy to denigrate King Gyanendra and his family.
What hasn’t received sufficient attention is what Devyani knew and when. When Crown Prince Dipendra, as patron of the Nepal Olympics Committee, left for the Sydney Games, even Devyani’s closest confidantes didn’t have a clue she was heading that way. Yet two weeks sounds to long for a couple to maintain secrecy, especially amid all the other congenitally inquisitive Nepalis in the entourage.
Surely, Minister of State for Communication Dilendra Prasad Badu, who accompanied Crown Prince Dipendra to the Sydney Games as assistant sports minister, must be in a position to shed light.
Specifically, why had Devyani phoned Crown Prince Dipendra’s ADC sounding almost desperate for her boyfriend’s wellbeing when in fact the host of the Friday dinner was still playing billiards?
What she said must have been compelling enough. For ADC Raju Karki, due to leave for the United States the following morning, went to the palace to inquire about the crown prince after his initial protestations to Devyani that he was off duty.
If the probe commission got its timeline wrong, then Devyani could have disputed it. Yet she has chosen to remain silent. Silence is her right.
After all, Devyani’s own emotional travails were submerged in the obsession with Crown Prince Dipendra’s inner conflicts. A steady relationship with the crown prince must have excluded a bevy of suitors reconciled to the good fortune of a future monarch.
Devyani’s refusal to depose before the probe panel was understandable, considering how distraught she must have been. Yet her flight to India when all of the other living protagonists remained in Kathmandu to face the condemnation/commiseration of ordinary Nepalis seemed a little disconcerting.
In any case, Devyani is too central to the most tragic episode of our history to take the Nepali equivalent of the Fifth Amendment.
With her dad, Rastriya Prajatanta Party President Pashupati Shamsher Rana, recently having sounded ambivalent to the idea of retaining the monarchy in any form, Devyani might be able to shed some light on Nepal’s road ahead without even knowing it.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Relentless Sounds Of Royal Silence

Seven months after he was shoved to the sidelines, King Gyanendra is now tormenting his critics by his silence. Could this be the lull before a thunderous storm? Or is the hush symptomatic of a drawn-out obliteration of Nepal’s oldest institution?
Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala may have articulated the ceremonial-monarchy agenda in keeping with his illustrious brother’s attitudes. B.P. Koirala, after all, accepted King Mahendra’s decision to grant the constitution the Delhi Compromise envisaged an elected constituent assembly would draft. Decades later, by accepting the 1980 referendum results in favor of the Panchayat system, B.P. almost single-handedly extended the partyless system’s life by a decade.
G.P. may have bested his bro. Avowed republicans like Nepali Congress general secretary Ram Chandra Poudel now argue that their party would contemplate kinglessness at its own convenience. The Narahari Acharyas can demand an official declaration of Nepali Congress policy on the monarchy all they want. They might get a better hearing in the anti-king lobby in the rival Nepali Congress (Democratic) under Bimalendra Nidhi.
For all their anti-king bluster, the Maoists and the CPN-UML seem to be competing to woo the palace. If the Seven Party Alliance (SPA)-Maoist accord were actually made of real stuff, Nepalis already would have voted in a republic. Filling all those blanks in the interim constitution draft would be as difficult as agreeing on the number of keys the locks to Maoist arms should have. Once that is decided, someone might want to ask whether the Maoist-palace accord Narayan Singh Pun facilitated in 2003 has actually been repudiated by either side.
The UML is in a worse mess. Government engineers may still be able to squeeze in the Maoists into an already crowded parliament chamber. The UML would have to cede some of its prime positions in the cabinet to make room for the Maoists. (Unless, of course, the donor community is ready to make a one-time exception and accede to the creation of more ministries in the name of peace.)
The UML’s referendum-on-the-king posture thus makes sense as an exercise in self-preservation. Yet the real motive may be to draw the palace into an electoral contest. (A taxpaying king, after all, is entitled to representation, isn’t he?)
Disgrace former home minister Kamal Thapa made a bold beginning by stepping down as president of his Rastriya Prajatanta Party faction. The more important news is that Rabindra Nath Sharma has taken over as party chief. Add Surya Bahadur Thapa to the Koirala-Sharma combine and you can see the clear contours of the pro-monarchy front to challenge the commies.
The days and weeks ahead are likely to get more interesting regardless of what transpires in the “summit” talks. With its traditional pillars having shed their prefix, can royal activism henceforth be really seen and heard from now on?
It sure can be felt. Having braved SPA arrows for months, the judiciary has hit back by reinstating Major General Pradeep Pratap Malla. It would be harder to equate a military coup with the palace’s quest for absolute power when the king is no longer supreme commander.
It is tempting to ridicule that right-wing outfit’s threat to launch an armed movement in support of the king. But look at the cost we’re still paying for having dismissed the Maoists the same way a decade ago?
US Ambassador James F. Moriarty and UN Representative Ian Martin have elaborated on Comrade Rohit’s contention that the key to our peace process lies in Delhi. Maoist leader Matrika Yadav has narrowed the custodian down to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
If so, protocol might prevent Deputy Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli from unlocking the problem during his current visit. Age and health allow Prime Minister Koirala to make another trip to Delhi to click everything open.
And consider one political change there. The Ministry of External Affairs is now headed by a traditional Congress member who as defence minister was the principal advocate of engagement with King Gyanendra’s regime. A mere shuffling of portfolios is unlikely to have altered Pranab Mukherjee’s basic position, especially concerning the preponderance of royal scions in the Congress party.
To those who wonder whether Singh or Mukherjee have the clout to influence Nepal policy with Sonia Gandhi calling the shots, here’s something to chew on: We don’t really know whether Rajiv Gandhi’s troubled relationship with King Birendra really extended to the current monarch, do we?
In the end, here’s what everything boils down to: Nepalis may believe they are capable of running the country without the king. The external stakeholders don’t seem to be so sure. Now, isn’t the royal silence getting real scary?

Monday, October 23, 2006

‘The Key Is Stuck In New Delhi’

The reality that the key to our stalled peace process lies down south was apparent long before Ian Martin, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan special representative for Nepal, decided to take a pre-Tihar day trip to New Delhi.
When a senior leader of the ruling Seven Party Alliance (SPA) concedes as much, then the matter ceases to be a mere political platitude. And when the SPA leader making that assertion happens to be Narayan Man Bijukchhe, we must sit up and take notice.
As his SPA colleagues and Maoist leaders used the Tihar hiatus to build popular optimism over what has become an esoteric exercise, the president of Nepal Workers and Peasants Party injected a jarring note.
“The key is stuck in Delhi,” Bijukchhe told journalists at his home turf of Bhaktapur. “The big parties as well as the Maoists are dependent on New Delhi.” The sanguinity on each side is impelled by a desire to blame the other should things go sour.
With the latest phase of summitry stuck on the issue of Maoist arms (more than the monarchy) it is worthwhile to remember that Bijukchhe was the first critic of last November’s 12-point SPA-Maoist signed in New Delhi.
His principal objection then was the ambiguity surrounding the involvement of a third party in the monitoring/management of government and rebel weapons. What specifically irked Bijukchhe was the ease with which the SPA equated the then-Royal Nepal Army with the Maoist fighters. (We now know why the SPA did so: It desperately needed the Maoist guerrillas to thwart the royal regime’s plans to hold local and national elections.)
What really seemed to rile him was the possibility of Indian “peacekeepers” marching in under the UN flag. Bijukchhe, after all, represents a community that has always been the most skeptical of Indian motives in Nepal.
In fairness, we must note that Bijukchhe was among the vociferous critics of US Ambassador James F. Moriarty’s visit to military installations in western Nepal last month, prompting the envoy to personally explain to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala that such field trips were part of his job description.
This time, Bijukchhe seems to have spoken with the Indian Ambassador Shiv Shankar Mukherjee on his mind. Mukherjee’s extensive – and widely covered – briefings in New Delhi must have focused on an initiative to break the Baluwatar logjam.
The fact that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other ministers took time to listen to Mukherjee as the Ministry of External Affairs ranked Nepal eighth on its Relevance for India index becomes relevant here.
Nepal ranks higher than Pakistan and China in the index, which categorizes countries based on their political and strategic importance and their economic and commercial value to India over the next decade.
What kind of Indian initiative can we expect? Former premier Surya Bahadur Thapa has affirmed that during his recent visit to New Delhi he got the clear impression that India supported multiparty democracy as well as constitutional (not ceremonial) monarchy. In effect, the twin-pillar theory is still valid across the southern border.
Now unless Thapa has lost his long acknowledged ability to read the Indian mind correctly, any new initiative from New Delhi would be focused primarily on the Maoist weapons. As much has already been suggested by retired Major-General Ashok K. Mehta, India’s scholar in residence on the Nepalese Maoists.
There may be another overriding imperative. The recent “democratization” of the Nepalese military has not changed the practice of the top generals of India’s and Nepal’s armies enjoying honorary chief status in each other’s countries.
With the implication of the Maoists’ quest for parity with the Nepal Army so obvious, can New Delhi be expected to exercise hitherto unused leverages on the Maoist rebels? Was the recent pledge by South Asian Maoists to turn the enflame the region an act of pre-emption?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dissecting The U.N. Security Council Debacle

As if the vote count wasn’t humiliating enough, the government and the Maoists have been caught in a sickening blame game over Nepal’s failure to win a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Let’s face it: Nepal never had a real chance against a formidable competitor like Indonesia. If Ban Ki-moon’s hadn’t been elected secretary-general, leading South Korea to pull out of the race, Indonesia’s 158 votes in the General Assembly would have shrunk. Nepal’s 28 would have whittled down most conspicuously.
Diplomatic discretion disallowed any direct discouragement. Yet in the corridors of UN headquarters, there must have been a palpable expectation that Nepal would bow out and back Indonesia. But, no, Oli had to link Nepal’s candidacy to peace and democracy. If that were a viable strategy, it’s time ended circa 1995.
Now, Nepal’s dismal showing cannot be construed as a decisive repudiation of peace and democracy. Yet the world needed a rationale. You have a government that admits to parliament that the letter it sent to UN Secretary General Annan somehow got lost for several days. You have a Maoist organization that hollered the most in favor of UN involvement in the peace process, only to insist that Nepalis were capable of solving their problems once a UN mission did arrive in the country. The holier-than-thou attitude of Messrs. Oli and Mahara is outrageous.
When Nepal was elected to the Security Council for the first time in 1968, it had set the record for the highest number of ‘yes’ votes. Of course, UN membership has expanded massively since, but that doesn’t reduce the significance of the global affirmation in terms of proportion.
The second time Nepal succeeded in winning a seat on the most powerful organ of the world body in 1988, it promised to become a stepping stone to even greater accomplishment: the presidency of the General Assembly. But, no, the democratic government had to dismantle the foreign policy apparatus because it was created by the palace.
In 1968, Permanent Representative Padma Bahadur Khatri and his deputy, Devendraraj Upadhyaya, led a powerful campaign. Two decades later, Ambassador Jai Pratap Rana and his deputy, Mana Ranjan Josse, reaffirmed the extent of Nepal’s diplomatic dexterity provided the right people were doing the job.
Nepal’s third campaign began taking shape during the royal regime. King Gyanendra’s Foreign Minister Ramesh Nath Pandey was at least making a valiant effort. The Seven-Party Alliance (SPA) government probably expected its “historic mandate” to impress the world. With foreign ambassadors presenting their credentials at the palace even after the “historic proclamation,” Shital Niwas – one presumes that is what the Foreign Ministry is still informally called – should have known better.
The cacophony of a government that speaks with seven different voices, distorted by rebels who believe only their voice should prevail, can hardly claim coherence. Could Nepal form an opinion on international issues? If so, could the world expect Nepal to vote on a resolution with any credibility?
And our opponent? The world’s largest Muslim nation at a time the world is grappling with Afghanistan, Iraq, Israeli-Palestinian peace process and Iran’s nuclear program, among other things.
Had Nepal gracefully bowed out, it might have sorted out its internal dissonance for a more viable campaign two years later. Maybe – and just maybe – we could even have counted on a departing Indonesia.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

How About The Real Story?

Now that the Rayamajhi Commission has finally submitted its questionnaire to King Gyanendra on the “excesses” his government committed against the April Uprising, the buck may finally stop somewhere.
The panel, which hyped its determination to spare nobody, should have made public those questions. For now, whether or how the monarch responds and what the panel will do about remains uppermost on most minds.
For the record, King Gyanendra should provide a full accounting of the context of the royal takeover while explaining why his government acted in the way it had during those 19 tumultuous days.
By now, even the most inveterate critic of then-Home Minister Kamal Thapa can probably sympathize with his contention that the Maoists drove the show. The chief rebel ideologue, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, has already disclosed how the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) had implored the Maoists to lend their armed strength to disrupt the local elections and the national polls the king had planned.
Moreover, Dr. Bhattarai has expressed fulsome gratitude to India – yes, the collective Indian state – for facilitating the SPA-Maoist accord. The record shows that New Delhi, which was toying with the idea of a joint front against the palace for a while, was goaded into action after King Gyanendra led the initiative linking China’s inclusion in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation as an observer with the admission of Afghanistan as a full member.
The record also shows that Maoist chairman Prachanda, having purged Dr. Bhattarai for, among other things, his pro-Indian inclinations, somehow suddenly forgave his transgressions and reinstated the chief ideologue before dispatching him for talks with the SPA in New Delhi.
With the SPA’s anti-palace agitation having failed to pick up momentum beyond political activists and their cousins in civil society, masses had to be mobilized from Maoist ranks – without the fingerprints.
The massive crackdown was uncharacteristic for a government that, until then, had shown remarkable tolerance for dissent. True, the press was muzzled, politicians incarcerated and political activity suppressed – but, then, there was a state of emergency in force. It seemed odd that the royal regime, vowing to snuff out the Maoist insurgency, should be going after the mainstream politicians. Considering the SPA’s inner tantrums on display since April, it’s not unreasonable to presume that the palace considered them the greater evil.
Once Chinese arms began entering Nepal, the interests of those intent on fostering another color-coded revolution converged with those bent on teaching a recalcitrant monarch a lesson in the geographical vulnerabilities of his realm. (Remember those foreign doctors already positioned in the capital to treat those they expected to be wounded during the penultimate fight against autocracy?)
A series of questions come to mind. Could the massive crackdown have been part of the script all along? Could the orders to open fire have been given by mid-level or junior officers on the scene? Could these officers have been influenced by the same forces that brought the SPA and Maoists together.
The faces in the crowd, lest we forget, were not ones Kathmandu residents normally saw. Could the intention have been to create a sudden “surge” of anger against a vicious palace? Ordinary Nepalis had reason to be angry. Royal ministers, after all, had been warning of Maoist infiltration, hadn’t they? So they must have ordered the crackdown. Too bad they hadn’t prepared for the Maoists’ coming out without their guns.
This point has become more relevant against the backdrop of the developments since April. The reinstated parliament – technically long expired – has become the longest session in country’s legislative history. The Maoists, who so energetically demanded United Nations supervision of the peace process, now believe Nepalis are capable of driving everything indigenously.
Forget the 12-point accord, even the eight-point agreement reached after Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s first talks with Prachanda seemed to suggest the signatories had worked out a post-royal regime arrangement. Who deceived whom?
It’s clear the alliance was merely a ruse to roll back Nepal’s resoluteness in asserting its sovereign rights between two regional behemoths against the ambivalence of the global hyperpower’s South Asia strategy.
As for the “excesses,” King Gyanendra should take responsibility for the 24 or so deaths. But only if the SPA and Maoists take joint responsibility for all those lives lost since in the endless chase for that fictional ‘loktantra’.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Narhari Acharya & Red Scare Candor

Score one for Narhari Acharya. The leading theorist of the republican wing of the Nepali Congress has let it be known that the Red Scare has pushed his party closer to the palace.
Not that Acharya's statement breaks any new ground. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, the supreme commander of the April Uprising, has earned much criticism – and rare praise – for advocating a ceremonial monarchy.
Yet he has justified that as an imperative driven by Nepal's internal and external realities. It's Acharya's candor in articulating the specific reason that is significant and should clarify the emerging dynamics in weeks and months ahead.
Before the April Uprising, many Nepalis thought Acharya – and his fellow republican Gagan Thapa – would emerge as the principal voices of a post-royal regime Nepali Congress. When Koirala, during the height of his rants against "regression" described the duo as agents of the palace, many Nepalis were infuriated by the octogenarian's intolerance for talent.
Acharya, like Thapa, has become a voice in the wilderness. During the royal regime, the security forces scoured his computer hard drive and seized his republican treatises. Now, under a decidedly "democratic" Nepal, Acharya is forced to push his agenda at a venue in India.
For a while, Nepali Congress luminaries like Ram Chandra Poudel argued that Koirala's attachment to a ceremonial monarchy stemmed from his personal sentiments, not those of his party. Today Poudel, too, seem to have been sensitized enough by the gains the Maoists to acknowledge the virtue of silence as far as the palace is concerned.
There may be larger imperative here. However you may want to define it, the Nepali Congress remains an embodiment of the Koirala legacy. The same factors that led B.P. Koirala to abandon his original infatuation with communism and strike a posture of a more moderate brand of socialism would prevent him from ever forging a common front. B.P.'s rabid anticommunism may have set back the democracy movement by a generation. Ganesh Man Singh, who parted with his late colleague in building an alliance with the communists, brought down the Panchayat system. Yet Singh would go on to find enough space in his own Nepali Congress.
As a politician, Girija Prasad Koirala has proved far more skillful than any of the Congressmen. One reason has been his ability to use the communists as a prop to boost his party's pragmatic side. Having gone so far to enlist the Maoists' support against the royal regime – something put to pen by Dr. Baburam Bhattarai in some of his livid moments as essayist – Koirala was quick to acknowledge how victory necessitated a correction. The Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists can squabble eternally over who really forced the palace to capitulate. Without Koirala's leadership, it is doubtful the hordes of Maoists masquerading as diehard democrats, could have dominated international headlines. Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai's urgency in claiming full credit for the April Uprising only hardened the wily old man.
Girija Koirala, central to the Nepali Congress' plots to assassinate Kings Mahendra and Birendra, could easily claim the 1990 movement as a victory for the panchas – and by logical extension – the palace.
It's hard to believe that hardened radicals like Narhari Acharya and Gagan Thapa could have failed to see the difference between a avowedly republican platform and their party's decision to delete its traditional reference to the monarchy from its statute.
Whether they were prepared for the promptness with which a Prime Minister Koirala would – to rephrase B.P.'s memorable reference to the shared vulnerability of the royal collar and his own – stick out his neck for the king is altogether a different matter.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Extradition Embolism & Maoist Motives

Deferring to Maoist wishes, Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula has called off his visit to India.
All those non-Nepali-speaking Muslims we are told the country is rife with may now loosen up a bit.
The absence of the government’s point man on the peace process on the eve of the rescheduled “summit” with the rebels would have undermined the state’s commitment. Rushing to New Delhi to sign a controversial extradition treaty would have been a bald-faced display of the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) government’s real priorities.
Maoist leader Prachanda has burnished his credentials as a pragmatist, although it’s highly doubtful that this was his primary purpose. Self-preservation sounds better as a motive.
Two senior Maoist leaders – C.P. Gajurel and Mohan Baidya -- remain imprisoned in India. Countless others remain incarcerated, some for crossing into India for medical treatment after being injured in clashes with the Nepalese security forces.
The SPA government may have withdrawn the terrorist tag and red-corner notices on the rebel leaders. The Indian government is not bound by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s version of national reconciliation. Especially not after Nepalese Maoists, despite their peace protestations within the country, joined regional allies in vowing to create a “flaming field” across South Asia.
Gajurel and Baidya are being held for alleged offenses on Indian soil. The more obscure Maoist functionaries may be extraditable, but, then, why would the Koirala government want them?
Prachanda, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, Krishna Bahadur Mahara and the rest of the leadership can slip into India at will. New Delhi can feign ignorance, as it always has, citing the cross-border fraternity of these adherents of the Great Helmsman.
Even if New Delhi seized senior Nepalese rebels and foisted them on Kathmandu, they would get a free crash course in transnational jurisprudence as well as a free ride to freedom back home.
What must be bothering Prachanda and his cronies are the India-specific alleged offenses they might have committed during the past decade. Training Indian allies to break jails in Bihar and almost kill a former chief minister in Andhra Pradesh? Selling arms seized from the Nepalese military and police to an assortment of militants in India? Exporting Yarchagumba to third countries with scant regard to Nepal’s landlocked status and its international obligations to the transit country?
Since Dr. Bhattarai has formally thanked India for its role in forging the Maoists’ 12-point accord with the SPA last November, the rebel leadership has probably reconciled itself to the eventual conclusion of that stringent extradition accord. Maybe the Maoists just want to make sure they get into the government as an indemnity against extradition. Or, better still, maybe Mahara aspires to sign the accord as Nepal’s home minister.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Mass Resonance Of Royal Message

King Gyanendra’s Vijaya Dashami message to the nation was bound to generate a gush of analyses – and it certainly has precipitated a copious flow. Despite the “political marginalization” of the palace in the months since the April Uprising, far too many minds were focused on the political content the royal message might contain.
The monarch’s emphasis on encouraging the peace process, which he described as the nation’s urgent need of the hour, has prompted derision from predictable quarters – most notably from sections of our narcissistic civil society. Their interpretation is that a king humbled by the masses is merely trying to send overtures to both the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the Maoists.
What they are utterly incapable of acknowledging is that King Gyanendra, having seen his roadmap derailed for a variety of reasons – some more obscure than others -- has thrown his weight behind the alternative. (An exhortation to the SPA and the Maoists to show Nepalis that last November’s 12-point accord was anything more than a tool to re-establish the southern neighbor’s grip on their country?)
SPA leaders, chastened by the compulsions of governing, have made a political point by not attending (boycotting?) the traditional Dasain tika ceremony at the palace. Ceremonial monarchists led by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala are being politically prudent ahead of the constituent assembly polls -- more out of self-interest than anything else. Despite all the hype over the civilian government’s tightening grip over the military, the SPA remains unsure of whether the palace has been tamed enough to remain a convenience, an anxiety the ripples of the coup in Thailand have reinforced.
Republicans in the SPA ranks were always grudging in their Dasain attendance in the past. Don’t be surprised when these sections do return once they factor the palace into their formulations. (It took Madan Bhandary, Nepal’s last revolutionary, two years to acknowledge King Birendra’s palace as a political center. Maoist supremo Prachanda did so by seeking to strike a deal with King Gyanendra’s government in 2003 against the back of the political parties.)
Interestingly, the international media have carefully calibrated their coverage of the royal tika with the premise of their coverage of the April Uprising. The “hundreds” who converged on the abode of an embattled monarch offer a multiple that may be factually correct but contextually imprecise.
What impelled these people seek royal blessings? The prospect of being branded regressive conspirators evidently failed as a deterrent. Were the attendees least bothered by the spectre of dire appellations because of their detachment from the SPA-Maoist loop?
Could these “other Nepalis, orange-clad sadhus and the odd tourist” – to borrow the description of Agence France Presse – be so out of tune with the country? Or were they representatives of a constituency that remained silent during the April Uprising but didn’t lose sight of the traditional pivot that has always sustained Nepal?
This section of Nepalis has observed with the greatest apprehension how obsequiously the SPA, having eviscerated the monarchy, has begun repaying its debts to its Indian patrons. The citizenship bill – consisting of many of the provisions the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional after the constituents of today’s SPA foisted it on King Birendra – has revived fears of a massive demographic shift to the advantage of Indian interests.
The SPA government is on the verge of signing an extradition treaty of with India that would virtually assure New Delhi the final word on the innocence or guilt of third-country nationals in Nepal.
Nepalis are evenly divided on whether to keep the monarchy? Try conducting another poll today.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Our National Ambivalence

So we Nepalis are evenly split over the relevance of the monarchy. Since the opinion poll was conducted by the U.S. National Democratic Institute, we probably don’t have to denounce the findings as the handiwork of regressive forces. (Unless, of course, you want to include the NDI and by implication the United States as part of a vast right-wing conspiracy to retain the Nepalese monarchy against the spirit of the April Uprising.) What makes the monarchy, in its weakest state ever, face a nation so evenly divided? Of course, any pollster would tell you how the inflection and demeanor of the person asking the question affect the response. Moreover, our traditional predisposition to playing it safe would encourage fence-sitting at this juncture. Still, one can’t help asking a couple of questions. Has the man calumnied by two generations of critics, repudiated into seeming irrelevance after the April Uprising, redeemed himself in the eyes of the respondents?
On the other hand, were the survey participants skewed – deliberately or otherwise – heavily in favor of the palace on account of class, ethnicity or outlook? And look at the way the question was framed. A whole new coalition of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s ceremonial monarchists and Kamal Thapa-led active monarchists has been inaugurated.
Or do Nepalis have the ability to make a distinction between the monarchy and the man on the throne? (How comforting it is to know there is always someone to take care of things should the parties and Maoist rebels botch it again and then endure spasms of mass revulsion?)
In the fickleness of our political terrain, even the Maoists recognize the value the palace would represent once the rebels are made to part with their weapons. (Could the Maoists’ public posturing over the status of monarchy be a cover for the consummation of their alliance with the Chinese and the rightward realignment that would imply?)
How soon elections to a constituent assembly are announced would perhaps depend on how fast the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the Maoists agree on the “status” of the monarchy. From recent pronouncements, the Maoists appear to have climbed down from their demand for an outright abolition to a suspension during the interim. The SPA constituents will probably have a response in time for the summit. And the referendum on the monarchy to go together with the assembly polls? You don’t have to be a royalist to expect, given the current state of affairs, the palace, the numbers to improve in favor of the palace.
Actually one royalist is moving in the other direction. Pashupati Shamsher Rana, president of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), announced that his party is no longer in favor of the monarchy. The head of a party that finds itself in the revived legislature but not part of the ruling establishment, Rana hasn’t complained of having been misquoted.
Nor have RPP leaders of enough standing shown any urgency toward dissociating themselves from Rana’s statement.
Is the erstwhile royalist party on the verge of a radical policy shift? Or is the grandson of the last Rana prime minister taking the ultimate revenge on the monarchy for its role in overthrowing the oligarchy?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Wrong Lesson From Thailand

The shock waves from the military coup in Thailand continue to clatter the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) government. In his first reaction, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala ruled out a similar takeover in Nepal because the monarchy has been eviscerated.
In parliament, the mood was less confident. According to Raghuji Pant of the Unified Marxist-Leninists, the Thai experience underscored that the monarchy “in any state is always busy conspiring to take control of the government.”
Long before Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratkalin ordered his troops to move against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the Maoist rebels had begun voicing fears that the Koirala government’s flip-flops might precipitate another palace takeover.
For all the civilianization of the Nepalese military since the political change of April, the SPA still sees the palace looming large over the force. Yet Koirala, Pant and everybody in between miss the larger picture. The prospect of a military coup need not be associated with the political aspirations of the palace.
Gen. Rukmangad Katuwal has been bending over backward to establish his allegiance to civilian supremacy. While domestic adversaries of Katuwal continue to hound him for his role in “suppressing” the April Uprising, international critics have been more sympathetic to the army as an institution. Even the United Nations human rights office in Nepal chose to release its report criticizing security forces’ excesses only after Katuwal was firmly in the saddle.
At the height of the protests in April, according to the Economist, the military had persuaded the palace and the SPA to come to an agreement by unveiling the goriness of the alternative. In view of subsequent events, the military can be expected to consider itself a stronger vanguard.
Speaking after the developments in Thailand, Victor Bulmer-Thomas, director of the London-based think tank Chatham House, believes Pakistan is the most likely South Asian candidate to experience a coup. For those familiar with the Golden Age of coups between the 1950s and 1970s, the prospect of a revolt against Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who himself overthrew a civilian government, is hardly abnormal. In Bulmer-Thomas’ view, Nepal and Bangladesh are in the same regional risk category.
The more prescient Stratfor, too, had pointed to the possibility of a military coup a few months ago. “Recognizing that Nepal's fate depends primarily on the mindset of its generals, India's attention likely is fixated now on the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA),” the Austin, Texas-based think tank said in an April 18 analysis titled “Countdown to a Coup in Nepal?”
Stratfor added: “Senior army officials feel that New Delhi, formerly one of its chief suppliers, ditched the army when it cut off military aid to Nepal following the royal takeover. If New Delhi and the RNA can make peace, India might begin to draw the SPA away from the Maoists with the promise of RNA backing to topple the monarchy.”
Of course, King Gyanendra’s reinstatement of parliament set the ball rolling in another direction. Yet those tempted to dismiss Stratfor’s prescience in Nepal would be advised to read the last paragraph of that analysis: “Though a military coup is likely in the cards for Nepal, such political maneuverings by the SPA and India would need time to develop.”
Despite the army’s affirmations of allegiance to democracy, its concept may not necessarily conform to the expectations of the political class. When Gen. Prajwalla Shamsher Rana in 2002 virtually blamed the political parties for creating the Maoist insurgency, it was difficult to believe he could have made that sweeping indictment without the approval of his supreme commander. Today, it becomes vital to consider whether such sentiments have disappeared simply because the army has been stripped of its institutional links with the monarchy.
Moreover, new dynamics have set in since the political change of April. The SPA’s timidity in defending the military after Maoist supremo Prachanda accused it of having done nothing but plunder and pillage during its entire existence must have left a searing effect even on constituents least loyal to the palace.
Furthermore, the rebels’ predilection for equating themselves with the state’s army must have unnerved many in the ranks. Specifically, the ease with which the Maoists expect their guerrilla fighters to be incorporated into a national army without the academic and professional rigors existing members have undergone could precipitate considerable – and public – disgruntlement. Considering the Nepalese military’s participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations as well as the international community’s urgency of assembling contingents at short notice in view of the proliferation of global trouble spots, the generals’ interest in maintaining a professional force can only grow deeper.
The SPA, one would expect, doesn’t need to be told that such new dynamics in the military have nothing to do with the monarchy.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Friendly Advice Or Blatant Interference?

Five months after the restoration of democracy, American Ambassador James F. Moriarty is confronting calls for his expulsion from a section of the Seven Party Alliance whose empowerment he had so assiduously advocated for more than two years.
“Would a Nepali ambassador be allowed to tour military barracks in the United States and make political statements?” thundered Lila Mani Pokharel, vice president of People’s Front Nepal, in the parliament Moriarty helped reinstate.
Narayan Man Bijukchhe, president of the Nepal Workers and Peasants Party, another SPA constituent, was no less strident in criticizing American interference. When ministers of King Gyanendra’s government accused foreign ambassadors of meddling in Nepal’s politics, SPA constituents vied with one another to defend what they called “friendly expressions” of democratic solidarity.
Can it be inferred from Pokharel’s outburst that America has now abandoned its support for Nepal’s democratic forces? Regardless, his rhetorical question merits consideration. What if Nepal had been arming the U.S. government in its fight against, say, the Aryan Nation only to discover that the extreme-left component of the Democratic Party decided to expand Senate membership to accommodate the Michigan, Montana and other variegated militias? A fine display of national reconciliation, perhaps? Or a total repudiation of long-standing Nepalese foreign and defense policy vis-à-vis the United States?
Admittedly, it would take more than the rants of fringe commies to expel Moriarty. Yet His Excellency must be under a lot of pressure here. The recent visits of Senator Arlen Specter and a House delegation led by Jim Kolbe underscored the urgency with which Washington views Nepal’s evolving peace process. (House Speaker Dennis Hastert, one may recall, canceled his delegation’s travel plans once the anti-palace protests grew ugly.)
In Washington’s view – at least in that of the dominant policy-making section – recent events appear to have vindicated the posture of Moriarty’s predecessor, Michael E. Malinowski. In Reagan-speak, you can trust the Maoists, but there’s no way of verifying. It’s this deepening Reaganesque hue in official American attitudes that seems to be crystallizing in Nepal.
Is there a growing convergence of opinion between the neo- and paleo-conservatives on the wider implications of a Maoist-dominated – if not entirely controlled – Nepal? As much is indicated in a September 13 article in The Washington Times. Paul Moorcraft may not be a household name in Conservative America. But in “Danger in Nepal,” he certainly fuses the thought processes of the erstwhile Cold Warriors and of those waging the War on Terrorism.
Moriarty must have recognized the local fallout from the outset. Unified Marxist Leninist general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal used to take down portraits of Marx, Engels and Lenin whenever the US ambassador came calling at Balkhu. The UML chief probably still does. But Madhav Nepal also has become more strident in advising Moriarty to stick to the norms of his profession.
The UML, which until not too long ago, was searching for the appropriate pretext to change the party name and flag is now competing with the Maoists to raise the hammer and sickle the highest.
Regardless of what Pokharel and Bijukkche think, Moriarty probably considers offering “friendly advice” a firm element of his job description. Especially when former “royalist” premier Surya Bahadur Thapa – who one understands completed an elaborate tour of the White House and the Pentagon – comes out in full support of his sentiments.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Elocution Amid Revolution’s Convolution

Physical Planning Minister Gopal Man Shrestha advocates a presidential role for King Gyanendra. Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat believes the Nepal Army won’t back another palace takeover because it has burned its fingers real bad. Former prime minister Surya Bahadur Thapa accuses the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) government and the Maoists of flouting the spirit of the People’s Movement-II. Welcome to the tortuous world of Nepalese politics.
In a climate where politics and posturing have become the exclusive catalysts of change, it would be unfair to criticize those in responsible positions for speaking from all sides of their mouths. Nor are the three aforementioned utterances totally irrelevant to the ongoing debate.
With Nepali Congress president and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala so firmly behind a ceremonial monarchy, the breakaway faction of the country’s preeminent party certainly couldn’t afford to waste any time. Since Nepali Congress (Democratic) President Sher Bahadur Deuba is out of station, the vice-chairman is entitled to shed light on the party’s position on the crown. Until Deuba overrules Shrestha, we can assume that a pro-monarchy realignment of political forces has begun. Whether there will be a formal unification of the two Nepali Congress factions any time soon becomes immaterial.
Mindful of the storm General Rukmangad Katuwal’s confirmation as chief of army staff has kicked up, the government is mounting every defense it can muster on his behalf. Katuwal may have been the deputy army chief during People’s Movement II. Whether the royal regime’s crackdown on violators of curfews duly and officially imposed can retroactively be considered suppression remains to be resolved. What we know is that Katuwal was second in line to head the army. Depriving the first man outside the traditional Rana-Shah clan of the top job would certainly look bad for a government claiming to have democratized the army.
Critics can make the case that Katuwal, having been virtually adopted by King Mahendra, is the most loyal army chief the palace could ever expect. But, then, those critics would have to devise a way of rediscovering the evolution of the Nepalese military outside the sanctuary of the palace.
Finance Minister Mahat was resting his confidence in the transformation of the army on the top general’s assurances that the force would never betray democracy. Let’s dip a little deeper here. If we accept the democratic mainstream’s claim that King Mahendra’s and King Gyanendra’s power grabs of 1960 and 2005 were in fact military coups, then we must also acknowledge that both monarchs justified their steps as being in defense of democracy. If the military were to intervene again, it certainly would not do so in the name of betraying democracy. Dr. Mahat’s assertion will have stood the test of time.
What’s interesting here is the fact that Dr. Mahat happened to make that bold claim. He was fortunate to have avoided much of the confinement and other torments his Nepali Congress colleagues – along with those from other parties -- suffered under the royal regime.
Reputed to be one of B.P. Koirala’s favorite youths, Dr. Mahat used his furlough to defend Nepal’s 1990-2002 experiment with democracy in the form of a book as well as in newspaper articles and conference papers. He may have made life a little difficult for the palace by complaining to a Washington Post reporter about the ease with which US Ambassador James F. Moriarty swung golf clubs with Crown Prince Paras while Washington criticized King Gyanendra’s takeover. The ruckus Dr. Mahat’s complaint created did allow Washington to clarify its position vis-à-vis the palace in a way that did not hurt the royal regime too bad.
Compounding this convolution is former premier Thapa’s stand that the SPA and Maoists are proving to be a problem to the country. The most liberal face of the partyless Panchayat system, Thapa’s strong contacts span the political spectrum. Considered close to the Indian establishment, Thapa’s reconciliation pleas following the royal takeover have won admiration in the West. The forum he chose to make that accusation – the first Madheshi national conference of his Rastriya Janashakti Party in Janakpur – adds to the significance.
The Nepali Congress, Unified Marxist Leninists and other members of the SPA would have loved to demonize Thapa as a relic of the partyless autocracy. They forfeited that right when they accepted him as prime minister of a coalition government in 1998.
Maoist leader Dr. Baburam Bhattarai was alarmed by the way Thapa, as a member of the legislature King Gyanendra reinstated in April, welcomed the SPA Proclamation and the government’s determination to hold constituent assembly elections. Having broken off the last peace process during Thapa’s premiership in 2003 – when, incidentally all three security chiefs as well as the home and foreign ministers shared the same surname – Dr. Bhattarai’s nervousness is understandable.
With the SPA constituents rushing to describe the “mandate” of the People’s Movement – II in their own ways, Thapa seems to have gauged the mood of the people as well as that of Nepal’s international partners. And, we are told, he has always been the only politician Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala ever listens to. Thapa may be the ex-prime minister to watch – yes, even amid the convolution of Nepalese politics.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

It’s Payback Time

As new details emerge from the recent Maoist central committee meeting at Kami Danda of Kavrepalanchok district, the precariousness of Nepal’s plight is becoming all too perceptible.
Since the meeting, the Maoists have grown increasingly critical of the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) government’s alleged teaming up with the palace and “some foreign forces” to subvert the peace process.
By threatening to launch a “Kathmandu-centric revolution,” the Maoist central committee has endorsed Prachanda’s earlier pledge that the rebels would not return to the jungle. Yet the real import of the decision lies in the rebels’ eagerness to reap the return on their investment in the April Uprising. The Maoists seem to be convinced that their utility as part of the broader anti-palace alliance ended the night King Gyanendra reinstated the House of Representatives.
A formal repudiation of the alliance with the SPA at this late stage would do greater harm to an organization that has always considered itself ahead of everyone else in the game. Denouncing the Indian architects of last November’s accord would expose the Maoists’ own susceptibility to some of the same “foreign forces” they currently castigate.
A full-fledged withdrawal from the peace process might placate the radical base, but it would vindicate the royal government’s stance. So Prachanda does the best possible thing. He appoints himself heads of a 10-member team to facilitate the peace process and then stands in the way by adding outrageous demands.
The Maoists now insist they will not lay down weapons until ethnic and regional autonomy with the right of self-determination is guaranteed, the monarchy abolished and the army restructured.
What is particularly revealing is that folks like Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel, who until the other day saw the Maoists as reasonable republican cohorts, are now hitting out hard against the rebels.
The international community, which implacably refused to recognize the legitimacy of King Gyanendra’s three-year roadmap, got its way in half that time. Now it’s in for some amusement. Once the leading advocate of United Nations involvement in an elaborate peace process, Prachanda has now inflicted a heavy blow on the organization’s severely curtailed arms-management jurisdiction. Reversing an assurance he gave to the Mistura mission, the rebel supremo now insists he would not be ready even to confine the Maoist militia to specific cantonments unless both the armies were treated on par.
Ian Martin, who as the top UN human rights monitor consistently ridiculed the royal regime’s deep distrust in the Maoists, now has an opportunity, as Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s principal representative, to test the rebels’ commitment to peace.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

October In The Air

With the advent of September, Maoist chairman Prachanda has stepped up his warnings of mass protests in Kathmandu if the rebels’ demands for the election of a constituent assembly were not met. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s government is not paying enough attention to the peace talks, Prachanda said in an address to a rally in the capital. But the rebels would leave no stone unturned for peace.
Such a capital-centred revolution would conform to the urban-uprising component of the Maoist “People’s War.” It would also be in keeping with the Maoists’ pledge that they would not return to the jungle even if the peace process collapsed. Considering that the rebels’ ceasefire ends in the last week of October – that ominous prefix of Prachanda’s next revolution – there must be some disquiet among the republican wing of Koirala’s Nepali Congress. (That in turn must have inspired Sher Bahadur Deuba, head of the rival Nepali Congress (Democratic) to indulge in some posturing ahead of party reunification talks.)
Prachanda’s warning comes after a central committee meeting of the rebels accused the government of joining forces with the palace in a bid to maintain the status quo. Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara told reporters that the meeting had concluded that the government was joining hands with anti-democratic elements (read: palace) to preserve the status quo. By indicting every constituent of the Seven Party Alliance, the Maoists have signaled their unwillingness to be considered merely as an eighth player in the anti-palace coalition.
Arms management should be addressed only after an agreement on an interim constitution and government is reached, the Maoists said in a statement. That conflicts with the government’s as well as the principal external stakeholders’ stand. Yet Mahara sounded hopeful that all political issues would be resolved through dialogue. The rebels have refused to disarm, but seem ready to place their weapons at sites under UN supervision, provided there are similar controls on the Nepal Army. How much room that leaves for compromise obviously depends on one’s level of optimism. Skeptics can draw comfort from some cynicism. Perhaps it’s too early to start worrying.
With so many blanks to fill in the draft of the interim constitution, the imperative of phrasing an acceptable text on managing arms might not be on too many influential minds right now. But, then, the fact that October is less than a month away must be.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Speak Up, Your Majesty

With the Rayamajhi Commission determined to question King Gyanendra on the “excesses” his government committed against the April Uprising, the next logical question becomes relevant. Will Nepalis finally get to see their citizen king in full public view, perhaps even live on national radio and television, offering answers the commission couldn’t get from ex-ministers and officials? Or will the “interrogation” consist of a questionnaire the monarch could fill out at leisure? (Is that what Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala delivered at the royal palace on Thursday?)
Considering all that has been going on since the monarch reinstated the parliament that has voted him into political oblivion, it’s high time King Gyanendra told his side of the story. Land recognized as U.N. heritage sites have been included in an expanding list of royal assets. The monarch’s investments in commercial ventures are being portrayed as something inherently evil. (Can the fact that royal investments within the country have promoted employment and enriched government coffers be obscured?) Good Lord, ambassadors are still presenting credentials to the monarch and making farewell calls. Sanity still stands a chance.
After the 1990 changes, King Birendra was in a far favorable position. He didn’t shirk from complaining about all the politicking going around vis-à-vis the palace. This king has taken a vow of silence that matches neither his purported personality nor predilections. First, the monarch’s forbearance was blamed on depression. The next culprit was those late-night sessions of poker on the Internet. Dame S.S., representing the subversives across the southern border, has run out of story lines for the Indo-Asian community.
Now the royal hush is becoming menacingly portentous to even those who affirmed they had heard the last of the monarch when he reinstated the legislature. The ruling Seven Party Alliance (SPA) and the Maoists are warning of the reactionary storm lurking behind the royal silence. The fact that the acting army chief goes into parliament in civvies to acknowledge the supremacy of civilian rule counts for little.
In four months, the myths surrounding the April Uprising are coming apart. We had a protester die in a hospital in India. It turns out that martyrs are still being declared. The historic mandate has become the subject of mundane histrionics. The drafters of the interim statute became so desperate that they left it to the SPA and Maoists to fill in the blanks. The Maoists were the most eager for international mediation/facilitation/supervision. Now Baburam Bhattarai, Ph.D., has virtually disinvited the team.
Sensing the disarray, U.N. headquarters appears to have retroactively downgraded the Mistura Mission. Ian Martin got a promotion alright, but he doesn’t seem to know what to do next. A consignment of arms is interdicted in India, in a move that has multiplicity of meanings.
The chief Maoist propagandist has revealed how SPA leaders implored the “People’s Liberation Army” to destroy the royal regime’s spine and head. Yet Dr. Bhattarai remains silent on how the wily Maoists could be conned into a 12-point accord with twice as many holes. The rebels’ insistence on issuing separate statements cannot absolve them of their inanity. Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai, moreover, can’t blame American Ambassador James F. Moriarty on this count because they knew His Excellency was in New Delhi when the accord was being initialed.
The royal regime’s “transit hub” platform has turned out not to be the much-maligned ploy to prolong its tenure. Nepal has formally tabled the proposal to India. Bangladeshis sound more excited than we are about Chinese railway being extended from Lhasa to the Nepalese border. Let’s not even begin dissecting the geopolitical significance of such sentiments.
Your Majesty, Nepalis are entitled to some explanation on things more important than those two-dozen-plus untimely and tragic deaths. We recognize that Your Majesty may not be privy to all that has transpired since those turbulent days in April. Yet much of what is happening now is rooted in the conflicting enticements, entreaties and intimidation from abroad the royal regime confronted behind the façade of the “democracy movement.”