Thursday, April 13, 2006

Uncovering The ‘Total’ Democracy Story

In the end, Sharad Chandra Shah seems to have carried the day. Well, with a little help from Keshar Bahadur Bista.
King Gyanendra’s New Year’s message, in which he reiterates his desire to hold parliamentary elections to reactivate multiparty democracy, is unlikely to douse the flames on the streets.
Sharad Chandra Shaha expects the pro-democracy protests to peter out in a fortnight – max. His optimism probably carries traces of his grudge with the previous generation of Nepalese street fighters.
His residence in Dilli Bazar was torched during the 1990 People’s Movement. He had earned the wrath of the mobs for his role in unleashing storm-troopers from the National Sports Council against democracy campaigners.
Few recognized the real grievance of Sharad-raja. He had ceased being that all-powerful member-secretary of the National Sports Council when Ganesh Man Singh led a jihad against the partyless Panchayat heathens.
If retroactive justice was such a good idea, Sharad-raja might have wondered, why wasn’t Rishikesh Shaha paraded around in a necklace of shoes for having helped write the Panchayat constitution?
To be sure, during his heyday, Sharad Chandra Shaha made and destroyed a lot of lives. This time around, Maila Baje feels, the hardliner merely reinforced what King Gyanendra must already have decided in Pokhara. The monarch’s refusal to set the election date probably draws from Royal Minister Keshar Bahadur Bista’s party’s plea for reconciliation.
Ultimately, the monarch’s decision apparently factored in a vital confluence of events emanating primarily from across the southern border.
Implicit in the ease with which India agreed to renew the transit treaty on the eve of the protests was an omen of a looming massive political showdown. As the crowds swelled and the government unleashed its fury, the world rose in condemnation of the king. Deafening in its silence was India. (Although China, too, kept quiet, not much more could be read into its stand.)
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher’s tirade changed things. Only when U.S. Ambassador James F. Moriarty extended best wishes to the movement commanders before counseling a U.S. congressional delegation to stay away and trimming his mission staff did New Delhi choose to speak. And it did with a thunder. India has let it be known to the palace that it would be compelled to use all its levers to restore democracy in Nepal. (Abrogation of the transit treaty is probably not an option, eh?)
But poor Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Amid the deepening confusion that has passed for Indian policy on Nepal since the royal takeover, he chose to inject some honesty.
At a meeting convened by the Left backing his coalition, Singh suggested he didn’t want to be another Bush having to deal with the equivalent of Hamas. As if the analogy weren’t clear enough to the Sitaram Yechuris – who for one time agreed with American policy vis-à-vis Nepal – Singh clarified matters the following day: the Maoists in India pose the greatest internal-security threat since independence.
Translation: “No matter how vigorously they disown the Naxalites, we just can’t trust Prachanda and Baburam.”
The Nepalese Maoists, after all, inspired the unification of the fractious Naxalite groups in the world most populous democracy into the Communist Party of India (Maoists.) If the ground realities of the moment could force the Nepalese Maoists to muffle their long-standing anti-Indianism and marginalize their pan-South Asianism, they could revert to them just as easily once circumstances warrant.
Undoubtedly, the immediate payoff has been immense. By checkmating the U.N., Americans, Norwegians, Swiss et al, India warded off any precedent for Kashmir and the Northeast. At the same time, it checked Nepal’s dangerous drift away from the Indian orbit. (On the former, New Delhi probably thinks it has done a service to Beijing as well, considering our northern neighbor’s equally vital imperative of domesticating a solution on Tibet.)
All the same, the immediate challenge is daunting for Singh. With Girija Prasad Koirala and Prachanda already locking horns for a putative presidency, the Yechuris must be brought around to recognizing that a Republic of Nepal might not be in the immediate national interest.
With a recalcitrant palace, some more coercing, cajoling, enticing and intimidating would be needed. And what could offer a better cover than eternally endangered lives and inflamed streets in Nepal?