Friday, July 07, 2006

Oli Writ

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s “secret” letter to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan requesting the world body’s help in monitoring and managing the Maoists’ weapons has set off a firestorm.
The Maoists were bound to be annoyed, considering that the premier failed to consult them before sending off the missive. What’s intriguing is that Deputy Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, too, is clueless.
Granted, Koirala wouldn’t want to share the contents of the letter with the Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML)’s ranking representative in the government. But Oli also happens to be the foreign minister. The council of ministers has vindicated King Gyanendra’s accusation in his Feb. 1 2005 proclamation seizing full executive powers that the political parties trivialized issues of national importance.
Oli’s own situation is a little tricky here. The leader of the dissident faction within the UML during the last party convention, Oli was almost on his way to becoming a senior minister in one of the palace-appointed cabinets. Although he was a bitter critic of the royal takeover, he was perceived to be less than enthusiastic about the Seven Party Alliance (SPA)’s street protests.
The Maoists continue to pour much of their wrath on Oli, often to the extent of accusing him of being a royal agent in the cabinet. Such allegations are nothing new for the deputy premier. During the Panchayat years, it was said that Oli was one step away from being appointed a zonal commissioner.
A leader of the Jhapa Movement, Nepal’s first real violent communist insurgency, Oli was arrested an almost executed. The story is that the person pulling the trigger ran out of bullets. But Oli had a more powerful moral from that movement. The Jhapa revolutionaries, he once told an interviewer, recognized the futility of armed action against the state years before they shed the last drops of blood. The Maoists cannot be expected to cease violence the instance their supreme commander in chief, Prachanda, orders them to.
If Oli has become harsher in recent days in his criticism of the Maoists’ continued attacks, abductions and extortions, perhaps there is much more to his sting than reciprocity. By committing the Maoist leadership today to cease coercion and intimidation, there may some chance of Nepal turning a little more peaceful a couple of years down the road.
Oli seems to have recognized that candor may be his greatest companion at the moment – even if it means underscoring the clumsiness that passes for statecraft. When he defended the army after Prachanda’s intemperance, it set off a wider recognition of the imperative of decency.
If Prachanda finally felt compelled to amend/retract his slur, it was certainly because Oli set the ball rolling. Moreover, without Oli’s articulation, we wouldn’t have recognized the depths to which Nepal-China relations now seem destined to plummet.
Straight talking also serves as cushion for Oli within the UML. Countless people in Oli’s party are waiting for the current government to fail so they could destroy the politics of the deputy premier. Now UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal need not necessarily be the instigator here. But he would be the principal beneficiary of Oli’s fall. To date, four men from the UML have become deputy prime minister – the first being Nepal himself. Bam Dev Gautam is best remembered for having sanctified the ex-panchas through his readiness to serve as Lokendra Bahadur Chand’s deputy. Nepal sent Bharat Mohan Adhikary as the top UML representative in the multiparty government led by Sher Bahadur Deuba primarily to prevent Gautam or Oli from playing politics. Adhikary couldn’t prevent the royal takeover. But he had exposed himself before that when he started justifying why the palace and security expenditures couldn’t be touched, contrary to the UML’s stand on the streets.
If Oli were to stumble embarrassingly frequently enough, Madhav Nepal wouldn’t have a potential rival of reasonable standing to worry about. Oli seems to understand this reality better than Nepal does, considering the alacrity with which he attaches all those clarifications/qualifications to key government matters.