Monday, July 17, 2006

Trivialization Truth

Less than a 100 day before he was forced to give up direct rule, events have vindicated King Gyanendra’s February 1, 2005 takeover of full executive powers – at least from one standpoint. In his proclamation, the monarch had cited, among other things, the political leadership’s trivialization of national issues during their 1990-2002 stint in power. If anything, the mainstream parties’ propensity for cheapening the national discourse has worsened since their return to power in April.
The other day we were told the Nepali Congress, UML and Maoists had agreed to replace the House of Representatives with an interim arrangement. A breakthrough indeed, considering that the rebels had unleashed their “people’s war” also against parliament. Before you could pause to consider what thoughts the Nepali Congress (Democratic) and smaller constituents of the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) might have on the issue, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala stunned us by voicing surprise at the deal.
Of course, by then, Sushil Koirala and Ram Chandra Poudel, who had represented Koirala’s Nepali Congress at those talks, had already denied such an agreement was reached.
Within the UML, that “agreement” pitted two senior leaders, K.P. Sharma Oli, Koirala’s deputy premier, and Bam Dev Gautam, the principal Maoist confidant, against each other.
Oli, presumably reflecting the sentiments of his boss, would not hear of any deal on dissolving the legislature before it completed its job. Gautam, as a leading participant in the meeting, insisted dissolution was a precondition for peace from the outset. (It’s growing harder these days to believe that Oli and Gautam were allies against UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal during the last party convention in 2003.)
Madhav Nepal, meanwhile, came out with a baffling suggestion: replace the House of Representatives with an interim parliament ostensibly including Maoist representatives. The absurdity becomes apparent once you consider that even in its most restrictive phase, the Panchayat system had a legislature that was at least partly indirectly elected.
The proposal of Narayan Man Bijukkche, the head of the Nepal Workers and Peasants Party, an SPA constituent, for a 51-member advisory assembly makes more political sense in the current circumstances. At least it contains no illusions that members of a legislature that has outlived its normal life could somehow “elect” interim successors.
The Maoists, for their part, are oscillating between wild alternatives on almost every important issue. They still refuse to concede that the Nepalese people might vote for retaining the monarchy, but, in the same breath, vow to uphold any outcome.
Long a proponent of neutral external monitors, Prachanda now wants the Nepalese to resolve the issue of the rebels’ arms, but then he flatly refuses to disarm. Now the rebels want both armies maintaining their independent status. (Any inspiration from Hezbollah, as suggested in this space a few days ago?)
Amid reports of growing Chinese interest in the rebels, even chief rebel ideologue Dr. Baburam Bhattarai can’t seem to figure out one principal ground reality. Is Beijing reaching out to the Nepalese rebels because of any residual ideological affinity or because it wants the Maoists to reconcile with the monarchy. After all, the Great Helmsman himself, we are told, had encouraged Dr Keshar Jung Rayamajhi do so a generation ago.
What is becoming increasingly clear, though, is that the Maoists are gradually recognizing how their gift for ambiguity has come to haunt them.
So what is King Gyanendra doing? Well, he seems busy. He accepted the credentials from, among others, British Ambassador Andrew Hall. (Hall replaces Keith Bloomfield, who was among the inveterate foreign critics of the royal regime. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Bloomfield, in his farewell audience with King Gyanendra after the SPA’s return to power, assured the monarch he could finally sympathize with his distrust of the current crop of politicos.)
If you really want to know what the monarch thinks about current events, you might want to check out his birthday pictures. It’s hard to miss the “don’t-blame-me” aura.