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.”

Monday, August 28, 2006

I Just Didn’t Call To Say…

US Ambassador James F. Moriarty has too much on his hands. Just take the month of August. A professor-cum-newspaper columnist applies for a US visa and is refused. The only disqualification he can think of is his relentless criticism of American coddling of King Gyanendra during the monarch’s direct rule. He puts that in writing. The essay prompts a bevy of personalities to write about or narrate similar experiences.
His Excellency is forced to respond. Although the professor has been an American Embassy cultural contact, Moriarty notes, visa officers have to work within the US Immigration and Naturalization Act passed by Congress.
The law charges every consular officer to assume that every visa applicant is an intending immigrant, unless the applicant can convince the officer otherwise. Interviewing and adjudicating visa applications are difficult tasks, but those entrusted with the onerous responsibility are not indifferent, as the professor suggested.
Here’s what Moriarty was probably getting at. The US Embassy comes under the State Department. Visa officers have considerations related more to the Department of Homeland Security. (Context: Before 9/11, immigration matters used to come under the Department of Justice. When Mohammed Atta’s student visa came through six months after he flew American 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, the sweeping transformation became inevitable.)
Moriarty is now forced to clarify that he hasn’t made phone calls to anybody lobbying for the retention of ceremonial monarchy. Now, even if Moriarty were part of such a campaign, could he be expected to acknowledge it at a news conference?
Moreover, if he were involved in such an effort, why would he have to telephone people. He does visit all the SPA bosses a couple of times a month, doesn’t he? As for the mid-level politicians, haven’t they always been more anxious to present themselves before His Excellency and his predecessors?
Could the Maoist leaders have been the recipients of Moriarty’s calls? Considering that Washington officially considers them terrorists, the telephone would certainly meet the plausible-deniability test. Since His Excellency already considers the Maoist leaders Octobrists, what line of conversation could he have led on the phone? A polite intimation that the time has come to shed more light on Prachanda’s purported association with the USAID or thereabouts?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Enter Prachanda The Geo-Politician

In his latest avatar as geo-politician, Maoist supremo Prachanda claims India is trying hard to retain the monarchy. In the considered opinion of the supreme commander of the “People’s Liberation Army,” expressed in an interview with BBC Nepali Service, the Indian Army remains at the forefront of the campaign.
For a man who once boasted that his real war would be with the Indian men and women in uniform dispatched to prop up the “old regime,” this progression in thought has all the hallmarks of an honorable retreat.
For students of the triangulation school of thought in India’s Nepal policy -- such as yours truly -- the Maoist supremo was merely stressing the obvious. However, he used another BBC question to set the tone of the debate that is likely to evolve over the weeks and months. The Nepalese Maoists would support India’s attempt to get a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council if New Delhi reconsidered some of its policies toward its small neighbors.
Our erudite chairman continued: “[New Delhi] presently follows what is known as Nehru doctrine under which it seeks to intimidate, interfere, expand its influence and dictate its terms on its neighbors.”
If India reconsidered such a policy, then it would deserve a permanent seat in the Security Council. Now, Prachanda didn’t expound on how such a policy shift might overcome a Chinese veto. Or, even before that, receive Indonesia’s, Pakistan’s and other key Asian nations’ endorsement in the regional rounds. But, then, Prachanda was merely expressing his party’s opinion.
And no insignificant one, at that. This assertion would be the easiest one for the most fanatical of royalists – barring perhaps the religious right -- to agree with. (Any subtle overtures here, Comrade, on, say, secularism for ceremonialism?)
Rounding off the circle, our comrade in chief opined that U.S. pressure and India’s hard-line groups have emerged as the hurdle to Nepal’s independence. Something the Great Helmsman’s country would easily concur with regardless of who those hardliners actually are.
Asked about Nepal’s northern neighbor, Prachanda said China’s policy toward Nepal has traditionally been to back the king as a factor of stability. But the April Uprising against the monarchy may have forced China to reconsider that policy, he added. The operative word here may be “may”. Could a Maoist-palace alliance be in the works here? Not unlikely considering what else the rebel in chief had to say about China.
Urging India to concede the right to self-determination to Kashmiris and people in its northeastern states, he acknowledged the urgency of granting the same opportunity to Tibetans. “But we think that the autonomy that the Chinese government has given there is in accordance with the aspirations of the Tibetan people,” he added.
Asked about the strategic importance of the new Beijing-Lhasa railroad, Prachanda said Nepal and South Asia in general would stand to gain. But not before explaining how Nepal has had to rely on its southern neighbor because of the economy, open borders, transport and communication. “This has put us in a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis India which, instead, is in a position to take undue advantage [of us].”
Few might have expected Prachanda to praise Osama bin Laden. So he condemns Al Qaeda’s attacks on innocent people the world over under a blind religious garb as terrorist activities. But only to make his next point. “[I]t is the US which is a bigger terrorist than bin Laden in the sense that it was the US which created him during the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.”
In a rare deference to reality over rhetoric, Prachanda conceded that the Maoists were incapable of fighting the US. Then comes the olive branch. “It’s not that we do not want to have relations with the US once we go to power. All we want is to wage an ideological resistance against the US muscle-flexing in the world.” An unexpected resonance of Noam Chomsky and far-left fringe of the Democratic Party. (The Maoist supremo must be watching and listening to all those bin Laden and Zawahiri tapes.)
But when it comes to Nepal and Nepalis, Prachanda remains defiant. “There are more than a hundred countries which are smaller than us. It is not easy for the US to invade us, like it did in Afghanistan and Iraq. If India and China have such designs those would not succeed either, because forces capable of countering such designs have already emerged here.” Does his spirit have any less nationalistic ebullience than all those songs on Panchayat-era Radio Nepal?
Look at the ground Prachanda has prepared. He can claim he tried his best to republicanize Nepal but, as a true communist, can no longer ignore the objective realities of geopolitics and globalization. Those Nepalis who’ve always believed that the monarchy isn’t the problem would certainly not deny Prachanda that Marxist fig leaf.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Enduring Value of Nepal’s Military

By sheer coincidence, a senior Nepalese foreign policy advisory group made public its recommendation to, among other things, drastically reduce the strength of the armed forces as the U.N. Security Council was struggling to muster enough troops for
an expanded United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
Evidently, the Nepalese panel feels that a bloated military would be a drain on the country’s precious resources. Downsizing a force that could never stand a chance with either of Nepal’s giant neighbors on the battlefield anyway would free up money and materiel to promote social and human security.
With a touch of palpable erudition, panel member Harsa Narayan Dhaubadel told a Kathmandu daily: “Traditionally, security concept meant security force oriented doctrine and use of arms. But the positions of our two neighbors, China, India, in a new global order have become different and we need to redefine our foreign policy.”
Dhaubadel should know. He was Nepal’s ambassador to India, appointed by the short-lived Unified Marxist-Leninist minority government in 1994-95.
Juxtapose that with what U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown said to reporters at U.N. Headquarters in New York after Thursday’s meeting of potential troop contributors.
Although “enormously helpful” offers had emerged from Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Nepal, Malloch Brown said, it was vital for UNIFIL to have a strong European as well as Muslim content for legitimacy.
Nepal belongs to neither group, but has a generally good record in the existing UNIFIL, barring of course those instances where get-rich-quick men have sold rations and ammunition to Hezbollah and Amal militants.
As for our wider role as international peacekeepers, even the Indian media, hardly a friend of the Nepalese military, has had warms words. (Of course, they came in context of proving the Nepalese military could neither defeat the Maoists nor stabilize Nepalese society as the principal pivot of King Gyanendra’s direct rule.)
With U.N. peacekeeping commitments set to grow in theaters expected to become increasingly complicated, Malloch Brown’s stress on the urgency of assembling multinational contingents capable of drawing the greatest confidence all sides becomes relevant for Nepal.
Surely, our political leadership, traditionally wary of the military, would find it hard to contemplate a large – and perhaps potentially bigger – force just to ensure that U.N. peacekeepers become rapidly deployable amid unanticipated crises.
Moreover, a haphazard merger of Maoist rebels and the national army as part of the peace process – as advocated vociferously from the realm of civil society -- might even corrode the credibility of Nepalese troops as international peacekeepers.
Yet there could be complementarities here that might benefit both the sagging Nepalese economy as well as the country’s international profile. As the latest instance has shown, rich countries are wary of commitments for a variety of reasons – ambiguous missions, command-and-control rivalries, colonial legacies. But they rarely hide their readiness to fund troops from developing nations in dire need of cash.
Despite the bitterness it has created inside the country, Nepal has enjoyed a largely positive image from what would ordinarily be considered mercenary work. Moreover, remittances from foreign employment have largely propped up the economy when all our traditional sectors like tourism and exports have fallen flat.
Deputy Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, who is also minister for foreign affairs, has promised to study the report prepared by the advisory panel. Oli had the good sense to rise to the defense of the Nepalese army, after Maoist supremo Prachanda spewed venom against a force he long thought he could defeat militarily.
Can we expect Oli to exhibit similar sharpness in weighing the recommendations of the advisory panel?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Chhaya Devi Syndrome & Uncivil Society

Chhaya Devi Parajuli, who many considered the epitome of Nepalis’ eternal quest for freedom during the recent democracy protests, is angered in the aftermath. Actually, it’s her relatives. They are criticizing the current leaders for not visiting the 88-year-old lady hospitalized with a fractured leg. (The motorcyclist who inflicted all this had no royal connections, so he’s out of the media spotlight.)
As someone who participated in every democracy movement since 1950, Chhaya Devi perhaps does deserve a little affection from those in power. The problem is that her relatives feel she is entitled to it. Barring a few members of the reinstated legislature, we are told, no one of any significant political stature has been at her bedside.
Now, it would have been a miracle if any SPA bigwig had found time between shredding King Gyanendra’s political ambitions and seeking to strip the Maoists of their guns to recall Chhaya Devi’s ebullience in the spring.
It’s useless to complain about the mindset of a handful of relatives when the Chhaya Devi Syndrome has gripped our civil society. From the tenor and thrust of this disparate group, they are determined to extract their ton of the democracy flesh. In their view, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has betrayed the April Uprising because of his infatuation with a ceremonial monarchy. The SPA is a slothful bunch in power purely at civil society’s pleasure. For them, the Maoists are Nepal’s only hope, although it’s unclear whether this compliment resonates from their fear or faith. For now, the SPA and the Maoists are appeasing this section by apportioning a third of the seats in the interim assembly.
True, civil society’s participation built the size and momentum of the protests against King Gyanendra’s regime. It is equally true that this group was energized into action only by the royal regime’s effort to tighten rules governing local and international nongovernmental organizations. That would have meant tighter government scrutiny of foreign funds and local expenditures. When Koirala, UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal and the other mainstream politicians were shackled into silence, most of our captains of civil society were still blaming them for the king’s political ambitions.
The narcissism of some of these leaders is nauseating. Take this former finance secretary under the Panchayat system, who broke with the palace-led regime because he didn’t like the way then-prime minister Surya Bahadur Thapa was exploiting national resources to rig the referendum in the palace’s favor.
The act of defiance was undoubtedly courageous. But could it obscure the role this gentleman played to sustain the Panchayat system all those years before that? How many bureaucrats were fortunate to have spent almost all of their service in the lucrative Finance Ministry? More importantly, how many civil servants had worked their way up the ministry ladder, through the foreign aid unit, to reach the top? If the Panchayat system was an abomination, a portion of the responsibility surely must fall on this person.
The gentleman became finance minister in the interim government formed after the 1990 political change. A member of premier Krishna Prasad Bhattarai’s entourage, our minister was at the center of those crucial talks in New Delhi. When Bhattarai got into trouble because of his reference to “common rivers,” the finance minister was reminding everyone of the “non-political” nature of his status in the cabinet.
This time around, the SPA and Maoists had named him the head of the truce monitoring committee. He refused, saying he had neither the interest nor competence for the job. Was the rebuff necessary when the country was short of people both sides could trust? (Or maybe the gentleman was far too proficient in fanning flames for a role reversal.)
Then there are these two medical doctors representing two generations. The first, long known among patients for his harangues on Nepalis’ almost congenital inability to comprehend the virtues of personal hygiene, thought it was time to show some political astuteness. King Gyanendra’s dismissal of Nepal’s last elected prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, on October 4, 2002 was constitutionally correct, the doctor diagnosed; the monarch’s appointment of Lokendra Bahadur Chand a couple of days later wasn’t. The nuances were as nebulous as ever, but they didn’t matter. The tribe of non-political personages with political prescriptions had just proliferated. His advocacy of republicanism seems to be rooted more in his allegiance to a line of Ranas with whom the monarch does not share direct blood ties.
Another medical doctor, who was the personal physician of UML prime minister Manmohan Adhikary, traces his political antecedents to his days as a student in India. In newspaper columns, he would offer his two cents on almost everything he thought ailed the Nepalese polity. In his professional realm, he was known for his sharp memory. If you had ever been a patient and advised to seek medical treatment abroad, you had to be sure you called to say ‘thank you’ if you ever expected to schedule another appointment.
This doctor, too, is upset with Koirala’s emerging royal attachment. The Maoists, UML and others are entitled to prejudicing the constituent assembly elections by demanding the declaration of a republic right away, but Koirala is no longer a democrat because he roots for the royals.
What might have come of a civil society protest if, say, Koirala and the SPA hadn’t led the charge against the palace? Our three doctors would probably still be hollering themselves hoarse on the edges of the city. What do you say, Mrs. Parajuli?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Crown In Koirala’s Space And Time

The more you hear him express it, the more assured you become that Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s admiration for a ceremonial monarchy comes with a utilitarian strain of adoration.
At one level, it’s hard to feel affection for someone – or an institution, in this case – that you feel has repeatedly beleaguered you. At another, the torment is the thrill. Having fought against three politically assertive kings, overseen as prime minister the funeral of two and witnessed the enthronement of one, royalty must have left an enduring impression on Koirala.
As someone castigated for a purported attempt to impose his own dynasty on the people in the garb of democracy, Koirala would be the least likely of today’s leaders to be rooting for the monarchy. Yet that’s what he is doing at every opportunity. Having firmly supported the royal takeover and awaiting the more dispassionate judgment of history on King Gyanendra’s motives, this writer fails to see the wisdom of keeping a monarch stripped of everything but his clothes.
But even the worst critics of Koirala must acknowledge the firmness of his convictions. In the three and a half years since King Gyanendra assumed a direct political role, Koirala was unsparing in his criticism of the monarch. Amid the vituperation, one often wondered what kind of conversation Koirala could have struck up with the king during the slew of individual and collective audiences before the Feb. 1, 2005 royal takeover.
Demonized by rivals as corrupt, dictatorial, haughty and adamant, Koirala remained consistent in demanding the reinstatement of the House of Representatives. What was brushed off as a constitutionally unviable demand eventually provided the sanest political outlet. For Koirala, vindication must have come in many hues. The Maoists, who once clubbed Koirala together with the newly crowned monarch and his yet-undeclared heir as the principal enemies of the state before pressuring him into resigning in 2001, sought the legitimacy of his leadership to challenge the palace through unarmed street protests.
Koirala’s incessant invocation of the term “grand design” at critical junctures left all scurrying for clues. Today, he stands alone on the national stage emphasizing the need for a nebulous ceremonial monarchy.
To be fair, Koirala has been consistent on this count. During the apogee of royal rule, Koirala insisted the conduct of the monarch, above all, would determine whether Nepal became a republic. In dropping the traditional reference to the monarchy from the statute of his Nepali Congress, Koirala must have merely raised the stakes.
The consummate politician in him always saw the “republic card” as a bargaining chip – and he wasn’t ashamed to acknowledge that. Amid Nepal’s geopolitical realities, abolishing the monarchy without creating something to fill the vacuum was not prudent politics. (For clarity’s sake, he could have said Nepal needed the king more than the other way around, but that wouldn’t have been politically prudent either.)
As Nepal’s pre-eminent democrat, Koirala couldn’t think of pre-empting the Nepalese people’s right to determine their destiny. In the crucial transition phase, however, the leader owed it to his people to help them separate emotion and essence.
If the Maoists could insist on abolishing the monarchy through the interim constitution, then surely Koirala had the right to advocate the virtues of a ceremonial monarchy as he saw it.
The exigencies of statecraft must have intervened, too. Having deleted the royal prefix from the Nepalese Army, Koirala could have reprimanded Chief of the Army Staff Gen. Pyar Jung Thapa for going to the palace to extend birthday greetings to a man who was no longer his commander. As prime minister, Koirala recognized the more urgent imperative of maintaining morale in a force that still retains institutional loyalty to the crown. A legislature drawing sustenance from the political passions of the moment could not even pretend to sever by decree ties that began with the creation of the modern Nepalese state.
Koirala, for his part, has had a front-row view of the fickleness of the political moment. After mass protests forced King Birendra to abolish the Panchayat 16 years ago, Koirala was heckled for suggesting that the restoration of multiparty democracy represented a victory for the palace as well. King Birendra’s strained relations with Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had undoubtedly galvanized the democracy movement in Nepal. But by the middle of Koirala’s first term as premier, his visiting Indian counterpart P.V. Narasimha Rao chose to keep much of the substantive bilateral discussions for the quiet dinner at the royal palace.
A few years ago, Koirala had assured King Gyanendra that he could get the Maoists to accept the monarchy if the palace agreed to constituent assembly elections. Having preempted the palace through street protests, Koirala has begun cracking the whips on the Maoists. His Nepali Congress colleagues like Ram Chandra Poudel and Narahari Acharya can believe all they want that their brand of republicanism can thrive with the Maoists in the driver’s seat. Koirala certainly has the right to articulate his views in support of a ceremonial monarchy.
More important, in the marketplace of ideas he envisions for all of us, Koirala’s critics can mount a reasoned challenge or garner enough votes against him. But they certainly can’t expect to silence Nepal’s most prominent democrat.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Beginning Of The Betrayal Backlash?

“The CPN [Maoist] has thrown away an historic opportunity for Nepal’s workers and peasants. They have allowed themselves to become part of a slapdash coalition of the parties of Nepal’s ruling class.
“Instead of relying on the support that they were able to mobilize in the cities they are now making secret deals with an incompetent bourgeois crook.”

WITH much of the world still questioning the Maoists’ sincerity to the peace process, the preceding excerpts provide a timely summation of the anxieties emanating from the other end of the spectrum.
These paragraphs, quoted from the summer 2006 issue of the British newspaper Socialist Resistance, serve to underscore the sense of betrayal precipitated by the Maoists’ desire to wage peace.
Castigating the deals the Maoists have made with the Seven Party Alliance, Liam MacUaid, in his article “Nepalese revolution hits the buffers,” states the rebels are no longer accountable to the workers, peasants and urban poor whose pressure forced King Gyanendra to make concessions to democracy in April.
“Maoist organizations have always swung between murderous political gangsterism toward other socialists and a willingness to make deals with the ‘patriotic bourgeoisie,’ MacUaid writes. “The CPN is no different in this respect.”
Prachanda and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai probably won’t be too concerned by such criticism. After all, the International Socialist Group (ISG), which publishes the monthly together with the Socialist Solidarity Network and some like-minded individuals, is the British Section of the Fourth International.
How could it understand the objective conditions and ground realities of Nepal from the ivory towers of London? (And which mindless layout editor placed the story on the Afghanistan page and got away with it?)
A Trotskyite revolutionary organization committed to the overthrow of the “barbaric” capitalist system, the ISG is appreciative of the Maoists’ many progressive demands. It is infuriated by the way the Nepalese state and the Bush administration have clubbed the anti-Maoist fight into the global war on terror.
The ISG might have played a major part in boosting the Maoists’ PR in Europe, especially within the broad umbrella of the anti-globalization campaign. However, as a Marxist organization, it takes issue with the Maoists’ seeming indifference to the self-activity of the working class.
Admittedly, Nepal’s relatively undeveloped working class limits the kind of action the ISG and its soul mates would like the Nepalese rebels to pursue. But should that reality necessarily translate into what many consider a strategy to allow a different section of the Nepalese bourgeoisie to take power?
Faced with a choice of taking power themselves as representatives of Nepal’s peasants and workers, MacUaid writs, the Maoists opted to send their leader Prachanda to meet Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to discuss a settlement. “The 84-year-old politician is a longstanding figure in the country’s politics and is accused by opponents of being utterly corrupt.” (Perhaps for added effect, the author notes that Koirala is the leader of Nepali Congress, a party that belongs to Tony Blair’s Socialist International.)
Instead of offering a real way forward, MacUaid states, the Maoists seem certain to fight the forthcoming elections as loyal defenders of the new ruling class constitution. “In doing so they will have betrayed the Nepalese peasants and workers who brought the country to the edge of revolution.”
Hey, it’s not as if the Revolutionary International Movement (or whatever incarnation Global Maoists have assumed today) has mounted a blistering denunciation of a lost decade. Nor is MacUaid someone in the league of Li Onesto.
Yet one question must be nagging Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai: Could such candor embolden Ganapathy and other Indian Maoists to speak out?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Responsibility Absurdity

Now that the military component of the royal regime has deposed before the commission probing into the state’s “suppression” of the democracy protests in April, it’s safe to reach that conclusion which was obvious from the outset.
Nobody is prepared to take responsibility for the 19 deaths (or 22 depending on who’s counting) because nobody can be expected to. Some members of the royal government have implied, in varying hues of candor, that King Gyanendra should take responsibility as the chief executive. The monarch, in his proclamation reinstating the House of Representatives, has already expressed his deep sorrow at the loss of life. If the commission wants King Gyanendra to make a more forceful acknowledgement, then it should have the gallantry to issue a summons to the monarch. The HoR Proclamation has cleared the way for that course; the commission members should summon their collective will.
If they cannot, then they should collectively acknowledge the obvious. The royal regime, in the normal course of discharging its duties, had imposed curfews in designated areas. Notification was made well in advance. Those who chose to defy the curfew understood they were in violation of those laws. Politically, they may have considered that very defiance as a potent symbol of protest. But, then, that was a matter concerning the protesters and their sponsors. Ministers, bureaucrats, military officials, police chiefs and everyone else acted within the general purview of their obligation to maintain law and order.
The commission and the theatrics surrounding it evidently helped the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) government to consolidate power in its early days and weeks. The show has now become a distraction.
The Mallik Commission that probed the “excesses” of the Panchayat government during the 1990 democracy protests named names and apportioned blame precisely for political purposes. Revisionists continue to attribute the failure of successive elected governments to take action to their magnanimity.
What they don’t tell us is that the attorney-general of the government that had accepted the panel’s recommendations had asserted they were not actionable on legal and constitutional grounds. None of his successors chose to reverse that affirmation.
Clearly, we don’t need to waste another day to know what we already know.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Monarchy Makeover?

PRIME Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s cabinet amends the royal succession laws to, in effect, allow women to ascend the throne. The Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), the second ranking partner in the coalition government, wants the interim constitution to include a provision for a referendum on the monarchy. The Maoists want the interim charter to abolish the monarchy.
It’s not pleasant having to see all those cart tracks before the horse dung, especially when most of us were led to believe that the constituent assembly would determine the future of the monarchy. Moreover, wouldn’t such behavior impede those who want to go into the process of writing a new constitution on a platform of a constructive monarchy? (Audacious as it might sound now, it still could happen, but first things first.)
Placing the first-born of the monarch in the line of succession would do much to modernize the institution. It’s the traditional side of the crown that’s more of a concern. The Japanese, far ahead of us in espousing modernity as well as in adhering to tradition, are still debating the wisdom of putting a female on the throne when many royal functions appear exclusively male-driven. Our democrats have decided to gender-neutralize the crown by decree.
The Koirala cabinet seems to have looked past the complications because, well, they are complicated. Can a queen caught in a biologically unpropitious phase of the month enter Hanuman Dhoka to welcome the advent of spring and still maintain the sanctity of the event?
And the Dasain tika? Surely, a ceremonial monarch need not abandon the practice of blessing commoners on one of the most important festivals of the calendar. Even if all the other elements of sacredness were met, what of the full implications of a queenly touch on a succession of male foreheads? What about the wider effects? Wouldn’t the Kumari feel less encumbered to claim life tenure as the Living Goddess? Where will all this stop?
Clearly, it’s all politics, for now. Koirala seem wedded to a campaign to retain a ceremonial monarchy. By stripping the monarch of everything except his clothes, the government will sooner or later create enough sympathy to remake the crown. The longer the charade enacted in the name of democratic politics continues, the brighter King Gyanendra’s 15-month direct rule may shine as a model of constitutionalism.
Evidently, the UML thinks it can checkmate Koirala with the referendum call. The demand comes at a sensitive time for the party. Onetime allies of general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal are now trying to oust him as leader. Could this be the beginning of another split that might see the more hard-line UML faction merge with the Maoists?
Let’s delve deeper. Is the UML’s referendum call really aimed at the palace or the Maoists? After all, forerunners of today UML’s are credited with ensuring the victory of the Panchayat system in the 1980 referendum. Many still believe the comrades’ call for an active boycott of that plebiscite transformed into votes against a multiparty system dominated by that rabid anti-communist, B.P. Koirala.
A UML-driven vote in favor of a monarchy would be far more significant than Koirala’s public support, without the obvious political costs. No wonder the Maoists want the monarchy abolished right away.
But isn’t that also a nice way of demanding a place in an interim government without having to disarm? Technically speaking, the Nepali Congress and the Jhapali comrades haven’t accounted for the weapons they wielded in pursuit of their political objectives.
Could there be more to the Maoists’ stepped-up anti-monarchy offensive, like, say, a desire to precipitate a palace intervention on behalf of armed rebels joining a government of national reconciliation? All political roads still seem to lead to palace, don’t they?