Sunday, January 07, 2007

Absolute Premier Assesses Abstruse Politics

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala believes the interim constitution invests too much power in him, but Maoist chairman Prachanda insists the statute be promulgated forthwith. Nepal’s leading republican is fine with an absolute prime minister who also happens to be the country’s preeminent ceremonial monarchist.
The bewilderment is no less baffling at other levels. The price of United Nations involvement in the management of arms and armies was acceptance of former Gurkha soldiers of the Indian Army as monitors. That evidently led to national-service claims from the purportedly more sophisticated ex-British Gurkhas.
Then someone further west across the Atlantic remembered the United Nations peacekeeping reputation the formerly Royal Nepalese Army had earned. Why shouldn’t ex-ex-RNA servicemen be given a role in the national reconciliation campaign?
Now Prachanda desperately needs to find ex-Maoist soldiers, but he can’t turn to the original recruiter. Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal is too busy trying to consign Prachanda Path in the dustbin of history to design a broader communist front.
The problem, though, is that the mainstream communists in the UML are split among Madhav Kumar Nepal, Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli and Bamdev Gautam. (At least the third UML ex-deputy premier Bharat Mohan Adhikary hasn’t created his own fiefdom.) Among leftists further to the left, the convulsions are more compelling. C.P. Mainali is being accused of harboring pro-monarchy sympathies, while the other fronts are in perpetual implosion all but in name.
So the focus shifts to the right. Pashupati Shamsher Rana’s Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) faction has had the worst of both worlds. It consistently refused to back the royal regime, ostensibly to burnish its democratic credentials. The newly ascendant architects of a new Nepal simply cannot trust a royalist party, much less one led by the great grandson of the last autocratic prime minister. (And, lest we forget, the man who one day would have become the father in law of the monarch had the night of June 1, 2001 passed off in normal placidity.)
So Rabindra Nath Sharma steps into take over Kamal Thapa’s breakaway RPP faction. Since we used to mock Thapa’s group as a one-man show that rose and would fall with the discredited home minister, Sharma’s followers need not assume any responsibility for that regime’s actions. The “Nepal” suffix is a clever investment in the period when the full implications of the new citizenship law become clear.
Kamal Thapa, for his part, seems to have retained enough strength from the municipal elections. Prime Minister Koirala had to advise King Gyanendra to drop plans to spend the winter in Thapa’s home district of Makwanpur.
Granted, Sharma’s constituency resembles that of Surya Bahadur Thapa’s Rastriya Janashakti Party. But in a proportional-representation system, royalists won’t be competing against one another in an entirely suicidal way. Moreover, Sharma and Thapa have recognized one fact: even the most ardent republican in the Nepali Congress – barring Narahari Acharya, perhaps – isn’t too thrilled about a republic on Maoist terms.
Nor are the leftists. Blame King Gyanendra for resurrecting some of the most reviled panchas, but the record suggests that the Devi Prasad Ojhas, Kamal Chaulagains, Radha Krishna Mainalis and Salim Miya Ansaris were no less pivotal members of the royal brigade.
Let’s say Prachanda gets his way and the interim constitution is promulgated right away. Prime Minister Koirala then reluctantly exercises his prerogative to prevent the Maoists from getting the foreign, defense, home, information and communication and water resources ministries. What respectable ministry is then left for the comrades? Royal Palace Affairs?