Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Cure For Prachanda’s ‘Royalist’ Phobia

ALMOST a year after he believed he had shoved the palace to the sidelines, our ex-rebel in chief continues to be haunted by royalists. From the madhesi agitation to the business community’s defiance, Prachanda can see no genuine grievance anywhere. The palace is omnipresent. Could the top comrade be so paranoid? Or is his paroxysm rooted in his own politics.
Long before Dr. Baburam Bhattarai’s confirmation in June 2001, it was clear the rebels had an undeclared working unity with the palace. The precise details didn’t matter because the perception was powerful enough. The alliance of convenience was mutually beneficial. Dr. Bhattarai could meet Kirti Nidhi Bista and Ramesh Nath Pandey, hailing them as reputable citizens. King Birendra, too, could grill his premier on that question bedeviling the nation: why the Maoist insurgency should have broken after Nepal had emerged from its Decades of Darkness.
The monarch wasn’t soft on the rebels because he was willing to become Nepal’s first president. Nor were the Maoists in any way monarchists in disguise. In their flourish of revisionism, the Maoists make it sound like that working unity ended with the palace massacre.
The rebels wanted things their way. When Nepalis aborted the republican embryo, the Maoists maintained their hardline posture against the new monarch as a cover to sneak back into the palace’s good books. (Remember how Prachanda all but ensured Sher Bahadur Deuba’s rise to the premiership by firmly ruling out talks with any “Girija-brand” leader?)
After the first failed talks with His Majesty’s Government, Prachanda was anxious to bypass the parties and strike a deal with the palace. With the onset of the first phase of King Gyanendra’s direct rule on October 4, 2002, the Maoists entered the peace process confident that the mainstream parties were no longer in a position to scuttle their chances. India, for its part, wasn’t thrilled. The foreign secretary then, a former deputy chief of the embassy in Kathmandu, was quite candid about Nepal’s lack of consultations.
By the time Surya Bahadur Thapa replaced Lokendra Bahadur Chand as premier, the Maoists were anxious for real direct talks with the palace. New Delhi arrested Chandra Prakash Gajurel for trying to board a flight to London on a fake passport precisely when King Gyanendra was in the British capital. Gajurel, like Mohan Baidya – the other top Maoist the Indians arrested in 2003 – were said to be Prachanda’s closest allies in the “nationalist” wing of the Maoists.
The Maoist propaganda machine suggests that the rebels recognised the palace had betrayed them before King Gyanendra was on the third paragraph of his February 1, 2005 address to the nation. In fact, things hadn’t crystallized until the fallout of the Baburam-Prachanda rift. Dr. Bhattarai’s purge had put Prachanda in a bind, as the Royal Nepalese Army audiotape confirmed. So he rehabilitated his No. 2 on one condition: that he would head “pro-India” wing. The rest, as they say, is history that seems so ancient.
With Prachanda having formalised his conversion, New Delhi kept its side of the bargain. It freed Gajurel and Mohan Baidya. The problem was that Gajurel emerged out of prison with a far greater faith in the Indians than Dr. Bhattarai could ever have mustered. (For comparison’s sake, it would be useful to note that Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala made his U-turn on the monarchy once archrival Krishna Prasad Bhattarai supported the institution.)
Consider Prachanda’s plight. The ex-rebel supremo doesn’t know whether he has enough credibility within the ranks to announce another foray into the jungles without sounding hilarious. The ISI as a potential source of weapons has all but vanished. Prime Minister Koirala has turned him into the seventh colleague in the alliance. Each time those government ministries look within reach, some impatient lieutenant messes things up.
With each passing day, Gajurel sails farther ahead in wooing India, while keeping at least three toes in the Chinese boat. Krishna Bahadur Mahara and his contingent can’t pull out of parliament to register their protest because the body doesn’t care for normal parliamentary etiquette.
And who’s having the last laugh all this while? Before his royalist phobia gets worse, Prachanda should heed Emerson and confront his fear. Comrade, it might be a good idea to schedule those direct talks with the monarch.