Monday, March 12, 2007

PM’s Turnaround & Prachanda’s Trepidation

As expected in this space, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has taken that inevitable U-turn. King Gyanendra and Crown Prince Paras should abdicate of their own volition to give the country an outlet.
Last June’s “ceremonial monarchy’ ruse was Koirala’s tool to blunt the Maoists. With the rebels forced backed into the same mainstream they had abandoned 11 years ago, Koirala has given Prachanda the fig leaf and may have reached for the fig. (With King Hridayendra on the throne, Koirala gets to become regent, with Prachanda serving as his deputy and heir apparent.)
Will the current king and crown prince give up so easily? With Rs600 million invested in an elaborate campaign to murder and maim, the battleground for a fight to the finish is too tempting to abandon. (The way madhesis, janjatis and everyone else are cruising ahead, Maila Baje feels its time to voice his own grudge: birth at the top of the caste system has effectively barred him from joining the British Gurkhas. But more on that another time.)
In reality, Koirala has already made any fight unnecessary. From all credible reports, it’s clear he read the advance text of King Gyanendra’s Democracy Day defense several times over. Having neutered Prachand and Co. on the ethnic, regional, nationalities and other fronts, he owed the rebels something in return. The anti-monarchy diatribe is for the Maoists.
Don’t get Maila Baje wrong. Koirala is no friend of the monarchy. Like his brother, B.P., he sees in a politically emasculated palace the best guarantee of the Nepali Congress’ relevance. And that of the Koirala brand name.
Our prime minister has very shrewdly positioned daughter, Sujata, in the monarchist camp. The battle lines in the Nepali Congress are pretty apparent – Sushil Koirala, Khum Bahadur Khadka, Govind Raj Joshi, K.B. Gurung and Arjun Narsingh KC are behind the Sujata bandwagon. Ram Chandra Poudel and et al can reserve their judgment on republicanism as long as they want. Their real challenge would be to retain their relevance.
The same conflict confronts the UML. With Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli going strong, the other comrades will have to rally behind the Maoists or become the next Mohan Chandra Adhikarys en masse. If the prospect of power and pelf could entice our Radha Krishna Mainalis, there is no reason to doubt the self-preservation skills of the most rabid revolutionary in the UML ranks.
But, then, what of Prachanda? The man seems so frightened for his life that he sees enemies everywhere. Maybe he thinks he knows too much – and that others know he does so, too. So everyone’s after him. Who knows, after his ISI-specific exuberance on the sidelines of the Global Leadership Conference in New Delhi, maybe Mullah Omar’s Taleban has put a price on his head.