Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Big Chill Sets In

Speculation of a change of government has intensified with the convening of a special session of parliament on October 11. A chill of sorts has crept into relations between the prime minister and the army chief. The king, while maintaining a studious silence in public, has stepped up his own consultations. Throwback to the old Nepal? Not quite.
Few thought Gen. Rookmangad Katuwal could ever match the rhetoric his former boss Prajwalla Shamsher Rana unleashed five years ago against the games being played in the name of democracy. Fewer still expected Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to melt in front of the army chief.

Going into that meeting on October 1, Koirala intended to reprimand the army chief for facilitating King Gyanendra’s visit to the Kumari seeking her annual blessings. Instead of breathing fire down Katuwal’s neck, the premier’s throat seemed to parch. The military, the top general asserted, would follow all legitimate orders. It was after that affirmation, we are told, that Koirala started considering himself the first detainee of an impending military takeover.

Is the premier’s position really that shaky? The interim legislature can’t really oust Koirala. Certainly not without the two-thirds majority the non-Nepali Congress parties don’t have.

Can the house pass a resolution of intent to usher in a republic that could undermine the premier? Not one that could be written into the interim statute or could be binding on a putative constituent assembly. For that to happen, the cabinet – which the Maoists are no longer part of– would have to sponsor the relevant motion. And here, too, the premier stands above the two-thirds threshold.

So there must be a more profound issue involved. Something that ties into the riddle as to why didn’t Koirala take the interim president bait dangled from across the southern border. Did the democrat in him abhor the idea of anointment? Or did the nationalist in him – as odd as that might sound – see through the “South Asian statesman” appellation his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, had conferred on him last year? Or was it something as simple as Ganesh Man Singh’s declining the premiership in 1990 – frailty of body and mind?

If that’s what it is, why, then, this infirmity of the spirit? Could despondency be Koirala’s way of bowing to the inevitable without the appearance of so much as tilt? Nothing, after all, can be left to coincidence when it comes to Koirala.

Ever since his party virtually ditched B.P. Koirala’s national reconciliation policy by deciding to go for a republic, the prime minister has been articulating its principal tenet more assiduously. After cryptically claiming that Nepal’s sovereignty was under threat, Koirala now has been affirming his refusal to compromise on either democracy or nationalism.

Of course, he has been reinforcing his anti-palace plank by asserting that reconciliation herewith would be with the Nepalese people, the real symbol of national unity. Could that latter remark have some greater import? Such as, say, recognition of India’s traditional machinations?

The only time Koirala ever came out in public against India was after his resignation in 2001. He accused the palace and India of masterminding the Maoist insurgency to subvert multiparty democracy. After both protested, Koirala gave a vague appearance of a retraction.
Something must have triggered his sovereignty-in-danger stance. Was it Indian Ambassador Shiv Shankar Mukherjee’s wide-ranging talks with King Gyanendra at Narayanhity the evening the government announced the nationalization of the palaces? Not the content of the discussions, but the mere fact that the palace as well as the embassy considered it convenient enough to spread the news?