Sunday, October 14, 2007

Nitty-Gritty Of A Northern Alliance

India’s edginess over China’s new assertiveness in Nepal has now gushed into our own deliberations. In the run-up to the annual Dashain recess, the media have been speculating copiously on the emerging dynamics precipitated by our normally quiet and composed northern neighbor.
The proliferation of delegations emanating from the north, the growing warmth between our ex-rebels with the successors of the Great Helmsman, the mounting candor of Beijing’s top diplomat in Kathmandu, among other things, have been perceived as a novel assertion of China’s uncharacteristically overt interest in our affairs.
The fact that Chinese Ambassador Zheng Xianglin chose to meet Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala not at the premier’s official residence but in the relative seclusion of daughter Sujata’s home has additionally befuddled not a few analysts on both sides of our southern border.
Had Zheng merely wanted to avoid the surveillance devices Baluwatar is widely presumed to be rife with, he could have easily chosen from a host of other venues. For this quintessential mandarin, Mandikhatar had multiple benefits as both medium and message.
Take the fact that Sujata Koirala remains among the vocal proponents of the monarchy in the newly republicanized Nepali Congress. Mesh that with the opaqueness surrounding China’s positions vis-à-vis the monarchy as well as the Maoists.
As to the latter, after months of warming up to each other, Prachanda’s surreptitious foray into Silgudi (or was it Sikkim?) seemed to have raised China’s guard. When the Maoist chairman staked his party’s claim to one of the top four Nepalese embassies, his sights were clearly up north. What made Prachanda & Co. steer clear from that demand? China’s unwillingness to accept a Nepalese Maoist as the top envoy so early in the day? If so, what might have caused that to happen? Is Beijing still in search of reliable interlocutors from among the former rebels?
It’s unclear whether the emergence of a “nationalist” camp comprising the Mohan Baidya and Ram Bahadur Thapa “Badal” wings could be construed as an outcome of this northern exposure. If it is, may we stretch the point further? Did Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara’s recent call for a nationalist front capable of safeguarding national sovereignty presage in any way some kind of alliance with the monarchy?
That wouldn’t be impossible even amid the ex-rebels’ ongoing republican ruckus in the interim legislature, considering their own track record. (Remember the “working unity” with King Birendra Maoist ideologue Dr. Baburam Bhattarai took such great pride in revealing after the monarch’s murder?)
As for the palace, are the Chinese working to cement an alliance between their traditional ally and the Maoists as a bulwark against India’s growing influence since the fall of the royal regime? Or has that been Beijing’s objective all along since State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan’s visit on the eve of the April Uprising.
Much was made about how Tang’s meetings with leading Nepalese opposition politicians marked a vital shift in Chinese policy. Was that gesture in fact Beijing’s subtle way of distancing itself from the beleaguered palace, which many in Nepal and India had then so gleefully concluded? (Obviously those who forgot – or chose to ignore – how President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji had met with opposition leaders during their visits.)
Or did Tang use those meetings to lay out his government’s expectations from Nepalese political parties regardless of the nature of the government of the day? In one of his public engagements, Tang himself had proffered: “China is ready to increase friendly exchanges with the royal family, government, political parties.”
So when Zheng became the first ambassador to present credentials to the prime minister, instead of the king, earlier this year, was that an acknowledgement of the interim constitution’s realities laced with a reminder of the assurances Tang had received?