Sunday, November 25, 2007

An Eeriness About This Patriotism

Patriotism has suddenly become politically chic. Maoist chairman Prachanda has turned into an ardent champion in recent days. The country’s pre-eminent non-communist republican, Narhari Acharya of the Nepali Congress, is anguished by the bevy of foreigners bolstering his cause. Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) leader K.P. Sharma Oli sees in the Maoists’ camaraderie with a section of his party a diabolic plot against the entire nation. In a recent speech, Prachanda suggested his People’s Liberation Army and the Nepal Army fight together in the Terai in defense of Nepal’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Elsewhere, the Maoist chief had warm words for his erstwhile battlefield adversaries – or, rather, their bosses. Still castigating the national military as politically defeated, Prachanda said the generals couldn’t be blamed for the delay in integrating the two armies. The former rebel in chief’s olive branch came amid incessant warnings sounded by his key lieutenants of an imminent military coup.
Admittedly, Prachanda is doing everything he can to cast off the image created by his recent trip to the Indian Embassy – Dr. Baburam Bhattarai in tow – in the cover of darkness. The widespread belief that Indian Ambassador Shivshanker Mukherjee himself chose to tip off reporters to this surreptitious visit has irked Maoist hardliners and moderates alike.
Whether Prachanda and Dr. Bhattarai really dance to the tune of Lainchaur Darbar seems to have become immaterial to the rank and file. More germane is what they consider New Delhi’s sustained effort to discredit the ex-rebels’ nationalistic credentials. So when Prachanda claimed that his party’s relations with the Americans were improving of late, he did not have to elaborate with specific examples.
Acharya, to be sure, cannot forget how Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala once labeled him a “palace agent” for peddling the republican agenda at uncomfortable times. When all those files on Acharya’s computer hard drive went missing during the royal regime, monarchists couldn’t help commiserating with this loss of intellectual property. (Did some of the purloined material find its way to the Carter Center?)
Undaunted, Acharya pressed on, battling prickly questions as to his true motives. Former US president Jimmy Carter’s compromise formula – the immediate declaration of a republic that would be endorsed by elected representatives of the people – undoubtedly raised the profile of the principal snag in the peace process. But Acharya seemed to consider Carter’s ebullience a slap on his face.
As Koirala’s stock continues to plummet in New Delhi, the premier’s uncharacteristic and overt commitment to the national interest is being cited as the trigger for a more conspicuous breach. By bolstering that internal prop, Acharya has no doubt done a good turn to his party chief.
Rejuvenated after a kidney transplant in New Delhi, Oli is still recovering from the abruptness with which his own party threw him overboard earlier this year. Even if UML general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal wanted him out of the cabinet that bad, he could have still pressed for the same rank for Sahana Pradhan. How prudent was it for the UML to accept a demotion just to make sure neither the Maoists nor the Nepali Congress got the deputy premiership? As UML chief Madhav Kumar Nepal is drawn to that elusive premiership on the back of the Maoists, Oli has become a leading apologist for the Nepali Congress.
This outpouring of patriotism may have come too late, especially when Nepalis find fewer and fewer things to be all that humble about. Still, the gush feels good, right? Maybe not. As a virtue of the vicious, this sentiment may yet be a subterfuge to squander what remains.