Monday, March 26, 2007

Don’t Wriggle Out Of Responsibility, Comrades

Finally, the Maoists have conceded defeat – in their characteristic deceitful way.
The ex-rebels have given Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala a three-day ultimatum to make clear the government’s stand on the monarchy and declare dates for the constituent assembly elections. Or else, they won’t join the government.
In fairness, the Maoists have shown remarkable restraint in the aftermath of the Gaur carnage. But they seem to have trained their anger on Koirala. Dev Gurung described the premier as a puppet of regressives – almost in as many words – before demanding his resignation.
Krishna Bahadur Mahara, the man expected to lead the Maoist contingent in an interim government – seconded that sentiment in less strident language. Now the Maoist central committee has threatened to stay out of the government until its conditions are met.
The comrades, in reality, have adroitly shirked from the responsibility of governance. Everybody knows the government can’t hold the constituent assembly elections on time. The Maoists don’t want to take the fall for not being able to conduct an exercise they virtually own.
But Prachanda’s dilemma goes beyond that. The greatest revelation he can come up with on the Gaur massacre is that Hindu fundamentalists from across the border were involved. So seal the border. Prachanda wants a judicial inquiry into the killings; Upendra Yadav wants a United Nations probe.
The Maoist chief probably regrets having gone overboard on the ISI revelation in New Delhi. At least he could have used more fiery language against the imperialist-expansionist collusion with greater credibility.
Madhesis, janjatis and the entire cluster of the ancient-grievances camp has unmasked the Maoist myth of being the champions of the underdog. For all his bark on a grand royalist conspiracy, the best Prachanda can come up with is a collection of press clippings some sympathiser burned on a CD. If someone in the Nepal Army really handed over that disc to the Maoists, then he has made the entire force proud.
From president in waiting, Prachanda has become a verbal loose canon that inspires more derision than dread. In retrospect, it looks like the Maoist supremo forced Dr. Baburam Bhattarai to draft that pre-purge self-indictment before appending his signature to it. Before, of course, making his own pilgrimage to Delhi.
True, the Maoists still have powerful allies like Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee who believe in the ex-rebels’ reincarnation as democrats. Yet Mukherjee’s minions caution the Petroleum Ministry against twisting Nepal Oil Corporation’s arms too hard lest it set the stage for a royal takeover. This time the buck will stop at Gen. Katuwal.
Maybe Koirala should meet those Maoist conditions, step down, and offer Prachanda the premiership along with the royal palace affairs portfolio that probably still comes with it.

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.

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.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Rude Awakening For Civil Society

Nepal Janatantrik Party (NJP) seems to have it right. Taking responsibility for planting bombs in the residences of human right activists Krishna Pahadi and Dr Devendra Raj Pandey, the party said: “Foreign interference in our internal affairs is increasing. On top of that national puppets of foreigners and several groups are cheating us and are playing the game of dividing the nation in the name of federalism, ethnicity, and right to self-determination.”
Describing the duo as among those who are into the game behind the “mask” of human right activists, the NJP certainly went further than Maila Baje’s rants. No wonder, the NJP’s effect has been stronger. Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula informed the interim legislature last week that Police Headquarters has started investigating the incident by setting up a special team.
The political parties that prevented the Pandey-Pahadi fraternity from claiming that big chunk of seats in the legislature were the first to rise to their defence. Despite all the nastiness for the spoils now, both elites know they would become the first victims should right-wing authoritarianism really raise its head again. Since the implication here would be a military coup, the “historic” House of Representatives Proclamation won’t allow them to blame the palace.
And that’s what hurts them the most. They just can’t understand what really keeps King Gyanendra going. They tried the depression and Internet-gambling story lines in vain. The day after the monarch is denounced as Asia’s most humiliated man, he issues a statement enthusiastically welcoming the comprehensive peace accord. Two days after he is pelted with stones at Pashupati, the he comes out with a Democracy Day message defending his takeover. He takes responsibility for the failures as well as the successes of his direct rule.
Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala concedes he’s in favor of a ceremonial monarchy, not out of any shared affinity for dynasties, but to ensure stability by providing space to everyone. Maoist supremo Prachanda acknowledges that a mere vote in the interim legislature establishing a republic won’t force King Gyanendra out.
The SPA, Maoists and their civil society collaborators just can’t acknowledge that their current resurgence is a direct outcome of the royal takeover. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may have been the first to speak about the crystallization of political events in 2005. It was New Delhi’s glassiness that really set things in motion. Without King Gyanendra’s northern alliance – cemented at the Dhaka SAARC summit – the SPA and Maoists could never have come together. On the morning of February 1, 2005, the monarch promised to restore peace and democracy in three years. He took less than half as long. And what do we get? An amendment to the interim constitution in less than 100 days of its promulgation. And who knows how many other ones these clusters of grievances will produce.
Yeah, yeah, the NJP didn’t have to use bombs to send that message across. Easy to say. Just consider the antecedents of top three political parties in the interim legislature.