Thursday, March 27, 2008

Caught Between Containment And Preemption

Behind the cluttered façade of the constituent assembly elections, Nepal is confronting a deepening crisis stemming from externally driven imperatives of containment and preemption.
An upsurge of the Free Tibet movement in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics was hardly unanticipated. Nor were the depths of Chinese sensitivities. Nepalis thus had ample time to prepare themselves for the showdown of the last couple of weeks. In some inexplicable bout of reverse narcissism, many saw ourselves too inconsequential for regional powers and beyond.
The Kirkpatrick Mission, the Younghusband Expedition, the Kodari Highway and the rise and fall of the Khampa insurgency were all considered disparate historical aberrations that had nothing to do with Nepal’s precise geographical position on the globe.
Nepalis were asked, until fairly recently, to shun the notion of Chinese-Indian rivalry in our midst as the last refuge of regressive elements. Beijing may have acquiesced in New Delhi’s preponderant role in Nepal considering its multifarious links. The flipside is China’s wariness vis-à-vis the Americans riding too far on the Indians’ pillion.
When US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in the august presence of her Indian counterpart, Pranab Mukherjee, enjoined Beijing to open dialogue with the Dalai Lama, the Chinese recognized the stakes.
As part of its response to a resurgence of American-led containment, Beijing seems to have expedited its own dialogue with King Gyanendra. At a minimum, that’s what Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal (RPP-N) chief Kamal Thapa’s suggestion of an imminent Maoist-monarchist nationalist alliance suggests.
No Maoist luminary, garrulous at the slightest opportunity, has chosen to dispute Thapa’s assertion. If this silence doesn’t sufficiently signify that something is in the works, consider this: Surya Bahadur Thapa, who served as premier under three monarchs, now claims the institution is merely weeks away from its demise.
Thapa, as is widely believed, may represent the southern lobby. But he is just one voice of the many Indias in Nepal. Other Nepali spokesmen for the Indians have suddenly started claiming that New Delhi, too, is extending its own overtures to King Gyanendra. The purpose? Well, it ranges from checking the scruffiness of the ruling political parties to roping in the palace as an anti-China bastion.
The latter is tied to New Delhi’s claim that Beijing – which King Gyanendra once called a “fair-weather friend” – ultimately ditched the monarchy as the challenge to the royal regime grew in size and scope. The Indians subsequently sought to buttress that argument by citing the fact that Chinese ambassador Zheng Xianglin became the first foreign envoy to present his credentials to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala.
The possibility that the Chinese envoy – like some of his other foreign counterparts – was merely abiding by the interim constitution was downplayed. That omission came to haunt the Indians when Zheng chose to meet with Prime Minister Koirala not at his official residence but in the bug-proof seclusion of daughter Sujata Koirala’s home.
As the ambiguity called the peace process deepens with each turn, more and more Nepalis have begun to wonder what precise formula Karan Singh, India’s special envoy, had really brought to the palace and the parties at the height of the April Uprising.
What we really should be pondering a little deeper is the blueprint Chinese State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan had brought to Kathmandu a few weeks earlier.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Reds Wrestle With The R-Word

It’s come down to the R word for Nepal’s two top comrades, and, no, it’s not republicanism. Maoist chairman Prachanda and Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) general secretary Madhav Kumar Nepal are wrestling harder to establish the other as a royalist in the final weeks before the constituent assembly elections.
This has been a time-tested tag of vilification ever since Keshar Jung Rayamajhi’s pro-palace sympathies after King Mahendra’s takeover precipitated the split of Nepal’s communist movement in the sixties. A generation later, Radha Krishna Mainali, one of the four people who went into the palace in 1990 to press King Birendra to restore multiparty democracy, prompted similar howls long before he joined King Gyanendra’s cabinet.
From Khadga Oli to Bam Dev Gautam to Mod Nath Prashit, countless comrades in the UML have found themselves wearing the royalist tag. But none has received the specificity of Madhav Nepal. After the much-hyped Silguri meeting not long after King Gyanendra’s enthronement, Prachanda stepped up criticism of the UML chief as a neo-Rayamajhi.
Clearly, the Maoist supremo was infuriated by Nepal’s rush to brief the monarch on the contents of that confab. Prachanda, for understandable reasons, brushed aside the reality that the genuine article was still in full play as the Raj Parishad chief.
Madhav Nepal, for his part, has long accused the Maoists of facilitating the revival of royal rule through their misguided “people’s war”. He can’t forget how the Maoists entered peace talks in early 2002 with the palace-appointed Lokendra Bahadur Chand government, upstaging the UML then mired in a divisive party convention.
So when Maoist mouthpiece Jandisha published a photograph of a quizzical Madhav Nepal paying allegiance to newly crowned King Gyanendra at Hanuman Dhoka after Narayanhity massacre, a group of UML activists pummeled a hawker selling copies of the newspaper. (Why do the proletariat always find themselves in the middle of comradely crossfire?)
The photograph was a tit for the UML chief’s tat. Days earlier, Madhav Nepal had lampooned Prachanda as a “wall president,” referring to the wall posters promoting Pushpa Kamal Dahal as the country’s first president. True, the mandate of the April 10 polls is just to elect people who would draft a new constitution. But didn’t the UML join the Maoists in the interim legislature to ensure that Nepal had already become a republic?
Prachanda sees himself as the next president. Big deal. Hasn’t Madhav Nepal always considered himself the next premier? Mindful of this, Prachanda, paraphrasing a line from Tony Blair after Diana’s death, has declared himself the people’s president.
The uncertainty gripping the peace process is at the center of this bitter war of words. The UML, after investing so much in people’s multiparty democracy, isn’t prepared to cede the communist mantle to the Maoists. Prachanda is even less willing to let the UML expropriate the cause of republicanism. It wasn’t long ago, was it, that Madhav Nepal was one of the ardent advocates of the Pandora’s Box Theory of National Reconstruction as far as the constituent assembly was concerned?
Doubts have bred deeper disdain. Prachanda’s top lieutenant, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, has been insisting that the Maoists wouldn’t accept anything less than a full victory in the polls. Another Maoist leader, Bam Dev Chhetri, has already urged us to pay closer attention to the second meeting of the constituent assembly.
Then, almost out of the blue, Rabindra Shrestha joined the UML. The man, who quit (or was expelled from the Maoist party), has been a consistent critic of Prachanda who he holds responsible for abandoning the group’s revolutionary ardor. Normally, you wouldn’t have expected Shrestha to veer so right of the Maoists. Could his Chinese excursion have inspired the conversion?
Could this cacophony in the communist camp merely be a reflection of the Maoists’ difficult adjustment to multiparty parliamentary process? Or is there something more sinister going on? Does the UML foresee, say, a Maoist abstention in the first vote of the constituent assembly, which could work in favor of the monarchy?
Does Prachanda, on the other hand, see Madhav Nepal preparing to vote for the monarchy with the same wink of the eye he used while extending then-premier Sher Bahadur Deuba’s motion to endorse and extend the 2002 emergency proclamation?
With republicans like these … Surely, King Gyanendra can’t be only person completing the sentence with more than a chuckle.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Legacy Looming Large On Our Land

If any departed soul tenaciously hovers over Nepal today, it is surely that of King Mahendra. Despite the major political parties’ sustained campaign since 1990 to officially erase his memory, the late monarch stubbornly refuses to go away.
Allegations continue to be heaped on him some 36 years after his death. From prime minister to peon, almost everyone seems to have one tale or another to add to this collective denigration. Since the royals themselves have chosen to endure this onslaught of opprobrium, few “royalists” have risen in public defense of the man who did more than anyone to define our Nepaliness. Yet his legacy speaks for itself.
King Mahendra was no democrat, and he probably would have resented any such characterization. Not because he discounted the universality of the human quest for freedom. Nor because he questioned the commitment of its Nepali advocates. He simply didn’t believe in political parties’ ability to steer Nepal through the tumult of his times.
And tumultuous his times were. The founder of the modern Nepali state, King Prithvi Narayan Shah, described his new kingdom as a yam between boulders to the north and south. By King Mahendra’s time, two massifs had formed on the east and west, capturing all the chilliness of the Cold War. Democracy, after all, had become a distraction for far too many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Geopolitics was only part of King Mahendra’s story. The defining element was his personality. A virtual prisoner under the Ranas as crown prince, he had ample time to ruminate on the kind of realm he wanted. What he saw outside the Rana-induced confines was not pretty.
With the onset of the 1950s, the United States saw events forcing it to take a diplomatic interest throughout Asia on a scale without precedent. “Nepal Is Example of Area Where We Now Take Active Role,” The New York Times said in a sub-headline one February morning.
That was a period, one must recall, when New Delhi’s “hopeful neutrality” in the East-West ideological conflict was considered in Washington and London as a prelude to the triumph of communism in India and beyond.
The prospect of China’s absorption of Tibet precipitated the 1950 Treaty between the Rana regime and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s government. That didn’t go far enough amid the full-fledged Chinese invasion of Tibet. King Tribhuvan’s flight to New Delhi came as the next move on the geopolitical chessboard.
“[T]he unseating of the king to make way for his grandson is exciting general wonder,” The Washington Post reflected in an editorial. The real anxiety came in the next sentence: “Are the Chinese Communists preparing the way for an assault on India when Tibet has been subjugated?”
During their months in exile in India, King Tribhuvan and Crown Prince Mahendra would often find themselves conversing in Newari. Surely, it wasn’t their intention to impress their hosts with their linguistic dexterity. They wanted to keep their interpretation of the goings-on to themselves as far as possible.

Warranted Discretion
Their discretion was warranted. During this period, Washington and London had come closest to recognizing infant King Gyanendra. The death of Sardar Ballabh Bhai Patel, Indian home minister and purported advocate of Nepal’s formal incorporation into the Indian union, changed the dynamics. Returning with King Tribhuvan, the crown prince found himself officiating regularly for his father.
Long before B.P. Koirala could recognize Nehru’s real motives in forging the Delhi Compromise, Crown Prince Mahendra had made up his mind. He was not about to trade the Ranas for a group of foreign captors. Over the next four years, he became increasingly explicit in his disenchantment with the divisiveness democracy had wrought. Such fissures, in his view, could only exacerbate the balancing act his ancestor’s yam parable encapsulated.
By the time King Mahendra ascended to the throne in 1955, the Nepali Congress, like other parties, had lost little time in political pandering. The party had already hailed a letter from Crown Prince Mahendra supporting its demands for the early election of a constituent assembly and an independent judiciary as the equivalent of the Magna Carta.
King Mahendra may have foisted multiparty elections to parliament in place of one to a constituent assembly his father had promised. But could he have really succeeded in “gifting” a constitution without the acquiescence of B.P. Koirala and other leaders of the democracy movement?
Amid the Nepali Congress’ landslide victory in 1959, B.P. felt he could finally claim the premiership in full democratic style. If King Mahendra wasn’t comfortable about inviting B.P. to head the new government, the Nepali Congress leader wasn’t about to relent, either. B.P. sought – successfully – Nehru’s intervention and, as premier, began making thinly veiled references to the anachronism called the monarchy.
Royal wrath wasn’t the real reason for the brevity of Nepal’s democratic politics. Over the 1950s, Nepal came under greater pressure from the north, south, east and west. As B.P. readied for talks with visiting Chinese premier Chou En-lai, the monarch was preparing for a joint address to the United States Congress.
The American media was hungry for color. “[The] shy, slender little King in dark glasses, has caught Washington’s fancy,” The New York Times gushed. The Washington Post chimed in: “[D]ressed in a blend of East and West with a brown, doublebreasted suitcoat over an exotic Indian costume, [King Mahendra] told the National Press Club … there is practically no culture left without some Western influence.”

Quadrangular Contest
Back home, weeks after Chou’s visit, Prime Minister Koirala informed parliament that Chinese troops had killed a Nepali officer and captured 16 unarmed soldiers operating on the frontier with Tibet. China, which had initially expressed surprise at B.P.’s announcement, subsequently acknowledged the attack and apologized. Yet it would be a while before the Chinese pulled back their troops from the frontier. By this time, the Soviets had arrived in Nepal to join a quadrangular contest for influence.
Brazen as it may sound, if not King Mahendra, then Prime Minister Koirala would have had to terminate Nepal’s democratic experience. Simply put, there were too many fault lines flustering the increasingly assertive external players.
The first two years of the royal takeover were increasingly precarious. The banned Nepali Congress made an abortive attempt at regicide, while stepping up an insurgency from exile. To the casual observer, Nepal’s northward drift seemed strange, given the stark ideological incongruity. For the kingdom, it was part of – to borrow the title of a book by a prominent American scholar – a strategy for survival.
On a visit to India, shortly after returning from China, King Mahendra denied Nepal had ever tried to play off India and China against each other. A Chinese proposal for a confederation of Himalayan states -- including Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, the Northeast Frontier area and Nagaland, and possibly Tibet – was clearly aimed for India.
After India’s defeat in the border war with China in 1962, a chastened Nehru sought to engage with the palace. He forced the Nepali Congress to suspend its anti-palace insurgency. Still, it wasn’t hard to miss Delhi’s seething resentments. Nepal had turned a corner. Panchayat, as the new polity was enshrined in the 1962 constitution, was just the name for the geopolitical equilibrium the kingdom had attained.
As some foreign observers saw a growing rivalry between Peking and Moscow for the favor of Nepal, others were amused by what Time magazine called King Mahendra’s “wheeling and dealing in style.” One afternoon, a correspondent noted, the monarch attended the formal inauguration of a ropeway, only hours after Nepali and Chinese officials signed an agreement by which Peking would build two warehouses and a brick-and-tile factory.
The next day, the king and queen boarded a Soviet helicopter, flown by the Russian crew, to Paanchkhal to inspect a 70-mile road being built by Chinese engineers from Kathmandu to Kodari. Back in the capital, the magazine went on, Mahendra heard reports on negotiations with the Soviet Union for a sugar mill, cigarette factory and hydroelectric plant.

‘Neutral Cockpit’
While beatniks of the world were gravitating to Nepal, western diplomats were speaking of how King Mahendra had adroitly turned Nepal into a highly profitable “neutral cockpit”. The Indians, for their part, continued peddling the line that Chinese aid to Nepal was nothing more than grandstanding. They claimed, among other things, that abandoned projects were still listed in ‘active’ stage for propaganda purposes. Others saw Peking to be in good position to take over control of Nepal if a political upheaval threatened the personal rule of King Mahendra.
U.S. Vice President Spiro Agnew arrived in Kathmandu in 1970 on 22-hour visit. “The crows cawed a welcome, the sacred cows were herded off the road to avoid a confrontation with the motorcade,” according to one chronicler. Clearly, those who saw Nepal struggling to emerge into the modern-day world under a system reminiscent of the Middle Ages were influenced more by its quaintness than its exclusiveness.
Conventional wisdom seeks to undercut King Mahendra’s legacy by citing the 1965 arms memorandum with India as well as the Kalapani dispute. As to the first, the Indians have benefited from Nepali unawareness. The Panchayat government, rejecting India’s interpretation, revoked the memo in 1969 when it ordered the Indian military mission to leave Nepal.
The fact that the Kalapani dispute stemmed from India’s insistence on holding on to the strategically vital territory for defensive purposes after the 1962 war with China remains a footnote in the debate. For some reason, Narayanhity Palace has clung on to documents that could have shown how King Mahendra had regularly raised the issue during meetings with Indian leaders.
On the way to the airport from what would be his last meeting with the Indian premier, King Mahendra conceded that the dispute had dragged on for too long. He told an aide that he had exhausted what he considered his “quota of irritants” for that particular year.
Wheeling and dealing in style? It is perhaps no coincidence that the period between 1965 and 1969 saw Nepal aggressively raising its international profile. The royal regime’s success in inviting the United Nations in the development of Lumbini as well as in becoming a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council did much to establish the kingdom’s independent identity. India, grudgingly, now started listening to Nepal’s grievances on the sidelines of international summits.
To be sure, Craven A cigarettes, Chivas Regal bottles and Patek Philippe watches continued to bring out the full regalia of what had become Nepal’s unchallenged political leader. Yet King Mahendra continued reaching out to the rural hinterland, encouraging ordinary people to speak up.
He extended the same privileges to his critics. Today we remember Ram Raja Prasad Singh, the doyen of Nepali republicanism, as a firebrand agitator who sought the abolition of the monarchy as a member of the Rastriya Panchayat. What Singh won’t tell us is the content of his discussions with King Mahendra at the palace, where he was whisked into from prison in the stealth of night.
We can make an educated guess, though. King Mahendra wooed leading communists to the new regime by describing himself as one of their own, albeit with a crown. The Rayamajhis, Regmis, Adhikaries and Upadhyayas may have used that to justify their own crossover. That ultimate revolutionary, Chairman Mao, didn’t need such prodding. Geopolitics, more than anything else, led the Chinese communists to consider the monarchy their principal ally in Nepal.
Akin to an amateur soothsayer, King Mahendra could size up his interlocutors and stun them with fairly accurate assessments. Some still look back and recall his remarkable accuracy in predicting the future as well. Yet the monarch was down-to-earth when it came to real life. Governing Nepal, he would say, consisted of shuffling around 200 people.
To the uninitiated, that may have sounded like undiluted braggadocio. But the king certainly didn’t consider himself omnipotent. Having received no formal education, the monarch would not hesitate to profess his ignorance of the intricacies of economics. Yet he was constantly on the lookout for talent.
During a visit to the United States, a young Nepali Ph.D. student instantly impressed him. Amid the hectic royal schedule, the palace secretary misspelled the first name of this individual. Later, in announcing the man’s appointment as the top economist in the government, Radio Nepal broadcast the wrong first name. The man in question – the youngest person ever to head a government ministry – went on to serve his nation with great distinction under two subsequent monarchs.
During another foreign trip, one Nepali pointed out a mild rebuke of the monarch that had appeared in the morning newspaper. King Mahendra was brutally candid. He didn’t have the power, in a foreign land, to haul the reporter in prison.

‘That’s The Way It Is…’
From attending wrestling matches to searching for Chihuahua puppies to take back home, King Mahendra made full use of his visits to the United States. So much so that, in 1967, CBS anchor Walter Cronkite wondered, in his customary that’s-the-way-it-is evening news sign-off, why his president should be lavishing such importance on the king of a country few Americans had heard of.
In 1968, B.P. Koirala and his associates were freed from prison under a deal with King Mahendra. The monarch had suffered a heart attack and B.P., too, was ailing in detention. If there had been any power-sharing proviso, B.P.’s subsequent decision to go into exile and harden his posture against the monarchy shut that door.
As King Mahendra was transiting in Bombay following medical checkup in Britain, B.P. happened to be in the city. In a gesture of reconciliation, the ex-premier stood in the airport receiving line. After a brief awkward moment that approximated a royal snub, King Mahendra returned to acknowledge B.P.’s greetings.
The ex-premier had little luck in scheduling a meeting with the monarch at his hotel suite. Yet he remained mystified by the monarch’s affability at the airport. It was almost as if the tumult of the sixties had never occurred.
Earlier, during another trip abroad, King Mahendra had stunned a few Nepalis by claiming that he thought B.P. was the only person qualified to be premier. One asked, with palpable diffidence, why the monarch had imprisoned Nepal’s only democratically elected prime minister.
King Mahendra said it would be wrong to blame him alone for B.P. personal and political torment. The questioner was too flabbergasted to volunteer a follow-up inquiry. (A careful reading of B.P.’s prison reminiscences also suggests that there was much between the teacup and the lips.)
India’s military intervention in East Pakistan, leading to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, evidently emboldened the Nepali Congress to harden its posture vis-à-vis the monarchy. King Mahendra, for his part, had been planning reforms that would have led to a restoration of multiparty politics.
The monarch had asked Shambu Prasad Gyawali, a former law minister, to draft the necessary constitutional changes. Gyawali reached the royal bungalow at Chitwan with his recommendations on the appointed morning in January 1972, only to learn that King Mahendra had died of a massive heart attack a few hours earlier.

Confronting Contradictions
An early and central feature of Nepal’s road to newness has been the renaming of state institutions bearing royal prefixes. Yet the facts are what they are. The monarchy’s leadership of the army will remain at the center of the history of modern Nepal’s emergence.
The renaming of the Royal Nepal Airlines and the Royal Nepal Academy cannot obscure the fact that both institutions were created under the monarchy as part of its campaign to consolidate Nepal’s independent identity. The removal of the royal portrait from banknotes cannot change that key piece of monetary history: It was under King Mahendra that the rupee began its rise as the national currency under a fully fledged central bank.
The Nepali mind must confront the contradictions this partisan change has brought about. Prithvi Narayan Shah’s campaign of national unification is now depicted as a war of aggression. Nepalis, we are told, have never really been united emotionally. Yet even the semblance of an attack on Nepaliness – Hrithik Roshan, anyone? – provokes a fiery response. The country, moreover, rejoices in the triumph of an Indian Idol contestant simply because he happens to be a Nepali speaker sharing a familiar surname.
With Nepal under growing siege from within and outside, even the worst critics of King Mahendra must find it difficult deep down to revile the man for what he really stood for.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Dwelling Of Donor-Driven Dissemblers?

When Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala purportedly claimed the other day that the United States, India and Japan were intent on preserving the monarchy at all costs, what did Maoist supremo Prachanda do? He sulked that the constituent assembly elections might not reflect the people’s will.
Let’s get this straight. The officiating head of state, in effect, tells the principal contender for a putative presidency to quit daydreaming. In response, Prachanda doesn’t unleash his obnoxiously familiar tirade against imperialists and expansionists. Instead, he virtually concedes the inevitability of a monarchical Nepal.
The governments concerned have not reacted to Koirala’s reported remarks. So let’s take him and Prachanda on their word. After the final results of the constituent assembly elections – whenever they are held – come in, the state will hectically prepare for that much-vaunted first session. It would take a few days, at a minimum, to convene the body. Well before that, presumably, foreign funds will have been deployed to influence the triumphant parties as well as elected representatives individually.
The Seven Party Alliance, each constituent of which has officially committed itself to republicanism, will control the assembly. So how would they vote to retain the monarchy? Forget the adjective. The king is the king in Nepal and, as such, will embody some kind of political role inversely proportional to the unceremonious-ness of the major parties.
The first session of the constituent assembly won’t be as complicated as it might seem today. The Nepali Congress has clearly set forth its stance. The party convention may have decided to drop its official fealty to the monarchy, but the “royalist” tag still doesn’t seem to bother influential members.
True, Minister Without Portfolio Sujata Koirala did a U-turn in New Delhi on her past support for the monarchy. But not without establishing the party’s line. Every election campaign the Maoists disrupt goes on to underscore Sujata’s contention that the country needed the monarchy to check the ex-rebels.
Things won’t be that difficult for the comrades in the Unified Marxist Leninists, either. Expect them to blame the obduracy of the Nepali Congress and the Maoists for royalism’s revival. Once a few leaders throw in geopolitics, the platform will be ready.
Operationally, our mainstream comrades are adept in political prestidigitation. In their earlier incarnation, they had helped the Panchayat camp win the 1980 referendum in the guise of an “active boycott”. A decade later, they metamorphosed opposition to the Tanakpur Accord to pave the way for the wider Mahakali Treaty. And who can forget the UML’s machinations during the Bondage at Midnight vote ratifying the treaty?
Don’t expect the Maoists to spend too much time scratching their heads. They already have hailed “nationalists” around the king. The piety of the flock certainly says something about the shepherd, doesn’t it? One group of Maoists will be tempted to use the crown once again as a tactical device. (Remember the King-Birendra-and-all-of-his- predecessors-were-nationalists line of Dr. Baburam Bhattarai after the Narayanity Massacre?)
The more loyal foot soldiers will probably still oppose tooth and nail what they consider the prime feudalistic anachronism. Compromising on the monarchy after entering multiparty democracy, after all, would represent a double whammy for the ex-People’s Warriors. A safe bet, therefore, would be a Maoist abstention from the first constituent assembly vote.
And the Madhesi parties? Well, one leading public opinion survey found support for the monarchy stronger in the Terai, didn’t it? Even if that weren’t true, everybody saw the palace – as well as India and the United States – behind the Terai agitation. Things do add up.
Our international donors would do well not to set too high a price range. Slice half off whatever has been apportioned. Some representatives will no doubt demand more money than others. Perhaps a proportional system of disbursement would be relevant to the spirit of our times.
The donors could then transfer the other half to a peace and development fund whose interest would help ease Nepal’s annual assessment burden to the United Nations. That would do much to raise the nation’s spirits.
None of this, of course, would address one thing haunting our political class vis-à-vis the lifting of the monarchy’s suspension. Ordinarily, someone who regains his official position gets back all entitlements. What might King Gyanendra claim?

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Those The Revolution Left Behind

Growling over sustained howls of derision, Maoist chairman Prachanda has set his eyes firmly on the presidency – and beyond. A Maoist-led Nepal, the Fierce One recently told a western journalist, would prove to the world that the extreme leftists were right from the outset.
Not that Prachanda has stopped speaking from all sides of his mouth. Days after affirming his abiding faith in multiparty democratic elections to the western reporter, the ex-rebel in chief promised his flock a political spectacle of a different kind.
The Maoists have not entered the democratic process to join the old parliamentary system they fought to overthrow with the monarchy, the comrade in chief told the faithful. For this one time, the Maoists have deigned to submit to the democratic test in the interest of their larger cause.
Despite the latest agreements with the Madhesi and other agitators seeking greater representation, Prachanda still has doubts about the constituent assembly elections. If the polls were not held as scheduled on April 10, the Maoists would gain power through “alternative means”.
In one sense, at least, there aren’t any contradictions in Prachanda’s assertions to different audiences. Power at all costs is the new battle cry. A Prachanda presidency would not only be the apotheosis of the People’s War. It would be its ultimate vindication as well.
But his rank and file don’t seem too impressed. Hundreds former rebel soldiers and activists now seem to regret having dropped out of school to chase a communist utopia. With warfare in the name of the masses passé, these lads and lasses fear a massive layoff.
A wholesale merger with the professional army wasn’t as attractive as it sounded. In the given circumstances, a donor-funded mass recruitment of orderlies would have been desirable. But which general in his right mind would want to bark orders to ex-Maoists after each meal?
Not that opportunities are shrinking in the emerging new Nepal. In peacetime, men and women with saleable skills and academic agility are in demand. For those left behind, a Nepali version of the Trotskyite permanent revolution remains a perpetual ideal. Unfortunately, it will be just that for a while.
True, the Maoists have glamorized the art of articulating grievances. The ballot is still no match for the bullet when it comes to making the high and mighty sit up and take notice. The post-April Uprising era has proved to be a boom time as far as the enunciation of resentments is concerned.
Yet armed action has acquired a distinctly southern dimension. Simply put, battle-tested Maoist men and women don’t have the right looks to offer their expertise in the current climate.
As for mercenary service, the only international employers are the same western imperialists the ex-rebels railed against for over a decade. Let’s say the recruiters somehow became inexplicably magnanimous. How can you fight the Taliban when you feel the real traitors to the cause are your commanders?
The Maoist ex-soldiers lament how late converts to the Great Helmsman have seen their fortunes rise with the advent of peace. Going back to school is not an option for many. Member of the party and its allied organizations don’t want to play the academic adviser when total power seems so tantalizingly close.
So this is a time for these sullen men and women to sulk quietly, which undoubtedly exacerbates their pain. In their eagerness to learn, they surely don’t want to get into re-education camps.