Monday, April 21, 2008

People’s Peacemaker, ‘Garden Variety’

For years, Comrade Ram Bahadur Thapa ‘Badal’ had a favorite anecdote. As a student in the former Soviet Union, ‘Badal’ met peers from other developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. He would listen fervently to fellow students describe the true beauty of their home countries.
If only these thriving tribes of autocrats, who invariably doubled as kleptocrats, could be swept away, the brilliance beneath the dirt everywhere could bedazzle everyone. ‘Badal’ rediscovered Nepal as a garden festering under a pile of cow dung. Ever since, he has been struggling to remove the manure and unveil the magnificence.
Hailed as the military strategist of the Maoists’ “people’s war”, ‘Badal’ ceded ground to junior commanders quite early. The Maoist strategy never got past the equilibrium phase on the battlefield, but ‘Badal’ remained the center of attention.
When he emerged as a member of the rebel negotiating team during the 2003 peace process, ‘Badal’ presented himself as a self-effacing advocate of the people. The garden parable wasn’t the only one he borrowed from King Prithvi Narayan Shah to rewrite. In a television interview, ‘Badal’ had described Nepal as a dynamite between two boulders.
Lacking the garrulity of Prachanda and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, ‘Badal’ nevertheless projected confidence over his convictions. Unable to rein in restive foot soldiers, he was credited with the Maoist pullout from the peace process. (The collapse of the first peace process in November 2001, too, was attributed by many to ‘Badal’.)
After the nation plunged into a bloodier conflict, ‘Badal’ wasn’t quite conspicuous as a political strategist. Still, his presence loomed over deliberations. At one point, he was said to have been behind an oust-Prachanda campaign over the Fierce One’s creeping mellowness.
During the Prachanda-Baburam split, ‘Badal’ maintained the equilibrium. When the duo patched up, joined an anti-palace alliance with the mainstream parties, and acquiesced in the reinstatement of the legislature, the silence of ‘Badal’ became menacing to many. Was he going to join Rabindra Shrestha and Mani Thapa in rebellion against this wholesale sellout of the cause? Or was ‘Badal’ negotiating a better place in the hallowed hierarchy. Soon he denounced the antics of Messrs Shrestha and Thapa, standing firmly behind the top honchos.
The constituent assembly elections, in the view of ‘Badal’, merely affirmed the agenda of the “people’s war.” This was no radical departure from the party line. In an interview with the Maoist daily, Janadisha, ‘Badal’ sought to project himself as a pragmatist. In the process, he couldn’t eschew the platitudes associated with political triumph.
Nor could he avoid contradicting himself. Hailing the poll results as a defeat for “status quoists”, ‘Badal’ sounded quite miffed by the Unified Marxist-Leninists’ decision to quit the government. Magnanimous in victory, he wants the Seven Party Alliance to continue in power to lead an economic revolution.
Actually, ‘Badal’ wants much more than that. He is in favor of an alliance of nationalists, capitalists and every other constituency you’d normally consider anathema to communists. But, then, you wouldn’t expect the Maoists to clean all that manure alone, would you?