Saturday, May 31, 2008

Let A Hundred Rants Rage

With the monarchy consigned to the history books, the Maoist-mainstream alliance was bound to unravel. But few expected the guardians of the republic to fall out so bitterly during the official celebrations of Nepal’s “rebirth”.
Clearly, the farce surrounding the first session of the constituent assembly was a fa├žade for last-minute haggling. Maoist chairman Prachanda revealed that he had agreed to the creation of a presidency and vice-presidency only to ensure the adoption of republic declaration. The Maoists had never renounced their claim to the top positions. That’s not how the Nepali Congress and Unified Marxist-Leninists understood the consensus.
As the participants and observers yawned and moaned at the Birendra International Convention Center, 11th-hour negotiations were going on at another level, too. The military was in an institutional battle for survival. A force gunning for Prachanda’s head until two years ago couldn’t be expected to give him its heart so readily. The Maoists could lay claim to the political space the monarch traditionally occupied, the top brass concurred, but certainly not to the supreme commandership of the state army.
A still momentous round of bargaining was going on elsewhere. If the monarch would accede to the outlines of a comprehensive agreement that would replace the much-maligned 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship with India, then he might be able to keep his crown. Since the mainstream parties and the Maoists had already made full sectoral undertakings during the previous two years, royal consent would merely affirm new Nepal’s commitment to new special relations.
Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala decided to let Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula present the republic motion and let other procedural lapses seep into the first session of the constituent assembly. If things went according to plan, the Maoists would walk out of the assembly and the mainstream parties would blame the ex-rebels’ untrustworthiness for their own vote against the republic motion.
Considering how those who egged him on to seize power on February 1, 2005 turned out to be his worst critics, the monarch wasn’t falling for that. The Indians refused to bring everyone together to a roundtable to compare notes because each participant had been handed a different page. Plan B envisaged the creation of two centers of power in presidency and premiership. The rest of the story has a familiar ring.
As the most aggrieved party, the Maoists are entitled to the hottest rage. But can Prachanda do anything about it without undermining himself? Experience taught most Nepalis to expect the Nepali Congress and the UML to buckle under southerly pressure. The Maoist leader rescinded the order to foot soldiers to march on the palace. The security forces, recognizing the political orientation of those who did turn out, easily beat them back.
Out of compulsion, the Americans, of all people, stepped in to help Prachanda put on a brave face. The eagerness of the Indians and the Chinese to evict the United Nations Mission in Nepal had roiled Washington enough. Deb Mukherji, a former Indian ambassador to Nepal, shouldn’t have been so hasty in voicing the Indian left’s suspicions of Washington’s motives in the world’s newest republic.
To allow the new dynamics to play out, the Maoists are trying hard to conceal their rifts within. And that too in classic Maoist style. Prachanda is now threatening Kantipur Publications of unspecified consequences for its coverage of the former rebels. The Maoists, he said, had tolerated criticism thus far to ensure the elections. Victory has now pushed bad-mouthing off the national agenda.
Our own version of the Great Helmsman’s “Let A Hundred Flowers Bloom,” indeed.