Sunday, July 20, 2008

Dignity As A Diplomat’s Refuge

In his agonizingly belated response to allegations of New Delhi’s mounting interference in Nepalese affairs, Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood put up a fascinating defense. “I will not dignify the question with an answer,” he told a Kathmandu-based Indian reporter.
The question related to the claim by Chandra Prakash Mainali, leader of the Communist Party of Nepal-Marxist Leninist, that the Maoists’ last-minute decision to break a pact with the communists to propose Ram Raja Prasad Singh as president had come under Indian pressure. That, of course, was before the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) broke its deal with the Maoists to support the Nepali Congress’ Ram Baran Yadav for the highest office of the land.
Mainali claimed that the Maoists had nominated Singh under pressure from India, which had become disenchanted with Koirala. Koirala had realized that India was trying to turn him into another Lhendup Dorji, who as prime minister of Sikkim played a key role in the merger of the Himalayan nation with India, according to Mainali. Once Koirala began to resist New Delhi’s pressure, he was no longer acceptable.
Sood’s rejoinder was bound to be viewed in the context of India’s predominance in charting Nepal’s future after the collapse of the royal regime in April 2006. His predecessor, Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, had made Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s official residence virtually his second home.
Mukherjee was rewarded for his accomplishments in Nepal with ambassadorship to Britain despite unsavory allegations swirling around his spouse, which the Nepalese media considered too scorching to cover. Still, Mukherjee’s tenure paled in comparison to that of his immediate predecessor Shyam Saran, who subsequently superseded 10 people to become foreign secretary.
Sood’s persona preceded him to Kathmandu. His nomination hit the headlines after months of speculation that Jayant Prasad was getting the job. Prasad, the son of another controversial Indian ambassador, Bimal Prasad, would have set a record in his own right. But Sood’s resume seemed more compelling in view of the task at hand.
Having wrested Afghanistan out of Pakistan’s sphere of influence, Sood assertively landed in Kathmandu with a brief to score an encore. He blew his horn a little too stridently. Even before presenting his credentials to Prime Minister Koirala, Sood embarked on a series of high-profile meetings with Nepalese politicians.
He must have gathered from his briefing books, that, as far as straight talk vis-à-vis the Indians goes, Mainali is a class of his own. He criticized the November 2005 12-point pact between the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists. Weeks later, he said his concern was only over some “procedural matters” and then pledged full support to the accord.
Months later, Mainali accused the Indian establishment for flaring up the Terai crisis, claiming that the top representative at the Indian Consulate in Birgunj was personally disbursing millions. The Indians did not have a Nepal policy, he went on. They just wanted concessions from Nepal and were using the Terai crisis as a bargaining chip.
A couple of months later, Mainali excoriated ruling alliance leaders for allowing the Nepali Congress’ Amresh Kumar Singh to attend a meeting. Singh, who shot to prominence after the fall of the royal regime, remains the modern-day avatar of Bhadrakali Mishra. Mishra, it may be recalled, arrived from almost nowhere to join the Rana-Nepali Congress government in 1951 and ended up alienating almost every party and politician well into the 1990s through his southward proclivities.
With this record of intrusiveness, what else but dignity could Sood have invoked to deflect the issue?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wackiness In Our Out-Of-Whack Times

These last couple of weeks must rank as some of the wackiest in Nepal’s politics. Caretaker premier Girija Prasad Koirala exudes a palpable sense of relief when he asserts the onus for solving the nation’s problems lies with his presumptive successor, Prachanda. Yet Koirala, demanding the presidency as the price of relinquishing the premiership, lectures us on the virtues of political morality.
Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) general secretary Jhal Nath Khanal, calling February’s accord between the government and the agitating Madhesi groups flawed, claims that no agreement is ever etched in stone. The UML’s chief whip, Ram Chandra Jha, accuses Madhesi leaders of following in the footsteps of Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. To avoid any religious connotation to the analogy, Jha, himself a Madhesi, also throws in Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers chief Velupillai Prabhakaran.
The separatism slur too much for Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) leader Bijay Kumar Gachchadar. He accuses the UML of trying to divide the madhesis. Now look who’s talking. Isn’t the elevation of Gachchadar, a Tharu, as the MJF legislative contingent’s chief a blatant effort to split one of the principle groups against the One Madhes One Province demand. Who can forget Koirala’s tap on Gachchadar’s shoulder in the assembly chamber following his resignation speech that wasn’t, which set off the post-monarchy bedlam? Or, for that matter, Gachchadar’s defiant claims till the very last minute that he would never abandon the Nepali Congress?
The Maoists, wearied by this war by other means, finally agree to consensual politics before any resort to majority governance. Nepal could head toward disintegration if it does not stick to the path of consensus, Prachanda concedes. Hard to quibble with that, although it would have been nice to see that realization while the unelected interim legislature was busy foisting that overly liberal citizenship law on the country.
The Nepali Congress immediately scents a Maoist-Madhesi alliance (Remember the Maoists’ self-proclaimed “restraint” after the Gaur carnage?) Bolstering the NC’s suspicions is the Madhesi reps’ boycott of the legislative session to allow the fifth amendment to the interim statute to be adopted. In doing so, the Madhesi MPs retain the right to agitate at will and, by extension, provoke a wide array of other Nepalis as the Pandora’s Box lets out its most vicious apparitions.
Army chief Gen. Rukmangad Katuwal, underscoring that matters had not reached boiling point as far as Nepal’s sovereignty and territorial integrity were concerned, nevertheless suggests the moment of reckoning may not be so far off.
Then comes the stunner. Paraphrasing UML chief Khanal, Kamal Thapa, president of the only avowedly monarchist party in the assembly, emphasizes the interim nature of our nascent republic. While his Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal continues a campaign to reinstate the monarchy during the drafting process of a full-fledged constitution, Thapa also foresees cooperation with the fiercely republican Maoists on issues of nationalism. Bewildering as that balancing act appears, it remains consistent with our out-of-whack politics.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Maoists Face The Surreality Of Newness

The stars seem to have gone retro on the Maoists after their electoral surge in April. The Madhesi parties rose up in defiance moments after Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala finally announced he would step down.
Now former Gorkha soldiers are warning of an agitation should the comrades proceed with their plan to end recruitment. (It was, let’s not forget, Nepal’s major victory from its defeat in the war with the British.)
The Unified Marxist-Leninists (UML), despite their recent bonhomie with the Maoists, have set up their own brigade of brigands to counter the Young Communist League. With enough revolutionary shine, the UML might gain far more than the men and women it lost to the Maoists in the early years of the People’s War.
The Nepali Congress is proving more resilient than the average runner-up in a hung assembly. From the way Prime Minister Koirala tricked the nation into believing his intent to resign was an actual resignation, it is clear the wily octogenarian is far from a spent force. The split in the Nepali Congress on addressing the Madhesi issue could be contrived for a much wider objective.
Both sides of the One Madhes debate have accused the government of betrayal. Even amid the emphasis on collective responsibility, it must not have been easy for Prachanda to hear J.P. Gupta club him together with Koirala and former UML chief Madhav Nepal as Indian agents for having signed the pre-election accord with the Madhes-based parties. With the monarchy gone, the feudalism tag has centered on the upper castes dominating the major parties. As the largest one, the Maoists are particularly vulnerable. A coalition of the petrified is coagulating. The political class is worried about the emerging polity. The civil service is horrified by Forestry Minister Matrika Yadav’s penchant for toilet-training as a mode of re-education. The fourth estate is worried about its own freedoms. Geopolitically, things are in a state of flux. India’s home minister keeps assuring his country that Nepal’s Maoists share nothing beyond ideological ties with the Naxalites. But sections of the Indian media have the opposite view and have been reaffirming it with energetically in recent weeks. Supporters, too, are sending thinly veiled messages. One Calcutta newspaper suggested how Gyanendra Shah’s birth chart remains royally propitious. That came after a news service opined that the monarchy could make a comeback if political infighting continued.
The Chinese lifeline, on the other hand, is listless. It will probably remain so until the Olympics Games are over. And who can say what will happen then. The Chinese, after all, have reduced Prachanda to begging for an invitation. Beijing’s Nepal pointman, moreover, has conveyed his country’s expectation that the new premier would visit India first. The Americans cleverly stepped in after the elections to clarify how they never equated the Maoists with Al Qaeda. But they have done little since.
With the transition to the premiership becoming so thorny, Prachanda must be scared stiff of what might await him in power. If the Maoist rank and file still expect an October Revolution, they probably realize it may be mounted against them.
Obeisance to the south has thus become the Maoists’ strategy for survival. Mohan Baidya, in a swift turnaround, now believes the threat to Nepal’s sovereignty does not emanate from India. Dr. Baburam Bhattarai cancelled his much-hyped trip to Kolkata to accept the felicitations of ideological soulmates.
Prachanda speaks every couple of weeks to one Indian media organization or the other on how he wants better ties with India based on new realities. It must be hard to figure that one out – and the rest of it all – when newness is becoming so surreal.