Sunday, September 07, 2008

Empowered And Imperiled

A group of reporters takes their woes to Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and come out of the meeting all the more anxious. Collapse of this government, the former rebel-in-chief tells them, would be tantamount to the failure of the state.
Few Nepalis expected their first post-monarchy premier to sound like Louis XIV. But Dahal, too, lacked the bravado normally associated with such assertions over the ages. Our prime minister sounds genuinely worried about the fate of his government. And why shouldn’t he be?
The Nepali Congress has intensified its warning against creeping totalitarianism of the extreme leftist variety. Any working alliance with the Maoists is now limited to bringing out a popularly drafted constitution. The most strident criticism has come not from the Nepali Congress’ anti-communist wing but from friends like Dr. Shekhar Koirala.
Excoriated for having bent over backward to the Maoists during the first two years of the peace process, Koirala ostensibly has had enough. Now he warns the ex-rebels that Nepali Congress members in the constituent assembly would collectively resign once they get the first whiff of a people’s republic. How much of Dr. Koirala’s latest rants stem from the Maoists’ breach of their reported pledge to honor Uncle Girija as the country’s first president remains unknown. But Shekhar Da looks like a commander of a multi-pronged attack.
The main opposition party is asking Defense Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa ‘Badal’ to explain his assertion that President Ram Baran Yadav had cancelled his trip to China for the opening ceremonies of the Olympics under pressure from foreign powers. Now, if Badal meant the United States, he wouldn’t have hesitated to name names. Whatever he says or doesn’t say will reflect on his boss. The two major coalition partners are becoming more of subversives. (And we haven’t even touched upon the rivalries deepening within the erstwhile people’s warriors.)
The Unified Marxist Leninists’ K.P. Sharma Oli asserts that the Maoists would be wiped out in eight years. General Secretary Jhal Nath Khanal, although sounding less intimidating, has lowered the bar. He believes the UML would beat the Maoists in the next election. Ordinarily, the two UML men might have been hailed as statesmen, considering how far away that exercise seems. But eyeing the next generation before warming up to constitution making is a gross abdication of responsibility.
Khanal’s predecessor, Madhav Kumar Nepal, doubts Dahal’s patriotism after the premier chose to extend an olive branch to India moments after returning from China. Whatever the precise reasons the Maoists reneged on their pledge to support Nepal as their presidential candidate, the former general secretary at least could blame his defeat in both constituencies in last April’s elections. By inducting fellow loser Bam Dev Gautam in the cabinet as his No.2, Dahal has added double insult to Nepal’s injury. Gautam has now become the only UML leader to serve twice as deputy premier, a distinction he will use to bolster his politics well into the future.
Madhesi Janadhikar Forum chief and Foreign Minister Upendra Yadav has asked his cadres to go after the Young Communist League. Nothing like the Gaur carnage is about to ensue. But Yadav has synthesized domestic and diplomatic pressure on the Maoists. By blowing hot and cold on India’s exact responsibility for the Koshi disaster, Yadav has already put Dahal on the defensive before his Delhi visit. Reports of a second prime ministerial visit to China can be of little use here until the state media announces the itinerary.
October may be a couple of weeks away, but the air is bound to acquire added chill when revolutionaries in power feel they are imperiled.