Sunday, October 19, 2008

Festive Dalliance And Pharynxial Discomfort

The inter-festival hiatus seems to have energized our political class toward creative exuberance. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is bent on roping the Nepali Congress into the ruling coalition. How could our nascent democratic republic grow, after all, without the active participation of its self-proclaimed sole custodian?
That is not the reason why Dahal’s stoop is getting deeper. Besieged by his own party, the premier recognizes that a Nepali Congress in power is also his best insurance against any political “accident”. But Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala, quite against his character, seems to have grown fond of his role as chief opposition leader. Since he is not expecting any position of greater power, what does he have to lose, right?
But, surely, Koirala must be flummoxed by the persistence with which Dahal is dangling that carrot in front of Madhav Kumar Nepal, the former chief of the Unified Marxist-Leninists (UML). The Girija-Madhav equation has always proved portentous for the country. How long before junior functionaries in the Nepali Congress stop salivating at the prospect of ministerial portfolios and jump to seize the moment?
For now, that question is bogging the other coalition partner. The Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) is letting us in on some state secrets. The premier, according to MJF leader and Foreign Minister Upendra Yadav, is not in favor of a wholesale integration of the former People’s Liberation Army into the national armed forces. So Nepali Congress acting president Sushil Koirala would probably not have to act on his threat of an agitation. (Mercifully, the real and acting presidents are still speaking in unison.)
Still, party vice-president Ram Chandra Poudel has warned of a revolt within the assembly if the Maoists persisted with flouting past agreements. The Nepali Congress would probably want to let the Maoists fully grapple with their identity crisis. Whether the ex-rebels would actually rename themselves and disavow the Great Helmsman would depend on the hardliners said to dominate the party.
The fact that Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai continues to pledge the full mainstreaming of the ex-rebels means the rival Mohan Baidya faction has not quite kept its own house in order. Even for the ideologically pure, all these years out in the open must have made the idea of renewed subterranean existence, well, a dark one. Dr. Bhattarai’s assertion that Nepal would gradually increase trade ties with China to correct the preponderant southern tilt suggests he is very much in the geopolitical race.
A people’s republic or a democratic one, the decision ultimately rests with the constituent assembly. But that body has already frittered away a quarter of its two-year constitution-making mandate by, among other things, lamenting the lack of progress. The sense of bafflement is so agonizing that that the UML, too, is contemplating a name change dissociating itself with Marx and Lenin. Clearly, this rush to dilute redness reflects on general secretary Jhal Nath Khanal’s tenuous grip.
The velocity of the churning process can also be measured by the comment of Mahanth Thakur, chief of the Terai Madhesh Democratic Party (TMDP). He now believes the politics of ethnicity is becoming harmful to the nation. Is Thakur about to return to the Nepali Congress? Who knows?
Yet a united communist front would certainly prompt an equal and opposite reaction. The abolition of the monarchy has exacerbated the Nepali Congress’s pharynxial discomfort, now that it finds itself alone in that prominent noose.
Would the MJF, the TMDP and other non-communist groups in the constituent assembly really veer closer to the Nepali Congress and vice versa? Much would depend on the sidelines of the BIMSTEC summit next month, during which Dahal expects to raise contentious bilateral issues with the Indian government. The real thing to watch, though, may be the kind of unity the 14 armed groups in the Terai end up forging on Indian soil.