Sunday, December 28, 2008

Of Message, Messenger And Malevolence

All those folks around Narayanhity palace who Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal welcomed into his fold for their patriotism, it turns out, actually abhor the Maoists. Superficially, Dahal’s attempt to blame the ex-royals in the midst of his ex-rebels for the spate of vicious attacks on the media is not illogical.
Former king Gyanendra, for one thing, purportedly informed Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood that most of his supporters had now become Maoists. The media behemoths in question, moreover, were among the most vociferous critics of the royal regime.
The anti-palace alliance between the mainstream parties and the Maoists may have been contrived in New Delhi. The momentum for a full-blown movement against the king could not have been built several months later without the complicity of our own media organizations.
Means, motive and opportunity? Yes. But what if rank-and-file Maoists are the ones who hold that grudge most tightly? It’s not that long ago that the media lavished praise on the Maoists for raising arms for the people and contrasting that with the Royal Nepalese Army’s thirst for the blood of the masses. The agility with which reporters and editors bent over backwards to boost the Maoists during the years of elected governments in a clear effort to discredit the parties in power will remain etched forever in the annals of that era.
The mainstream parties made the Maoists partners in progress toward a new Nepal in full knowledge of what they were and could eternally be. The media almost universally cheered the union. Today, the Maoists’ real agenda may be nebulous even to the most committed of former people’s warriors. But that alone doesn’t make it any less worthy of pursuit for an ideologically hardened band incapable of faking any trace of political or military defeat.
So when the Nepali Congress, the Unified Marxist-Leninists and other parties whine over how the former rebels have not really changed their ways, they are in fact underscoring their own abject dereliction of responsibility as parties to the peace process. If there was any wisdom in making the complete renunciation of violence and return of seized property secondary to the imperative of holding elections, then it became the duty of the media as well to justify that trade-off. Instead, they became unabashed partisans for non-Maoist parties on the eve of the elections.
The outcry against the media attacks has forced Prime Minister Dahal to heed some of the demands of the Nepali Congress, which had been making forlorn efforts in the legislature. Dahal may yet choose to fortify his flank by signing that extradition treaty with India and positively considering New Delhi’s proposal for the construction of a high dam on the Koshi.
Even if the pressure on the government were to subside as a result, the larger question certainly won’t. If the Maoists were deemed competent and credible enough to bring down the monarchy and raise the banner of democracy, why should they be considered unworthy custodians of the change? You don’t have to be a Maoist to be all ears for an answer from the media.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It’s A Jungle Out There

The man credited with bringing the Maoists from the jungles to the political mainstream now wants them to go back. Not so fast, says top former rebel Chandra Prasad Gajurel. He maintains the Nepali Congress and its president, Girija Prasad Koirala, should be sent to the woods for their obstruction of the peace process.
Koirala seems real upset with the Maoists. Ever since the presidency, which Koirala was purportedly promised during Delhi Compromise II three years ago, slipped away, the octogenarian has revved up on the fast lane of the warpath. During much of his last tenure as head of government, Koirala had bent over backwards to accommodate the Maoists. For a while, the ex-rebels appeared to reciprocate, especially by letting him act as head of state as well.
Koirala appeased the Maoists at the instigation of lieutenants like Krishna Prasad Sitaula and Shekhar Koirala. But the former premier can’t yell at them because they are yelling louder at the Maoists. The setting couldn’t have been more propitious for our usual external purveyors of instability. They instantly swung into action. With enough massaging, Koirala’s ego expanded. He wants to create a broader democratic alliance, but all he can see are clusters of former panchas. Now wonder his deputy, Ram Chandra Poudel, could trash that pitch so easily.
If sending the Maoists back to the jungle were really the solution, Koirala wouldn’t have had to issue a public warning. President Ram Baran Yadav could have used Article 127 of the 1990 constitution to revive that document. (Regardless of what the stars say, restoration of the monarchy is still a no-no, since the ex-king hasn’t shown enough contrition to those who matter.)
Such brazenness probably wouldn’t be enough to undermine the international legitimacy the Nepali Congress has traditionally enjoyed, provided enough sops accompanied it to dispel the appearance of a status quo ante. The Madhesi Janadhikar Forum and Terai Madhesh Democratic Party – and quite possibly a sizeable faction of the United Marxist Leninists – would rally behind the Nepali Congress. The 14 armed factions in the Terai would jointly announce a renunciation of violence and join the mainstream. The last six years could have been cast off as a bad dream. Except… the external purveyors of instability – the southern and western variety – wouldn’t have been caught snoring.
That’s why although Gajurel’s retort might have come late, its import remains undiminished. After the royal palace massacre, the Maoists had clubbed Girija together with Gyanendra as part of the clique complicit in the heinous crime. The former monarch has challenged the Maoists to prove his guilt. But it is more than association Koirala has to worry about.
A month after the enthronement of the new king, Koirala resigned because he couldn’t mobilize the army against the Maoists at Holeri. In other words, he stepped down because the new king and his generals would not let the army massacre virtually the entire rebel leadership reportedly assembled there. The royal takeover of 2005 may have obscured that piece of history, but it certainly couldn’t obliterate it.
As for Gajurel, who languished behind bars in Chennai while most of his comrades were official guests on the outskirts of New Delhi, he must have been tempted to put his thoughts more crudely than how he spoke them. Like, say, how about Girija Prasad Koirala going back to plotting hijackings and counterfeiting cash?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Opportune Emphasis On The Obvious

We didn’t really need former king Gyanendra to state the obvious at least on this one. He lost his crown because he helped China get a seat in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation as an observer. South Asia’s geopolitical locus had been shifting northward for quite some time. The Nepalese monarch only helped to make that official.
The real news of the week lay in the fact that the ex-monarch chose to ventilate his feelings at a time when our nascent republic was playing host to a succession of civil and military delegations from the north. (One is forced to wonder why the newspaper editor who met with Mr. Shah largely held back that portion of the interview, allowing another weekly to attribute it to him in greater detail. Pool coverage, one would imagine.)
The cautionary tale is obvious. If the Chinese could fail to rescue the monarch from a crisis strictly originating from its larger geopolitical forays, what makes the Maoists think they can fare better? The ex-rebels should tread carefully here. But they need not be intimidated by the gloss a section of the Indian media has put on the character and quantum of Chinese pledges of development and military assistance. (Actually, it is one reporter who always manages to peddle her story line across a wider spectrum.)
In other words, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher was due here to formally announce that his government had withdrawn the terror tag from the Maoists. But he suspended his visit for unspecified reasons. China’s military interest must have scuttled his itinerary. Turning enemies into friends is far less important than irking a hugely anxious neighbor.
It is useless to argue over whether China’s new assertiveness in Nepal is a response to India or to the United States. The Free Tibet demonstrations kind of fused the two strands. The Nepali Congress can feign outrage over Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi’s vow to help Nepal safeguard its independence and sovereignty without his having identified where that threat emanated from or alluded to whether Nepal ever sought such assurances. The party had used similar tactics in parliament in late 1959 over allegations of Chinese infiltration. Posing as nationalists, the Nepali Congress was actually abetting the Indians, a stratagem that eventually boomeranged on the multiparty system.
For quite some time, the Chinese have been describing the open border between Nepal and India as a threat to their security. If Beijing has come around to rating the precariousness in the Terai as a close second behind the Tibet issue, it must be because of the hurdle it places on its quiet but calibrated long march into the South Asian heartland.
The creation of a no-go area, under Indian auspices, along that sliver from Mechi to Mahakali through either outright annexation, independence or perpetual instability can be the only logical interpretation up north. Whether the strip can be any less porous in any of those eventualities is a different matter.
How far the Chinese really trust the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-Baburam Bhattarai facade of the Maoists is open to question. They were too closely tucked in Indian territory, with the connivance of officials as well as allies. But, then, the duo has a proven ability to be everything to everybody. Beijing knows that Dahal-Bhattarai combine would not mind prospering on the halo of a tightening northern alliance regardless of the actual firmness of the hug.
Defense Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal, who once threatened our neighbors that Nepal had enough volatility to turn from a yam to a dynamite, retains much of his rhetorical bluster. But, then, even he could not throw in his lot with the “nationalist” faction at the recent party conclave.
So this is where Mr Shah’s emphasis on the obvious cannot be overstated. Be it the Indians, Americans or Europeans, they are here primarily for themselves. Should the diplomatically and politically resurgent Russians decide to stretch their necks above the crowd, don’t expect them to be any more altruistic.