Monday, December 28, 2009

Try Being An Indian For A Moment

Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna might want to prepone his visit to Nepal.
The normally suave Indian foreign minister was a little sour when he asked a group of visiting Nepali scribes why his country keeps getting a bad press. The journos probably fingered our politicos. So Krishna scheduled a fact-finding mission in the new year. Not so fast, said the folks at the Asian Center for Human Rights. Quit coddling the generals first.
But Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal felt he had to go straight to the heart of the matter. He gave Krishna an earful to take to his bosses. Dahal may have backtracked a day later, but not without some success. The Maoist supremo’s outbursts emboldened people as diverse as Hari Roka and Manmohan Bhattarai to chastise India in their own circuitous ways.
Could Dahal have been a bit diplomatic? Sure. But would he have kicked up the same firestorm? Predictably, the other left-of-the UML reds aren’t impressed by this resurgence of patriotism in the Maoist leader. There could be umpteen ulterior motives. As for Dahal, agent provocateur is not an appellation that exactly bothers him.
Opinion seems to be crystallizing on the opposite end, too. Madhesi Janadhikar Forum leader Upendra Yadav suggested that the quality and content of India’s interest in Nepal is but natural for such a neighbor. Now, Maila Baje can’t figure out whether Yadav has revised his own recent criticism of India for having conceived the Madhav Kumar Nepal government in sin. But, then, Yadav’s real grudge is probably against the rise of his rival, Bijay Kumar Gachchadar.
What separates affable interest from odious intervention when it comes to India? Nepalis have been debating this forever. For quite long, the Indians weren’t terribly perturbed by the creepiest manifestations of our antagonism, either. Sure, in the early days Jawaharlal Nehru used to convey to the two older Koirala brothers his displeasure with Nepalis’ collective ingratitude. But one he realized how far he could get by pitting Matrika Prasad against Bisweswar Prasad, Nehru’s resentment diminished in public.
Over time, you could almost sense a national consensus across the southern border that eternal anti-Indianism was a fair price for perpetual mastery over Nepal. Something seems to have riled the Indians lately. And it’s not just the red lines the Maoists keeping crossing vis-a-vis China. It has something to do with Nepaliness.
Try being an Indian for a moment. When the Chinese beat up Nepalis on the bordering regions, harass traders, surreptitiously foist a draft peace and friendship treaty on the country and haggle over the size of the prime ministerial entourage, it becomes news for five minutes. Kalapani, Susta, Kosi, Gandaki, Mahakali, and the 1950 Treaty, on the other hand, have become diabolic metaphors feeding on each other.
And look at the confidence Nepalis have mustered during what is perhaps their most vulnerable era. Regardless of the facts of history, would today’s Indians living across our eastern and western borders really want to be part of a Greater Nepal? Doesn’t the fact that the westerners have their own state and the easterners are agitating for one count for anything?
Contrast that with the controversy over the northern half of Mount Everest. Even the fiercest critic of the monarchy’s alleged sellout to China does not demand the restoration of that side to Nepali sovereignty.
And the asymmetries over the wider motives of the neighbors? The Indians are always accused of seeking to “Bhutanize” and “Sikkimize” Nepal. On the other hand, the Qing emperors, Chiang Kai-shek and Chairman Mao all claimed Nepal to be part of the Chinese empire based a 1792 treaty that exists nowhere.
The Chinese ditched the Shahs, Ranas, the mainstream parties and the Maoists. Yet Nepalis somehow feel heaven still has a way of conferring its mandate from the north. Maybe that is why they complain of Indian subjugation but are happy to see China subdue Tibet.
Maila Baje doesn’t want to bask in a see-I-told-you-so moment. So coddle the generals or not, Mr. Krishna, but hop on the next flight. See it for yourself.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Status Quo Anti(pathies)

After a 57-year wait, Nepalis finally got an elected constituent assembly last year. And what have we done with it? Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the operative question anymore. What are we going to do without it?
It’s bad enough that the body is likely to perish without having produced that mother of all constitutions. The principal parties can’t agree on what will happen after that. Now, Maila Baje does not mean to discount our innate ability to accept last-minute surprises sprung from elsewhere. (Remember how many agreements were struck just in time to prop up the 12-point agreement and perpetuate the fiction called the peace process?)
For now, though, presidential rule seems to be the favorite option of some. A group of Nepali Congress leaders actually went to Dr. Ram Baran Yadav suggesting that he pursue such a course. Nepal Workers and Peasants Party leader Narayan Man Bijukche, too, has been an avid enthusiast of the option for quite some time. But the only thing he seems to have brought to the table is the fact that Dr. Yadav was once his classmate.
It’s tempting to see the generals as honest brokers considering that they egged on King Gyanendra to seize power as well as encouraged him to relinquish it 15 months later. But, seriously, hasn’t Nepal moved past the point where the military can expect to take care of things? Sure, the generals can expect open support from India this time. But that might not be exactly a kiss of life, considering how flustered Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna seems to be at our collective national antics. Should presidential rule be imposed, moreover, that would open another can of worms. President Yadav already has a hard time planning a trip to India in the absence of a working deputy. He surely wouldn’t want the country to worry every time he went to the bathroom.
The Maoists, being the strict constitutionalists they claim to be, will probably expound on UML leader Bam Dev Gautam’s assertion that the presidency, too, will have lost its legality. (At least King Gyanendra had that much-maligned Article 127.) What happens then? Should things then revert to April 24, 2006, when King Gyanendra restored the House of Representatives elected under the 1990 constitution?
Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal might once again find himself bolstered by popular mandate. But wouldn’t that, in turn, mean a return to May 22, 2002 when Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba recommended the dissolution? How much would that energize Deuba, who has already staked his claim to lead the Nepali Congress despite having lost the parliamentary party election to Ram Chandra Poudel?
And the legislators of that august house? Forget the dead and the dying. Many able-bodied members representing the major parties have fused into rival factions of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum and others. Do they get to keep their seats? And what about MJF leader Upendra Yadav?
Which brings us to the Maoists. Would they be willing to snatch such a monumental defeat from the jaws of victory just because they can’t go back to the jungles in numbers enough to frighten the animals? Not too many might be welcomed back to a life of succor across the southern border. And far too many have become used to the trappings of life in the open. But self-interest hasn’t been a hallmark of the Maoists, especially considering their congenital difficulty in figuring that out. Their propensity to subvert others and reap rewards remains predominant.
So when Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai claim that the declaration of autonomous states is political move aimed at advancing the peace process, they may be on to something. Our two regional behemoths ultimately may be induced to fraternize with the Maoists in the interest of avoiding fissiparous tendencies on their own turf.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Oh! These Appointments With Death

It’s getting a little frustrating, this fixation with death. Not that Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal shouldn’t be thinking about the great beyond every day. (For someone with so much blood on his hands, it probably comes as easily as breathing.)
After decades of shadowy subterranean existence, life in the public glare wasn’t going to be easy for Dahal. But he has had it reasonably good. For every Nepali who thought he really didn’t exist, countless others doubted he would ever emerge to tell his story of secrecy and subterfuge. Yet he continues to enjoy a celebrity status that is rare for his tribe.
The last time he hollered hoarse about how threatened his life had become, Dahal ended up winning the largest number of seats in the constituent assembly. Despite having lowered his sights from the presidency to the premiership, governing wasn’t going to be easy. But the Maoist chief had made a good beginning. Not because he made China his first overseas destination. Because within his honeymoon period, he had managed to hug Hu Jintao, Manmohan Singh and George W. Bush, the trinity mattering the most to us.
That vital balance of power could have been secured had Dahal received an opportunity to rub shoulders with Vladimir Putin. But the parallels with King Mahendra were getting too ominous. So instead of expounding on what transpired during the brief meeting with Bush on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Dahal had to explain to reporters at the airport how much his wife and son had received in government allowances during the visit.
When things went awry after that, it was not because Dahal tried to be all things to all people. His party acted as if it had already captured the state. The Americans had second thoughts about withdrawing the terrorist tag. The Indians weren’t about to get caught in semantics about how Dahal’s first official visit abroad was, in fact, to India. And the Chinese? Well, we’re not quite sure what really happened.
Even if Dahal wasn’t behind the leaking of the draft peace and friendship treaty in some bizarre plot to sabotage his own visit to China, his assertion on Indian television that a string of Chinese military delegations had basically invited themselves to Nepal forced a rethink up north. Beijing realized it should have dealt with Dahal first as the leader of Nepal’s newest communist party. But even that second visit to China had to be preceded by a secret preparatory mission via Hong Kong. While the Singapore confab with Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala is attributed to Indian auspices, can we really conclude there isn’t a Chinese angle there?
Admittedly, for a leader of a party that has come this far through a maze of mendacity, diversionary tactics have a special value. But isn’t it time to grow up, regardless of how convoluted politics has become? Despite all the rancor, Dahal, after all, still heads the country’s most organized party. Or does he?
Factional alliances are constantly shifting among the Maoists to make perpetual revolution an existential imperative. But Dahal just can’t seem to follow the Great Helmsman. If the equivalents of Liu Shaoqi and Lin Biao are the problem, how long can he try to pit them against each other?
Dahal probably has more to fear from his ideologically driven foot soldiers who see in this kind of dithering the root of the betrayal of the revolution. But he seems intent on redefining suicide as murder.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

When A Coconut Becomes A Hot Potato

The crescendo of cynicism is getting shriller. The new constitution, the centerpiece of our nebulous quest for newness, may not be drafted within the May 28, 2010 deadline. From the Nepali Congress, Sher Bahadur Deuba and Ram Chandra Poudel are at the forefront of the naysaying as the grand old man recedes to the background.
The Unified Marxist-Leninists’ Bam Dev Gautam for quite some time now has been equating any delay with the revival of the monarchy. Depending on individual exigencies, politicians from all parties entrusted with the solemn task have been making dire predictions. They Maoists seem to be the exception to this alarmism, at least in public. They see the least problem perhaps because they are the ones most strenuously standing in the way.
Critical as meeting the deadline is, the sky won’t fall just because it is missed. The assembly can extended its life for six months if a state of emergency prevents the drafting of the constitution on time. Granted, an emergency cannot be imposed just to extend the assembly’s term. But, then, there is no shortage of justifications for such a move. Moreover, the strictest constitutionalists tend to be the first to remind us that post-conflict jurisprudence is not the same as everyday rule of law.
As for the wholesomeness of the exercise, well, it was always a mirage. When the mainstream parties used to maintain that a constituent assembly would open a Pandora’s Box, they were not merely distinguishing themselves from the Maoists. President Ram Baran Yadav summed it up the best when he told Maoist leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha the other day that while the Maoists had pushed republicanism to the forefront, the rest of the parties went there because the palace shoved them real hard.
Clearly, the Maoists were not expecting the body, either. Or at least they had not anticipated much use for it. Their push for autonomous regions is less a circumvention of the assembly than an acknowledgment of their dependence on permanent revolution for existence.
Being a small nation sandwiched between two giant and mutually competitive neighbors has been bad enough in the best of times. If Nepalis believe a constellation of micro-states would make them fare any better, well, who can stop them? That’s why we’ve become our neighbors’ problem now.
And what are they to do? No amount of public reiterations from across the political spectrum seems to satisfy China’s justified concern for its soft underbelly. The Indians’ exasperation has reached a point where some have begun to broaden the debate and publicly insist that partition is not a settled fact.
If the antics of its principal constituents were not enough to subvert the ultimate democratic exercise, the proliferation of groups – armed and otherwise – outside the assembly has come in handy. That tribe is about to swell after Madhesi Janadhikar Forum leader Upendra Yadav pronounced that the body had outlived its utility, at least from its constituents’ perspective.
Yet no matter how bad things get, a popularly drafted constitution remains a national imperative. Rightly or wrongly, Nepal’s political instability is attributed to the lack of popular participation in charting its fate. Without healing that breach, the hemorrhaging will worsen. But even a resounding declaration in favor of the assembly’s extension in perpetuity might not help here. The recriminations rolling from all sides are too revolting.
President Yadav recently lamented that he would not have entered politics if he knew friends would one day deceive him. What really transpired behind the scenes during the dramatic sacking and subsequent restoration of Gen. Rukmangad Katuwal would probably have to await Yadav’s memoirs. But there’s a woeful pattern here.
The president’s gripe came mere days after his former deputy, Parmanand Jha, revealed he had chosen not to take the vice-presidential oath in Nepali as per the advice of leading politicians. Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal seems to feel sorry for everyone except himself. And who knows whether, deep down, he really doesn’t regret assuming the premiership during, as they say in the vernacular, the ghosts’ teatime?
Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, for his part, is consumed by his own May 4 incident, when he made history by resigning the premiership before anyone had demanded he do so. With leading luminaries from the major parties engrossed in personal introspection, the country can only pause to ponder for itself.
Unlike our primate cousins, human beings are expected to do something creative if they happen to lay hands on a coconut… such as not tossing it around like a hot potato.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lord Of The Left

Madhav Kumar Nepal was elevated to the premiership to split Nepal’s communists, if you believe Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) leader Bam Dev Gautam. If you trust Gautam’s critics within his own party, on the other hand, he is a Maoist in all but name.
Given its sordid history of fission and fusion, Nepal’s premier centrist communists could have done without this latest burst of vitriol. But the deep factionalism in Nepal’s communist movement is something we must learn to live with more and more.
Part of the factionalism is understandable. The organization, despite its strong anti-Indian orientation from the outset, originated as a virtual offshoot from across the southern border. As such, it ignored Nepal’s peculiar class formation. Railing against feudalism had its limits, given the wide connotation the term acquired. So Nepali communist leaders thought they could mechanically apply prevailing international dogmas to local realities. Caught deeper between the monarchy and the Nepali Congress, the communists put their faith in the people. Having won a mere four seats in parliament, our comrades were left in a funk.
When King Mahendra took power in December 1960, the strains had to spill over. The royalist and communist wings came into prominence. Yet the Nepali Congress, especially B.P. Koirala and his coterie, remained a repellent. Following the Sino-Soviet split, the Indian communists could clearly part ways on ideological grounds. Not our comrades. Nepal’s geographical location between China and India, fast resembling a Soviet satellite in region, introduced strategic considerations.
Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution up north and the Naxalite movement out east inspired our young and restless. But the Jhapa Movement crumbled under the palace’s effective counterinsurgency strategy. In prison and on the run alike, the pro-Chinese faction indulged in soul-searching. The new Marxist-Leninists (M-L) sought to construct an indigenous road to socialism.
The M-L edged out the pro-Soviet groups, but the pro-Chinese camp was still in a churning process. People like Mohan Bikram Singh and Nirmal Lama emerged in the form of the Fourth Convention, only to confront the fallout from the overthrow of the Gang of Four.
While the M-L actively boycotted the referendum in 1980 by encouraging support for the partyless system and began expanding its cells across the country, the rival pro-Chinese camp sought to spread its wings. In 1984, the Mashal – as this group was now known – became a member of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement. Since only one faction would adopt the line that would extend into today’s Maoists, the bad blood continued.
For a while, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, it seemed the pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese factions – or at least segments of them – would bury the hatchet. Those who expected the United Left Front-Nepali Congress alliance to collapse with the Panchayat system were not to be disappointed. The radicals were left sulking that their exertions in front of the palace had actually brought about the limited gains in the form of the midnight compromise legalizing political parties.
The emergence of the UML was supposed to have addressed the fragmentation of the left. An amalgam of disparate factions, the new party believed the Nepali communist movement had been severely weakened by both internal and external factors. The more revolutionary comrades had their own interpretation. They attributed the factionalism to the internal contradictions between the revolutionary teachings of the communist ideology and the lack of consciousness and commitment in the communist organizations. Simply put, the People’s Multiparty Democrats and the People’s Warriors and had to go their separate ways.
As the radicals went to the jungles, the UML started heading in all directions. C.P. Mainali, whose views were discredited as the M-L became the UML, was edged out. Bam Dev Gautam became deputy general secretary but only as long as his boss, Madhav Nepal, remained deputy premier. The Mahakali Treaty pushed the party to the brink. Gautam, Mainali and others broke away to revive the M-L, which soon projected itself as the nationalist communists.
The war of words between the UML and M-L camps, which took turns collaborating with Girija Prasad Koirala in power, escalated. But it soon centered on which was more corrupt than which. With the Nepali Congress and UML finally holding parliamentary elections, the M-L wipe-out was perhaps to be expected. But since Koirala contrived his own unity with rival Krishna Prasad Bhattarai to win a majority for the Nepali Congress, the UML took on the role of chief agitator.
If you cannot beat them, you join them. So Gautam returned to the UML, soon to be branded a royalist.
With so many royalists now officially having become Maoists, Gautam probably does not mind his latest critics in the UML. As for his point on our current premier and factionalism on the left, does he really think we needed Madhav Kumar Nepal for that?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Maddening Machinations & Muddy Moderation

Anxious to regain the initiative, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal warned the other day that the constituent assembly could be dissolved. But the parliament that the elected body doubles as wouldn’t be, he was quick to clarify. If the prime conciliator was expected to attempt a middle way out of our deepening deadlock, he did not disappoint. Especially since he passed the buck to President Ram Baran Yadav.
Amid the roughness of our road, Prime Minister Nepal has remained relatively unruffled. Banter, somberness, nonchalance and fretfulness have all been hallmarks of his public persona. But there have been unmistakable traces of serenity at the core. The pressure has inevitably caught up with him.
Just when he thought he was beginning to exercise a semblance of control, Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala sealed a deal in Singapore. The details are murky, allowing for a range of speculation that varies wildly with one’s prejudices more than predilections. Instead of trying to grasp the disparate tea leaves, the premier has upped the stakes.
Indeed, what choice does Nepal really have when his own party has deserted him but does not seem to know for what? Unified Marxist-Leninist chairman Jhal Nath Khanal laments the tendency of the political class to reach out to Singapore and Hastinapur, mere days after his own return from New Delhi. The first thing Maoist-critic Khadga Oli does after alighting from his flight from Delhi is to urge the ex-rebels to join the government.
And Bam Dev Gautam asks the premier to sacrifice for the nation by, yes, resigning, as if the reiteration of that plea from him is entirely painless for us to hear. If consistency is visible anywhere in the UML, it is surely in the sturdiness of the shield Defense Minister Bidya Bhandari has provided the army.
Nepal’s brief bonhomie with Barack Obama wasn’t going to push him too far. Before that, the Indians certainly gave him a boost during his sojourn there. When Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood nicknamed Nepal panditji, our premier knew he was no Jawaharlal Nehru. But he must have thought he could use the backslapping to get the north on his side. But Chinese support – at least the palpable kind that translates into political strength these days – has been sorely lacking.
The itinerary for Nepal’s China visit was supposed to be announced the day after he returned from the U.N. General Assembly. Whether Beijing actually distrusts Nepal or his durability in office is becoming immaterial. Our prime minister simply could not fathom how sordid Sood’s appellation might turn out to be.
The broader picture is not all too bad. NatGeo heralds Nepal’s rebirth as the origin of adventure tourism. KFC and Pizza Hut are about make their grand entry to soak up Nepalis’ disposable income. Yet Nepal finds himself submerged atop a seemingly rudderless ship. So it becomes easy for him to sentimentalize a bit. Sure, Dahal may have almost wept to bring him into the constituent assembly. But that was then. Just like when Koirala proposed him for premier only to renege it in front of the then king. Like when Dahal invited him for talks in Lucknow and Silguri during the subterranean days, only to castigate him as a neo-Rayamajhi when the genuine article was very much around.
As for Nepal’s middle way, it might be able to maintain a semblance of continuity of the peace process, while allowing the protagonists to fight it out even harder. But here’s the rub. The people voted for the constituent assembly. The parliament part was an afterthought. The two should go out together, if they must. Even a moderate like our premier must surely see the virtue of radicalism on this one.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Great Sinners Serving The Great Savior

For a raucous group seemingly inured to all manner of criticism, this one must have really stung. Radio Vatican the other day accused the Maoists and their supporters of effectively blocking the process of democratization in Nepal. Well, it was actually the Apostolic Vicar of Nepal, Bishop Anthony Sharma, who made that charge in an interview with the Pope’s mouthpiece.
Look at it this way. If the Maoists feel they deserve the eternal gratitude of any particular quarter, it is surely from the church. Without our ex-rebels, Nepal would still be the world’s only Hindu kingdom and one of the six countries so impenetrable for the Lord’s word.
At a minimum, the Capuchin friars, whom Prithvi Narayan Shah expelled from his nascent kingdom, have been avenged. The poor souls tried hard to portray the Gorkhali conquest of Kathmandu valley as an unmitigated genocide and their exodus the upshot. What they left unsaid was that Prithvi Narayan was guided by the same religious sensitivities that had led Lhasa to expel the members of the Catholic order to the realm of the Mallas years earlier.
And what a struggle it had been to get back in. After the advent of modernity in 1951, the palace let men of the cloth educate and alleviate Nepalis. But the soul was a no-go area. Any progress towards that area was so easily construed as an unwarranted quest for unnatural intimacy. (The implications were clear long before the pedophilia scandal rocked sections of the clergy elsewhere.)
The countless students who graduated over the decades spread across the walks of life but never got close to making policy or decisions. Those few who end up in the inner palace circle actually helped tighten the lid.
All that was supposed to have changed with the 1990 democratization. But new leadership deftly placed a comma in the right place in the constitution and kept the heathens going with greater gusto. With the Reds on the rise, it was easy for successive governments to turn a blind eye to conversion. But how far could that go when the new king wore his religion so prominently on his sleeve? You could not inspire an uprising against a depraved state by evoking the Good Lord. In Nepal’s case, Mao had to become the savior.
We don’t know for sure why the Maoist leaders chose Switzerland for their only collective visit abroad (not counting India, of course) after the fall of the monarchy. Rumors that it was payback time for the final offensive against the Hindu state and the king – yes, in that order – refuse to die. In fairness, the church wasn’t the only purported contributor to such a kitty. But it was certainly among those who should have had a long-term interest in a secular Nepal regardless of how it progressed towards sustainable statehood.
Instead, the church talks of democracy. Pope Benedict XVI’s record shows that he is an opponent of certain types of liberation theology. But can the salvation wrought by Christ really be examined outside the aspirations of oppressed peoples and social classes? Sure, the Maoists’ agitation has inconvenienced most Nepalis, both the faithful and faithless. But what is the point of speaking out, especially when forthrightness has not always been the church’s forte.
Vatican Radio may have been among the first to publicize how Jews and others were being rounded up in ghettos under Hitler. But silence stood out as the most prominent feature when an entire group of people was actually being eliminated.
Some people jailed for proselytizing during the Panchayat years have become strategic thinkers They should know how a sprightly a springboard Nepal could become in a vast swathe in such an expansive neighborhood. In Tashilhumpo, Scotsman George Bogle was struck by the affinity between Christianity and Tibetan Buddhism, while Prithvi Narayan was admonishing the Panchen Lama against hobnobbing with the feringhies. A free Tibet might open the opportunity to liberate so many more souls.
In India, the northeastern tribes have been a success story. But there are millions more, backward and oppressed, anxious for the Good News. The Maoists, to be sure, will not let anyone lead their flock astray. But can that reality alone diminish their redeeming value?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Hovering On Meddle Ground

When it comes to our peace process, Nepalis aren’t the only ones who are dwelling in the past. Why did Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal resign as premier earlier this year? Chinese President Hu Jintao wanted to know from the horse’s mouth last month. But Dahal either was not the horse or had too many mouths.
Did the then-premier manufacture the standoff with General Rookmangad Katuwal to avoid having to fly to Beijing to sign that harsh Peace and Friendship Treaty? (As a quid quo pro, the Chinese could have saved Dahal’s politics. But would the Indians have been so generous with his life or limbs?)
Or did the Indians actually egg Dahal on before using Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML) chairman Jhal Nath Khanal to pull the plug? (That would be entirely in keeping with the Indian playbook. Moreover, it was the Chinese who recently outed Khanal.) Maybe Dahal was under unbearable pressure from the party base to show something revolutionary for his months in power. (What could have been more revolutionary in Nepali politics than to resign before anyone actually demanded you do so?)
Hu probably remains as flustered as he was before meeting with Dahal. But given the way the Maoists have been behaving ever since, it seems Dahal never believed he would really have to vacate the Baluwatar residence. The Maoists have been trying to get back in through every door, window, nook, cranny or pore.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered a helping hand. He stated that a national government was desirable to pull Nepal out of its morass. The original word, we are told, was the more unambiguous “necessary.” But the ruling parties and their allies ended up accusing Ban of interfering on behalf of the Maoists any way. UN spokesperson Michele Montas rebutted that charge after UNMIN chief Karin Landgren avoided the media.
Both ladies had to do what they did. The UN is less interested in salvaging the Maoists. It needs to save its face. The Indians and the Chinese want to bloody the world body’s nose so red that it would never think of returning to the region in any shape or form. Clearly, New Delhi’s and Beijing’s original joint effort was to keep extra-regional forces out of Nepal by giving them just enough space to stand still. But certainly they have been outsmarted.
Even before the pre-Olympics Free Tibet protests last year, the Chinese saw the UN missionaries as partners with the Indians in an effort to upset their soft underbelly. The Indians feel the UN is trying to position scoping missions on their soil well before New Delhi gets a veto on an expanded Security Council.
Beijing, moreover, is anxious to see New Delhi mount a full-blown offensive on the world organization for the wider fallout: scuttling India’s permanent membership bid. The Indians, who feel Nepal has slipped out of their hands – to borrow Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat’s words the other day – aren’t about to abandon their quest for great power status by appearing to take on Nepal and the international community at the same time.
Those closest to Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal seem to have the clearest view of the opening here. Ever wondered why the premier’s official advisers are the most vociferous in their opposition to the continuation of UN Mission in Nepal? UNMIN chief Landgren, too, knows a thing or two about politics in conflict zones. (Her stints in Eritrea and Bosnia and Herzegovina must have come in particularly handy here.) She wants the parties to define the president’s powers, the widely acknowledged root of the current woes. But her advice comes at a time when some of those parties want the president to dissolve the constituent assembly and impose direct rule.
The Maoists reject the interference accusation, claiming the government’s opposition to Ban’s call is aimed at pleasing India. But at the corridors of UN headquarters in New York, we hear, the Indians are the most vocal in asserting Nepal’s sovereign rights. No matter how counterintuitive and convoluted things seem to be getting, you are forced to wonder this much. Having invested so much in Nepal, shouldn’t Ban be able to proffer a word or two without prompting the I insinuation?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Flashback: Ceremonialism By Executive Order

President Ram Baran Yadav remains in a state of volatility on matters ranging from official abode to administrative assistance. The way he appears to be redefining the role and reach of the highest office of the land thus becomes all the more remarkable.
Contrary to the purely ceremonial role envisaged by most architects of New Nepal, Yadav seems set to acquire executive influence. His high-profile political consultations in connection with the formation of the new government have angered sections of the Maoists.
The president’s direct participation in the activities of the Nepal Army has alienated some quarters on the other end of the ideological spectrum. In conveying best wishes to soldiers heading for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Lebanon and expressing hope that they would carry out their duties with discipline, Yadav hardly departed from the tradition established by his predecessors as supreme commander. The president’s physical presence at Panchkhal sparked a queasiness among some that remains unmitigated by the realization that he would, in all probability, never don the uniform.
Overall, this overt exhibition of republicanism has set off speculation of an emergence of a political co-habitation practiced by that other former monarchy, France. Former king Gyanendra Shah’s overtures to Yadav have put in new perspective the possibility of a broad nationalist platform.
As such, geopolitics has lost little time in entering the debate. President Yadav’s understandable preoccupation with the construction of the long overdue post-election government forced him to cancel a visit to China to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Scribes across the southern border scurried to put on a sinister spin. Yadav knows he did not snub the Chinese, at least not deliberately. Deep down, the mandarins up north must have known he was in no position to break with tradition and pay them a visit first.
Indian ebullience on this count came after the media there went gaga over Yadav’s supposed Indian roots. Admittedly, the physician turned politician shares fewer such links than, say, his former boss Girija Prasad Koirala, who was born in India. But that piece of reality did not fit the operative narrative of the reporters and editors – and the officialdom patronizing them – down south.
Yadav’s 11th-hour ascension to the top job has evidently satisfied the Nepal Army, whose reluctance to take orders from a presumptive Maoist protégé fueled rumors of an imminent political accident. Yet talk of a military coup has acquired greater resonance since Yadav took his oath. And not only because of his deputy’s choice of language at the swearing-in ceremony.
Should Sujata Koirala win the by-election through the active support of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum’s Upendra Yadav, who vacated one of last April’s keenly contested seats, the non-communist bloc will have gained significant ground.
Efforts to marginalize the Maoists from monopolizing the state would see President Yadav’s active participation. Endeavors to tame the former rebels, too, can be expected to feature Yadav in the central role.
With Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah and current president Pervez Musharraf having entered the core of Nepal’s political lexicon, the non-left cluster would do well to examine another analogy.
In the early 1990s, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party named one of its senior leaders, Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari, as candidate for president. Ensconced in office, Leghari ended up dismissing Benazir and her government in 1996 (while, one might add, our own star-crossed Sher Bahadur Deuba was paying an official visit as premier). The head of state is, after all, expected to rise above the party. A sobering thought indeed for the Nepali Congress.

Originally posted on Monday, August 04, 2008

Monday, October 26, 2009

Who Do We Want The Maoists To Be?

India’s Maoists accuse their Nepali brethren of betraying the cause. At the same time, Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram believes our ex-rebels may be arming his country’s increasingly lethal insurgents. The truth must lie somewhere in between.
Clearly, our Maoists succeeded far beyond their wildest dreams. The Nepali Congress had democracy on their side. Yet their insurgencies faltered almost from the start. When the Jhapali Reds began hunting heads, skulls should have accumulated across the country. After all, the people who abhorred the partyless government had no other way of articulating their sentiments. Leaders in those two groups came in various shapes and sizes. There must have been a reason beyond ideology, injustices and idiosyncrasies for the Maoists’ triumph.
With that question, Maila Baje slipped into sleep. The probe persisted with every move of the eye, starting from that April midnight in 1990. King Birendra lifted the ban on political parties to checkmate the Indians, who were pressuring him to Bhutanize Nepal. New Delhi was stunned by the monarch’s impudence but it certainly was not out of options. While Nepalis were dancing and singing their way to “one of the world’s best constitutions”, the real fight had entered a more virulent round.
Controlled chaos was always the operational term on India’s Nepal file. In the post-1990 years, it seemed far easier to operationalize. The Chinese, on the other hand, pulled back from their Panchayat-era assertiveness, only after ceding space to their allies, the Pakistanis. As the Nepali Congress squandered opportunity after opportunity, the Unified Marxist-Leninists were getting too big for their boots. Enter the Maoists.
Clearly, the palace saw the Maoist rebellion as a vindication of its disbelief in the Fukuyaman end-of-history exegesis the mainstream parties had been peddling. More important, however, was the dominant Indian and Western view of this ragtag band of extreme Nepali leftists. They could come in handy to show the UML its place. The Nepali Congress, not too soon, was mesmerized by the prospect. Sure, success would swell the Maoists’ head, too. But that was for another day.
By the end of the nineties, Nepalis had a revelation. The world’s only Hindu state’s relations with India had never been as bad as it had during the first few years of the ascension of a Hindu nationalist-led government in New Delhi. Of course, the palace’s ties with prominent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders remained excellent. But they were Indians first. Across the southern border, the dump-the-monarchy cabal was ready for the final battle King Birendra had apprehended from moment of his enthronement. By the time of the Narayanhity massacre, this group of Indians believed they had an organized group ready to take control.
In the West, the monarchy had more influential allies than adversaries. But that changed after the US Republicans’ White House win in 2000. When the neocons in the wider West discovered that King Birendra and Crown Prince Dipendra were up to something not in conformity with their worldview, the equations shifted. As vital as Nepal was as a geopolitical prize, it was menacing as the world’s only Hindu state. Nepal was among the six most difficult countries to spread the Gospel. The godless Maoists could not be the answer.
The India-West divide became apparent after the carnage when Zee News and Star News were confidently reporting that no one had survived the Narayanhity massacre and that thousands of Maoists were moments away from capturing the palace. CNN was equally certain about that Prince Gyanendra was safe in Pokhara. The Maoists who were supposed to storm Narayanhity simply melded into the crowd of mourners.
The Maoists recognized they were totally in India’s lap now. This was not a source of comfort to the Indian government. But those who botched up had an instant CYA moment. In the eyes of much of the world, the Great Helmsman and his legacy were associated more with the Chinese. Why not paint the new king as pro-Chinese, notwithstanding the fact that his entire business associations had been with the Indians?
The Indians enjoyed plausible deniability. And there were other interests at play. Controlled chaos meant peace as a prelude to more virulent war. Every life lost became a statistic. Every infrastructure blown up was a potential opportunity for reconstruction.
The Maoists’ success rested on their flexibility with alliances. If being branded as palace lackeys helped, that was fine for the time. If allying with India helped perpetuate the myth the Nepal would become a paradise the moment the monarchy was out, that was good, too. War and peace, purity and flexibility all became interchangeable concepts and campaigns. Without the arsenal of Dr. Baburam Bhattarai’s words, Pushpa Kamal Dahal would have had long lost his war on the battlefield.
The external investment paid off in 2005, when King Gyanendra did what his brother or nephew would have done: adjust Nepal’s geopolitical locus. The see-we-told-you-so grin on the Indians was too wide to measure for the mortified westerners. With the monarchy finally out of the way, the Maoists could be mainstreamed as part of India’s national-security strategy.
To their good fortune, the Maoists joined the mainstream at a time of great geopolitical shift. Chinese President Hu Jintao visited New Delhi but not without instructing his ambassador there to reaffirm claims to Indian-held territory. After using former U.S. president Jimmy Carter to validate their electoral triumph and rise to power, the Maoists looked northward.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s men and women, in the eyes of China’s Nepal pointman, Wang Hong-wei, not only emerged as the largest party. It is also the best placed to unite all nationalist elements. Yet, considering all that has happened, the Chinese, too, must be wondering who they would like the Maoists to be. That was the question Maila Baje woke up to and has been pondering ever since.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Back To The B.P. Balm

Count on the Nepali Congress to bring up B.P. Koirala every time the going gets tough. Party president Girija Prasad Koirala broke down the other day agonizing over how the dreams of his late brother remained unfulfilled these many decades later. Then B.P.’s grand-daughter Manisha visited the Sundarijal Museum, the former site where Nepal’s first elected prime minister was incarcerated for much of the Sixties. All this as BP’s niece, Sujata, lost little time in trying to consolidate her hold in the party after being controversially elevated to the deputy premiership.
Back home from talks in India, former premier Sher Bahadur Deuba said his Nepali Congress was hurt by Sujata’s promotion. But two longtime Deuba loyalists, Bal Krishna Khand and Prakash Sharan Mahat, remain at the frontlines of Sujata’s defense.
The Sundarijal affair was notable not only in terms of Manisha’s possible political plans but also for Nepali Congress acting president Sushil Koirala’s conspicuous presence. Another claimant to the Koirala throne, Dr. Shekhar, has already sought to distinguish himself by blaming both uncle Girija and the Maoists for pushing the country to its sordid plight.
Will the B.P. balm help? Perhaps not. For most of the Fifties, B.P. led more through charisma than intellect. The 1959 election settled the issue of political preponderance by providing the Nepali Congress an absolute majority in parliament. But B.P. had become a polarizing figure in the wider political landscape. When he fell a year and a half later, it was because the non-Congress political class had arrayed firmly against the party and the premier. At least 55 of the 74 Congress MPs would go on to become palace supporters.
B.P. may have been a man ahead of his times but he left little time for the country to catch up. His efforts to maintain equal relations with India and China were arduous enough. When he took issue with Nehru’s assertion in 1959 that any aggression on Nepal or Bhutan would be taken regarded as aggression against India, the Indian prime minister made public for the first time the letters exchanged with the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship. That was that.
The following year, during his visit to China, B.P. made thinly veiled criticisms of Beijing’s policies towards India. The Chinese did not seem to mind. That must have emboldened him to assert in Hong Kong, on his way back home, that the Chinese were too preoccupied domestically to glance beyond their borders.
By reaching out to Israel and Pakistan, B.P. could have hardly endeared himself to the Indians. Noble as these efforts were, did B.P. really think he possessed enough credibility where it really mattered to pursue them? He had, after all, sought Nehru’s intercession with King Mahendra to get the premiership, when the monarch had been predisposed toward Subarna Shamsher Rana. There must have been moments during the Sundarijal incarceration when B.P. wondered whether he had simply overreached in his foreign policy intiatives.
Tulsi Giri, Sribhadra Sharma, Parasu Narayan Chaudary and Prakash Koirala, who actively cooperated with three kings, were merely symptomatic of the malaise that had set in Nepal’s largest democratic party. B.P. remained true to his democratic ideals but saw the party as nothing less of a personal fiefdom.
Surya Bahadur Thapa, for obvious political reasons, may have instigated B.P. to take a hard line against the palace and then go into exile. But B.P. was not constrained to act in the way he did. Castigating the monarch alone for perpetuating autocracy was hardly the recipe for reconciliation when the Cold War had forced much of Asia, Africa and Latin America into autocracies of the right or left.
If, in the wake of the 1971 Indo-Pak war, B.P. could warn King Mahendra of a Bangladesh-like armed liberation of Nepal, King Birendra had every reason to suspect Koirala’s national reconciliation initiative five years later as little more than a ruse to rattle Indira Gandhi. The soloist was engrossed in his own tune. Was there a deal between B.P. and the palace that led him not only to not call for a neutral government to hold the referendum but also to rush to accept the Panchayat’s victory?
Under the rubric of democracy, B.P. was a perpetual work in progress. He could be the fiercest opponent of Nepal’s membership of the United Nations, on the ground that the kingdom was merely an administrative unit of India, and then live on in eternity as an ardent nationalist. He could be the head of a party that tried to assassinate two kings yet still claim to be the truest friend the palace could ever hope for.
When the Nepali Congress abandoned its long commitment to constitutional monarchy, it must have realized how for B.P. nothing except democracy was etched in stone. The votaries of newness in the party cannot be selective in their extrapolation of B.P. His contentious politics has turned even more strident, while the Nepali Congress’ economic policy resembles little of what it originally espoused. The rivals the party faces today are no Tanka Prasad Acharyas, K.I. Singhs or Dilli Raman Regmis.
Most importantly, Nepalis have moved far past the point where they could hope to identify priorities and implement policies merely by picking a fistful of soil and consecrating it to the soul.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What Are The Turf Warriors Up To?

Clearly, the Chinese have never had it so good here. Supplicants are proliferating left, right and center, lured by the promise of northern pragmatism. Inaugurating the China Festival the other day, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal lavished such praise on Beijing’s altruistic aid policies that for a moment it looked like he forgot he was already in power.
Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala, whose own effusiveness concerning China’s remarkable development has grown in direct proportion to her political ambitions, seemed not to know where to stop.
From Upendra Yadav to Matrika Yadav, Beijing’s benefaction has permeated what not too long ago would have been considered the least likeliest of constituencies. (Come to think of it, if the Indians could actually sponsor the Maoists, blame China and get away with it for a decade, why couldn’t the Chinese contemplate the same in the Terai?)
The prize definitely belonged to Maoist leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara. Not exactly for China adulation, though. He vividly articulated his party’s place between the two Asian giants. Only a strong Maoist regime in Nepal could ensure China’s and India’s security interests, Mahara asserted before accompanying his boss on a visit to Beijing.
Perhaps Mahara was merely laying down the line party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal expected to present to President Hu Jintao in Beijing. Or maybe the Maoists’ foreign affairs point man was on to something more profound. The Taleban, in that other landlocked ex-monarchy, enjoyed the support – active and otherwise – of key regional stakeholders and much of the world in the name of stability before the mullahs threw in their lot with Osama bin Laden.
The operative issue here is the most obvious one. How are the Indians going to respond? The usual suspect has conveyed the message. Former prime minister Surya Bahadur Thapa, fresh from top-level consultations in New Delhi, said the Indians were in favor of peace and stability. (Aren’t they always?) Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) chairman Pashupati Shamsher Rana, too, did his share of rounds in the Indian capital, but has been reticent.
While the Maoist supremo confers in Beijing, the Nepali Congress’ Sher Bahadur Deuba will consult with the Indians. This simultaneous engagement in the northern and southern capitals involving competing Nepalese forces is unprecedented. Has regional rivalry reached new heights?
Not necessarily. Ever since they decided to mainstream the Nepalese Maoists, the Indians have been struggling to preserve their influence. In the me-or-them challenge the monarch rolled, the world’s largest democracy could not have abandoned the latter. Of course, New Delhi made allowances for an inevitable Maoist-Beijing alliance. The Indians, needless to say, were in the best position to know the kind of contempt familiarity would breed.
China’s firm hand behind Nepal’s clampdown on the pre-Olympics Tibetan protests did not alienate ordinary Nepalis in the way the Indians had anticipated. Instead, newly emancipated Nepalis demonstrated how you could admire the Dalai Lama’s fortitude and still acknowledge Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. Waiting for the Chinese to falter in Nepal risked becoming an open-ended enterprise for the Indians.
So the second-best option set in. Allowing the Chinese to gain ground became a doubly lucrative investment if it could help keep the Americans and Europeans out. Like any two turf warriors know, keeping the third and fourth parties out is important enough. Absent an ability to maintain total control, sharing the spoils makes great sense.
But the dilemma is deepening, especially for the Indians. The Nepali Congress is imploding. The Unified Marxist-Leninists are ducking behind the Nepal Army that is already beleaguered. Collectively, the parliamentary parties are incapable of replicating their 1990-2002 record.
Letting the palace run the show might have been the prudent option, the Indian Army and sections of the internal security establishment might feel. But that is a thought official New Delhi cannot even afford to contemplate in public. The inscrutable Chinese are not so constrained, either in posture or in perception.
So, in India’s view, the 12-point agreement – or at least some version of it – must stand. And the Maoists must remain the central pillar. By patronizing rival factions in that party and all the others, the Indians and Chinese can hope to reach some accommodation in Nepal. Amid the wider sabre-rattling between the Asian giants, at least, you can’t say that is not a reassuring thought.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Whose Side Is He Really On?

As Maoist leaders Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai once again raise the decibels over the imminence of a new revolt, former loyalist Rabindra Shrestha pointedly reminds us that the duo never went to the jungles during the decade-long insurgency. His implication? The Maoists can holler all they want, but the nation need not pay much attention.
Given his stimulating background, there is enough reason not to dismiss the minister of general administration’s retort. When much of the country was consumed with how soon the Royal Nepal Army might be able to defeat the rebels, Shrestha wrote most audaciously about how the Maoists would prevail. The rebels were fighting for their beliefs while the soldiers were fighting for their bread. Shrestha’s further revelation was more breathtaking. By escalating their attacks on the state, the Maoists were actually aiming to draw in the Indian Army and then fight a war of national liberation.
Around this same time, Shrestha was also actively involved in opening a dialogue with the government. In late 2000, he was holding talks in the chambers of then-Deputy Prime Minister Ram Chandra Poudel while another act was unfolding under the aegis of Information and Communication Minister Jaya Prakash Prasad Gupta. Ostensibly acting on the instructions of then-Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, Gupta had produced two Maoist detainees – Dinesh Sharma and Dina Nath Gautam – in front of TV cameras to denounce the Maoist “people’s war” before setting them free.
The artlessness of the drama angered Maoist supremo Dahal into slamming the door on any hope of peace talks. A few hours later, the two detainees faxed reporters a statement recanting their denunciation of the Maoist leadership, saying it was extracted through state coercion. To make sense of the absurdity, one must recall that this was a time when Koirala was locked in a bitter power struggle with King Birendra on dealing with the insurgency.
After the Narayanhity carnage, Rabindra Shrestha seemed to have undergone a metamorphosis, at least in the eyes of his superiors. With the breakdown of the first peace talks in November 2001, Shrestha was among the first senior rebel leaders to fall in the grip of the security forces. But he reportedly managed to escape. The Maoists felt there was more to the story. Had Shrestha bolted to the government’s side? The leadership felt that the few Maoist bigwigs the security forces killed or captured were linked, one way or the other, to information Shrestha supposedly volunteered. The fact that he was back in prison only seemed to strengthen those suspicions.
As the second round of peace talks faltered in the summer of 2003, Shrestha went on hunger strike demanding better prison conditions. Having kept their suspicions to themselves, the Maoist negotiating team set the release of Shrestha, along with two other central committee members, as a pre-condition for a third round of talks. The rebels did well to have recognized the risks a public rift would have posed. The government obliged. The peace talks failed and the conflict went on to assume greater lethality.
During the final months of the royal regime, Shrestha joined hands with Mani Thapa to revolt against the leadership. Dahal expelled the duo for, among other things, their pro-monarchist proclivities. Shrestha shot back that Dahal had actually been conspiring with the palace until he discovered that the monarch had appointed himself head of government.
Once the king was sidelined and Dahal emerged in public, Shrestha became a votary of a new cultural revolution. He claimed the Maoists had actually struck a working relationship with then-Prince Gyanendra, not King Birendra as widely claimed, on a broad nationalist platform. In the halo of the newness of Nepal, that revelation carried little relevance. Over time, Shrestha accused Dahal and Dr. Bhattarai of betraying the revolution by overseeing the Maoists’ ‘UML-ization’. Yet, months later, he joined the UML, after returning from a trip to China.
By including Rabindra Shrestha in the cabinet, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal signaled his readiness to play hardball with the Maoists. The minister has taken every opportunity to oblige his boss. Last month, he claimed that the Maoist combatants in the camps were already under the government and, therefore, had ceased to exist as a rebel army. Now he rejects the notion of Koirala or Dahal replacing Prime Minister Nepal in the name of consensus and cooperation. The premier, for his part, has been in the game too long to consider that as a categorical vote of confidence from this colorful man.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tempting Fate With Every Step

First she blamed Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal for meddling in the affairs of Nepali Congress-held ministries. Then she accused factionalism in her own party for her lackluster performance in power.
Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala will not see it any other way until she gets her due. And it no longer seems the deputy premiership. Her quest began the moment she proclaimed within the earshot of Queen Aishwarya at a Foreign Ministry reception in 1991 how a new empress was about to be crowned.
The coronation has been long in despite her entanglements in all sorts of alliances, within and outside. This week it became clear that by pulling out of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal’s New Delhi entourage last month, Sujata was sending a message primarily to the Indians.
That slight did not prevent her recent visit to China from descending into a banality, at least initially. But there were tell-tale signs. In a television interview in Beijing, Sujata related how, on her first visit to China in 1990, she had concluded the Chinese dragon would one day swallow the world. The throat-wrenching expression got little more than a chuckle from the Chinese interviewer. He seemed to know more than we did about the real purpose of her visit up north.
Our foreign minister was merely paving the way for Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s visit to China. Frustrated in their design to forge a Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML)-United Maoist front, the Chinese appear to have set their sights on the Nepali Congress. Even party president Girija Prasad Koirala is said to have signaled to visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao his reevaluation of regional priorities. By throwing in the likes of Upendra Yadav and Matrika Yadav into a putative Maoist-Nepali Congress combine, the Chinese may even end up stanching what has been the nation’s inexorable glide into geographical ambiguity.
With almost Newtonian effect, Sujata’s rivals in the Nepali Congress have been energized. Ram Sharan Mahat asserted the other day that Sujata would never become premier. Parliamentary leader Ram Chandra Poudel revealed that he had already declined Dahal’s offer of the premiership, expounding on the extent of the Maoists’ fishing expedition. Reminiscent of his 1999-2000 posturing, Sher Bahadur Deuba is reportedly in consultation with forces on both ends of the political spectrum. A group of senior Nepali Congress leaders met with Prime Minister Nepal pledging support to his government until the next elections.
UML leaders, too, have been full of zip. Chairman Jhalnath Khanal has been warning of a military takeover should consensus continue to elude the Nepal government. Other leaders have been giving subtle hints that a Maoist-led national government could be possible. Prime Minister Nepal dug in his heels the other day by praising how the Nepal Army has always upheld civilian supremacy. The generals, for their part, were envisaging a seminar on civil-military relations.
From the muddle, it looks like Sujata has time on her side. The Nepali Congress is growing increasingly incapable of surviving without a younger Koirala at the helm. Power, pelf and patronage alone were insufficient to catapult Sujata to the top. She wants the crown so bad that even fate now seems tempted to see how it might fit. If it does well, then Beijing Union Medical College Hospital had better make room for an influx of Nepali political patients.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Divide And Don’t Rule

Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal is firing on all cylinders. With each passing day, he is becoming an equal-opportunity aggressor. The Maoists are a bunch of bloodthirsty ingrates, who now risk the fate of the likes of Pol Pot. And his own party? The Unified Marxist-Leninists are in such disunion precisely because they are trying to out-red the Maoists.
The Nepali Congress should have been the beneficiary of the bloodletting. But it has too many people itching for the premiership. Party president Girija Prasad Koirala asked the premier not to believe everything he read in the papers. Once Nepal left the room, Koirala aides began whispering to favorite reporters how the old man had refused to acknowledge the premier from his sick bed.
The Maoists had actually promised the premier their conditional support, Nepal revealed the other day. He hasn’t lost his spirit of reciprocity, though. Pick any number of ministries, he offered the ex-rebels, barring the top job. Bringing the foremost Marxist-Leninist into the Constituent Assembly, overruling the people, was the greatest mistake of the followers of the Great Helmsman, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai shot back.
When Koirala offered the premiership to Nepal earlier this year, there was even less reason to believe the octogenarian was being magnanimous. The treachery with which Koirala backed out from that consensus-candidate pledge in 2004 will resonate forever. Maybe the man this time only wanted Nepal to help elevate his daughter to the top job. Nepal felt he could sit on that, as long as Koirala refused to come out with a public affirmation of such a quid pro quo.
Of course, UML chairman Jhal Nath Khanal was out to get him from the start. By pitting Khanal and Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli against each other, Nepal staked out his ground. By propping up Oli as a prime ministerial candidate, Nepal knows he can now checkmate both Khanal and Sujata Koirala. As for Khanal, well, the country has space for only one Mao wanna-be anyway, and Pushpa Kamal Dahal has the better swept-back hair to go with the devious eyes.
Given the deep sting Dahal left behind with his northern tilt, the Indians preempted Nepal with the affirmation that he was born in India. At a time when allegations of foreign birth was bedeviling the leader of the world’s most powerful democracy, that was a chance Nepal reckoned he could take. (As additional insurance, he would go on to cite his India visit as the most successful part of his government’s 100 days.)
But how long can the prime minister hope to thrive on the disarray of his opponents? As someone transfixed by halo of his predecessor, Madan Bhandari, surely Nepal must have some thoughts about his own legacy. During his years as opposition leader, especially after the UML decided it had to obstruct Koirala every step of the way, critics used to dare Nepal to offer solutions for a change. Let me get the premiership first, he hardly shied from saying.
But that was when he enjoyed the people’s mandate. When he finally got the long-coveted job, it was only because the parties chose to go against the people. Performance must await times that are more propitious. Don’t count on the ‘doubly defeated’ epithet to go too far. It lost its luster the moment the Maoists and Koirala took turns feigning altruism.
So what lies at the core of Nepal’s confidence that so unnerves his critics? His newfound canon of divide and don’t rule.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Neighbors’ Frenzy, Owners’ Hayride

To: Girija Prasad Koirala and
Pushpa Kamal Dahal

From: Tang Jiaxuan and
Karan Singh

As the principal interlocutors for the governments of the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of India, respectively, during the April 2006 uprising, we are jointly writing to convey our profound concern and regret at the manner in which Nepal’s transition to greater representativeness and inclusiveness is progressing. While cognizant of Nepalis’ sovereign and inalienable right to chart their own destiny, we remain deeply troubled by the wider geopolitical ramifications of the volatility of your peace process.
It was with an earnest desire to bolster the strategic engagement between our two ancient civilizations that we had agreed to contribute to a peaceful resolution of the crisis resulting from the breakdown of the constitutional process in Nepal. Although, at the time, our missions seemed separate and unrelated, it was a product of close consultation based on the mutuality of our interests and basic complementarities. As you surely recall, the understanding we had reached during our separate consultations with the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) in Kathmandu in March and April 2006 was premised on your express commitment to bridge the dangerous breach between the monarchy and the anti-government rebels in an effort to allow Nepal to continue on its own course and consolidate regional stability. But things went against our expectations. Today, China and India are locked in one of their worst crises ever, partly resulting from distrust of each other’s motives and intentions in Nepal. There is a dangerous escalation in the rhetoric on each side by the day, which threatens to result in untold catastrophe.
We recognize that things began to worsen in Nepal almost from the outset. The Indian government, in close consultation with Beijing, welcomed King Gyanendra’s decision to restore parliament and invite the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) to form a new government. Our expectation was that the palace and the parties would bring the anti-government rebels to a mutually acceptable settlement in keep with Nepali aspirations as well as the imperatives of regional security. The rebels, who then dominated the streets, took a harder line than the SPA. To prevent further instability, the Indian government appeared to revise its stand. China, in keeping with its traditional foreign policy precepts of non-interference, refused to comment publicly.
Both Beijing and New Delhi understood that the rebels had to conciliate their cadres. This was, after all, no surrender on the part of anyone. The House of Representatives moved to strip the monarchy of the controversial powers it had been exercising since 2002. However, the secularization of the Nepali state was not on the agenda. Yet it became part of the House Proclamation. The Indian ambassador, as you may recall, immediately conveyed his government’s concern at this incongruity to the king and the parties. Beijing, too, used every opportunity to remind the major actors of the urgency of adhering to the agreed framework.
When China and India acquiesced in a United Nations role in the peace process, it served to underscore our commitment to establishing lasting peace and stability in Nepal. Given our own international situations, few in the West expected either of us to set an “unwarranted precedent”. But the Nepali anti-government rebels had made U.N. involvement a precondition to their return to the negotiating table. We recognized that a tightly focused and outcome-specific U.N. mandate would be the best guarantor of a settlement conforming to the desires of the Nepali people and the aspirations of its two friendly neighbors. China’s permanent membership of the U.N. Security Council and India’s influential role in the world organization permitted the creation of such an international mission.
Almost immediately, a few other members began using the mission to pursue their narrow objectives unrelated to the basic mandate. Since many of these activities directly impinged on Sino-Indian interest in a strong, stable and prosperous Nepal, we always voiced our firm and unequivocal opposition to such nefarious activities at the appropriate forums. Despite our genuine endeavors, everything represented a serious deviation from the Sino-Indian understanding. But the Nepali leadership, from across the political spectrum, constantly advised us that all this was merely aimed at preserving the peace process.
When the Chinese ambassador became the first foreign representative to present his credentials to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, it represented a powerful symbol from Beijing for reasons widely known. Maintaining stability and tranquility in the region was uppermost in our minds, so the peace process was encouraged to take its course. But western powers fomented the so-called “Free Tibet” protest in advance of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Certain elements in India, particularly in the security services, saw an opportunity to strike hard against the Chinese for perceived and real grievances the two nations were thought to have risen over. In the midst of the coalition configuration in New Delhi, they gained the upper hand. Saner minds in India instantly began warning against the damage accruing from needlessly raising Chinese apprehensions.
It was only after the Chinese government lodged a strong protest to the Koirala government that the “Free Tibet” protesters suspended their activities. This allowed the much-delayed constituent assembly polls to be held, marking a major milestone in Nepal. The monarch willingly vacated the palace in keeping with the popular aspirations for peace. But the elected assembly instantly degenerated into the same venue for political horse-trading as it had been between 1991 and 2002. Only this time, the United Communist Party of Nepal became participants.
Under Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, China saw an important opportunity to modernize its ties with Nepal. Yet many hardliners in China, especially those with longstanding ties to the Communist Party’s Ministry of Foreign Liaison, were waiting for a moment to hit back at the Indians for having abetted the “Free Tibet” protests in Kathmandu. The new friendship treaty we had proposed to Kathmandu was a genuine attempt to update ties in keeping with the new realities. It became a subject of needless politicization, wherein one section of the Nepali prime minister’s office leaked it to the Nepali media.
Unfortunately, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson in Beijing gave the impression that China somehow backed the Dahal government’s decision to sack the Nepali army chief. We noted with regret how elements within the Nepali prime minister’s party sought to convey that impression. The ill will this created in India, which has honored the Nepali army chief as an honorary general of the Indian Army, was understandable to the Chinese.
With the monarchy out of the way, Nepal, in our view, is farther removed from a popularly drafted constitution. For Nepal’s two neighbors, this has been a wider moment for introspection. Under the monarchy, the “Free Tibet” movement never acquired the rowdiness sufficient to imperil Sino-Nepali ties. From the perspective of India, terrorist activities linked one way or the other with Nepal were virtually non-existent during palace rule. The Chinese and Indian people are justified in revisiting these realities. Today Nepali legislators openly meet with the Dalai Lama, the political head of the “government in exile”, in contravention of Kathmandu’s official One-China policy. The Indian government has had no handle on the situation, which has been largely instigated by western-funded non-governmental organizations albeit abetted by recalcitrant elements of Indian officialdom. The newly appointed priests of Pashupatinath Temple are beaten up and paraded ignominiously, with the government relegated to a mute bystander. Hardliners in India suddenly see a Chinese hand in the attack. The total absence of leadership in Nepal is unacceptable. Any false move will play into the hands of Chinese and Indian hardliners, which, needless to say, would be ultimately detrimental to all concerned.
Ordinary Nepalis are today apprehensive of an impending “political accident” when they should have been preparing to welcome a new constitution and witness the rebirth of the nation. At the same time, ethnic and regional fragmentation, growing criminalization and lawlessness, political polarization and the other unhealthy manifestations of change have exacerbated the national-security concerns of both China and India.
In the spring of 2006, we volunteered our time and effort to resolve the constitutional deadlock as men of peace. Today, in the same capacity, we issue this urgent appeal to your wisdom and judgment. The Nepali parties must honor and uphold the commitments you had made during our talks in Kathmandu. In the absence of that, we would have no recourse other than to offer our personal admission of failure in what we considered a solemn endeavor. But that shortcoming would pale into insignificance compared to the consequences for Nepal, an admonition we feel compelled to offer as true friends and well-wishers.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Protean Proxy War In The UML

If the proxy war between our two fretful neighbors is evident in one single arena, it surely within the Unified Marxist-Leninists (UML). Party chairman Jhal Nath Khanal and senior leader Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli have been embroiled in a fiery exchange of words that threatens to outlast the widely expected split in the organization.
Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal must be beaming at the secure middle ground he has staked in the short term. But, then, he must be mortified by what has become of a party he believes he has nurtured far more than did the late Madan Bhandari.
Ideology was never quite the adhesive it was made out to be in the UML. When Bhandari came out with his program of People’s Multiparty Democracy (PMD) at the 1993 convention, there was no shortage of critics who dubbed it a repackaging of glasnost and perestroika. This effort to establish relevance in a changing world did not help Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet communists. Their one-time ideological soulmates in the Eastern European satellites succeeded because they had formally reinvented themselves as social democrats.
As a policy, the makeover did help the UML, which became largest check on the Nepali Congress. This distribution of the popular mandate helped Nepal’s second democratic experience last as long as it did. Khanal was never reconciled to PMD line, Bhandari’s widow, Bidya – our current defense minister – told us in a recent forthright interview. She implied that Khanal has been scheming against Madhav Nepal’s government since the moment he was denied the premiership he felt entitled to as the leader of the senior coalition partner.
Even if personal, his sentiments against Bhandari and his legacy must run deeper. Impositions in the garb of ideology by upstarts was not something Khanal, who built the forerunner of the UML during the partyless years, was going to tolerate. Khanal, moreover, was the top-most comrade in the interim government (in terms of influence if not rank) that brought about the transition from the partyless regime to the multiparty system. He personally considered himself the only thing that stood between the country and that constitution drafted by the palace.
The response from the other side was swift. J.N. Comrade found himself in the company of Balaram Upadhyaya and Siddhi Lal Singh in that he was dropped from the post-convention standing committee.
If anything, Bhandari’s tragic death thrust the party further away from Khanal. The man did not find a place in the nine-month UML minority government. Nepal and Oli, the leading party beneficiaries in the post-Bhandari era, gradually pushed their own competing lines of sorts. When the country jeered how Khanal had brought in internal decorations from Europe for his new home, the UML establishment joined in the derision. In March 1997, Khanal flexed his muscles by forcing a rearrangement of the order of precedence after he discovered that he was ranked ninth in the Lokendra Bahadur Chand-led cabinet – after the Rastriya Prajatantra Party’s Prakash Chandra Lohani – instead of fifth in line with the party’s decision.
As Nepal and Oli vied with one another to tilt the deepest to the south, Khanal seemed like a has-been. It looked like he was enjoying his ride to the sunset. The man to watch was Bam Dev Gautam. He was impetuous enough to believe that his nationalism card would see him through the UML split, losing sight of the countless hands his rivals had to trump him. Once Madhav Nepal began slipping among the wider populace because of his unpredictable contortions, Oli and Gautam stepped up their moves. Khanal was biding his time. The Oli versus Khanal round became a must-see show only when it became part of the north-south rivalry, leading up to the party convention.
Oli’s illness allows him to visit India often. That frequency gives him an aura of power that he uses. The Indians know they can use him to the hilt. The Chinese, in their quest to project their soft power, recognized that their policy of building ties with all political parties had to go a step further. They began competing patronage in all the parties, including the Terai-based ones.
That Khanal was forced to cut short a visit to China to attend to the growing row over the dismissal of then army chief Rookmangad Katuwal perhaps reflected the setback the north received in its Maoist misadventure. But it was a metaphor for the geopolitical lines drawn in our national polity.
And Gautam? Well he sure sees an opportunity where it presents itself. His bold appeal to China to mediate the Kalapani row with India did not amuse Beijing. Yet he brought the issue to the table. Between Khanal and Oli, Gautam has grasped an incongruity. The Maoists own the agenda of a constitution drafted by the constitutent assembly. Yet they are no part of it today.
Madhav Nepal, a member of the panel that drafted the ill-fated 1990 basic law, and Nilambar Acharya, the law minister who supervised the process, are leading the charge. Gautam has added his voice to the Maoists’ call for a people’s revolt to ensure popular supremacy. Is the man once disciplined by the UML for being a royalist now itching to join the Maoists? Perhaps he wants to stay in the UML as its edifice of equidistance.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Bouquets Of Boondoggle

The purveyors of perfidy are prospering. Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala declared the other day in a television interview that the controversy sparked by her decision to pull out of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal’s official entourage to New Delhi was actually a boon to her Nepali Congress.
Without the media linking the abrupt move to her apparent dissatisfaction with the prime minister’s failure to promote her to deputy premier, told the interviewer, the Nepali Congress wouldn’t have recognized how incommensurate its place in the cabinet was with its numerical presence in the constituent assembly. If anything, the country’s second-largest party could now claim the deputy premiership with greater credibility and conviction.
Sujata, of course, carefully stuck to her official line that ill health prevented her from joining her boss in his most important diplomatic foray. And a significant section of her own party isn’t buying that story. The foreign minister is infuriated by the persistence with which she is being asked to explain the obvious.
The B-word was not far off Sujata’s immediate predecessor’s mind, either. Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) leader Upendra Yadav told supporters that the split the party recently suffered was actually a boon. The Madhesi movement, Yadav asserted, was now cleansed of opportunists. But his ebullience didn’t end there. Yadav likened the situation to the blessing World War II turned out to be for Japan. (How fortunate for us that Yadav was no longer foreign minister when he drew that parallel, especially during the solemn month of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki carnage commemorations!)
United Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal hasn’t described his resignation from the premiership as a godsend to the party in such graphic terms. But his bravado certainly points to such belief. It was impossible for Dahal to unleash the raucous rank and file onto the streets in the form of the Young Communist League while he was trying to govern, for a change. It was becoming harder still to keep them quiet any longer, especially with his failure to sack the army chief.
Having resorted to the easy way out, the perpetual agitator in Dahal has flourish to the point where he has widened his sights. The upholding-civilian-supremacy crusade may have failed to impress many in the country. But he sees in it the Maoists’ international salvation, after having braved the opprobrium of key allies of those crucial subterranean years.
If Dahal has really made a bid for the leadership of the international revolutionary movement, then his experience in power must be a central part of his campaign. “We joined the peace process in earnestness to emancipate the people, but were being forced to abandon our core ideals every step of the way once we won the largest number of seats,” he must have told the faithful during the secret conclave he supposedly attended during his recent European trip. “Let this be a cautionary tale to revolutionaries the world over and an impetus for permanent revolution.” Peace is, after all, war by other means.
In reality, Sujata’s antics may be part of a grand design to destabilize Prime Minister Nepal’s government and precipitate its fall. Yadav, for his part, wants to undermine the Unified Marxist-Leninists – the prime instigators of the MJF, in his view – without letting the rival faction led by Deputy Prime Minister Bijay Kumar Gachchadar reap the most benefits. Oddly enough, Dahal’s motives are the clearest: a keen desire to obfuscate his true purpose of the moment.
The national boondoggle can be expected to continue because Nepalis aren’t terribly interested in counting their blessings right now. They are too busy trying to evade new blights.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Right Message, Wrong Messenger

As the Indian Embassy was in the midst of Independence Day fervor over the weekend, a group of Nepalis demonstrated right outside demanding their own country’s freedom from its southern neighbor. All this came against the background of the incessant pleas by the ruling Unified Marxist-Leninists and the opposition United Maoists to Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal not to sign any agreements prejudicial to Nepal during his upcoming visit down south.
With the southern sojourns of his defense and foreign ministers – both, like Nepal, lacking popular mandate – having precipitated all manner of conjecture and innuendo, the premier was explicit about his intentions. His mandate for the most audacious diplomatic venture of his political life, we are led to believe, has been defined by his surname.
So when Deputy Prime Minister Bijay Kumar Gachchadar took a different tack on wider subject of India, it was rather refreshing. “Don’t blame India for our own failures,” the strongman of the new Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Loktantrik) said. Chastising Nepalese leaders for their inability to defend the 1990 constitution, thereby precipitating our deepening crisis, Gachchadar said neither Girija Prasad Koirala nor Pushpa Kamal Dahal had been able to provide the steady hand the country needed on its path to newness.
The expansiveness of the Constituent Assembly may have facilitated the election by appeasing disparate groups, the DPM suggested, but now that very size has become an obstacle to the constitution drafting process.
The cynic in Maila Baje immediately sprung up on multiple levels. Isn’t this akin to the pot calling the kettle black? If Koirala has been so odious, how could Gachchadar as a principal collaborator be immune from his own criticism? Once his relations with Koirala soured, Gachchadar helped Sher Bahadur Deuba split the Nepali Congress and create the Democratic parallel. All for what?
He may have tried to patch things up with Koirala after the collapse of the monarchy, but the grand old man didn’t need him that much. That alone couldn’t explain Gachchadar’s decision to break away from the reunited Nepali Congress to join the new MJF, merely days after he denied having any such plans.
Moreover, wasn’t the emergence of the MJF one of the reasons why the assembly had to become so bloated? Granted, the man gave an eye to the commies in defense of democracy during his student days. But what kind of vision allows him to believe that he can wipe the slate clean merely by forming a new party?
The Maoists’ upset electoral win redefined the political parameters. Who can forget Koirala’s tap on Gachchadar’s shoulder in the assembly chamber following his resignation speech, which set off the post-monarchy bedlam that delayed Dahal’s immaculation for weeks? The Maoists’ overreach galvanized Gachchadar once more. But the prospect of getting the deputy premiership in a post-Maoist government alone is unlikely to have goaded him to split the party.
The venue of Gachchadar’s latest pontificating – the Nepal-India Friendship Association celebrations of India’s Independence Day – raises questions as well. As the leader of the fourth largest party and a heartbeat away from the premiership, Gachchadar must have his own ambitions for the top job. (Fueled in no small measure by filling in for his boss during Nepal’s trip to the non-aligned summit in Egypt.) In the current scenario, that entails carefully calibrating his move amid Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala ostensible offensive and Premier Nepal’s widely anticipated stumble.
All this posturing does not detract from the validity of Gachchadar’s core claim. Blaming India for everything under the sun erodes our ability to hold it accountable for things it has been plotting in the dark all these years. But, then, the dissonance between the message and the messenger rings too deep into the soul of our nation.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

For The Maoists, A World To Win Back

Did or didn’t they? From the way United Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal first put it, he averted a putative world war by stepping down as premier earlier this year. Who knows who else – state as well as non-state belligerents – might have stepped into actual hostilities involving the world’s sole superpower and its two most populous nations?
But Dahal hurriedly denied having made such a comment. The newly reinstated supreme commander of the People’s Liberation Army characterized the phony attribution as part of a conspiracy to spoil his party’s relations with the countries involved.
Had the newspaper really peddled a fictitious story? Or had Dahal assumed he was still outside the pale of the media? Or was he simply playing to the base without having anticipated the reaction the comment ended up provoking? (Not exactly a novel hazard, when it comes to our Fierce One, heh?)
The Indians came out with a flat denial. The Americans generally do not comment on such matters for obvious concerns about alerting the target. The Chinese have probably been planning for such an eventuality from the founding of the People’s Republic. So the senior Indian professor Dahal quoted as having intimated the sensational plan may have the answer. And whoever that is, is unlikely to share it.
The trouble with Dahal is that he shoots from all sides of his mouth. When he later eats his words, he doesn’t want us staring at the mastication. Now, the ploy worked extremely well during his years underground. Amid the public glare, the boomerang effect becomes deadlier because of the multiplier effect. It was, after all, one newspaper report the media around the world that quoted him on this one.
Still, this episode has underscored the geopolitical origin of Dahal’s exit. It turned out his press adviser leaked the controversial Chinese draft treaty of peace and friendship, suggesting the premier did not want to cross the Rubicon. After he quit, Dahal told an Indian reporter that the succession of Chinese delegations had not arrived in Kathmandu at his specific invitation. (And we thought that used to be the proprietary trademark of the Soviets a la Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan.) Then Dahal said he was forced to cancel his visit to China to forestall a military coup.
Before our leading people’s warrior could finally blossom into a global peace-maker, he balked – and in a weird way. Instead of supervising his party’s stepped-up offensive against the “usurpers”, Dahal, joined by wife, Sita, and son, Prakash, landed in London. The timing of his urge to brief Europe-based cadres and loyalists converging on the British capital about the central committee’s fresh decisions confounded many back home.
Yet there may be a scheme to the stupefaction. Dahal’s real urgency at this time is to mend fences with the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement and the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations of South Asia. Those two organizations, along with other fraternal groupings, felt the Nepalese Maoists betrayed the cause of international communism by entering mainstream politics. It was sacrilegious for them to have shared power with the very forces they had originally risen up against. No wonder they could not even sack a hugely insubordinate army chief.
By firing up the streets, for now, Dahal expects to assuage allies that had sustained the insurgency internationally. For them, after Peru and Nepal, funding and finesse all depends on the fig leaf Dahal can provide. The geopolitics of it all can be left for another day.