Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Matrikas In Our Midst

As the political establishment squabbles over how to restructure the state, Matrika Yadav decided it was time to reconstitute the Maoists. Volatile to the point of self-injury, Matrika has outdone his ministerial antics.
Accusing party supremo and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal of promising miracles while pandering to the corrupt, Matrika claimed the Maoists had failed to embrace the aspirations of the “people’s war”. He was particularly scornful of the party’s merger with the Masal faction when there were more pressing matters at hand.
Hardliner Mohan Baidya said Matrika’s departure would not affect the United Maoists. (But, then, Comrade Prakash’s entry has pushed Baidya closer to archrival Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai.) Nevertheless, the party has kept the door open for reconciliation. Should Matrika desire to return and be ready for a bout of self-criticism, the United Maoists would reconsider their decision to expel him.
There’s little incentive for him to do that, since Matrika believes the Maoists have left him. Moreover, the newly floated “Left Revolutionary Wing” is flexing its muscles without letting us in on the extent of its deviation from the mother party. And just the other day, Maoist legislator Jagat Yadav warned Dahal that the People’s Liberation Army could take up arms against him.
More important here may be geopolitics. Matrika made his move after returning from a trip to China. It may be risky to draw conclusions, especially since the last time a disgruntled Maoist returned from such a pilgrimage he joined the Unified Marxist Leninists. (Remember Rabindra Shrestha?) But the other elements of the equation are compelling.
The Chinese, who consider the open Nepal-India border as a threat to their own security, have been voicing serious concern over instability in the Terai. When Beijing sent a delegation to the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum’s recent convention, some MJF leaders were stunned by the seniority of the attendees. Now Matrika has become the highest profile Madhesi leader to espouse the cause of the hillsfolk and the rest of us.
Beijing probably didn’t have a hard time identifying its newest ally. New Delhi, after all, had arrested and extradited Matrika to Nepal during the royal regime while it played gracious host to fellow comrade Upendra Yadav. Given his color, accent and mannerisms, however, few Nepalis expected Matrika to reach out across the northern border.
This experience ties into that of another namesake whose recently published memoirs have forced us reevaluate the first Koirala prime minister. Matrika Prasad Koirala, Ganesh Raj Sharma tells us in the preface, had sent a complete manuscript to his Indian publishers several years ago, who conveniently “lost” it. Before his death, Matrika had managed to reconstruct a partial version.
The first half of the volume, “A Role in a Revolution,” is quite measured in its treatment of India’s role in Nepal in the early 50s. The second half – consisting of correspondence between Jawaharlal Nehru and Matrika Koirala as well as other key documents – casts new light on the author.
Nehru played Matrika and his more charismatic brother, B.P., off against each other. At one point, he admonished Matrika Koirala’s government for reaching out to the Americans for aid. (Nehru quite strongly opposed the visit of former US first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.) Amid the rising tide of anti-Indianism in Nepal, Nehru seemed to see Nepalis as collectively incapable of appreciating India’s generosity. All this with Nehru’s proviso that he was writing as a friend and well-wisher. And Matrika Koirala lived on in infamy, for many Nepalis, as one of the first stooges of independent India.
Maybe he was recruited for that purpose, especially since most Nepalis had expected B.P. to succeed Mohan Shamsher Rana. If so, what did Matrika do – or, more appropriately, not do – that New Delhi suddenly found him so dispensable? (A question that is associated with Matrika’s illustrious brother as well.) The pro-Indian slur stuck on the elder Koirala, which suited New Delhi just fine.
Despite enjoying close ties with Kings Mahendra and Birendra, Matrika never saw his political fortunes soar again. (The ambassadorship to the United States was a demotion never seen before or since in Nepali politics, something Matrika accepted with poise.) In the national consciousness, he could never claim the place he deserved as our first commoner prime minister.
We don’t know whether Matrika Yadav has read his namesake’s memoirs. But surely he must have confronted similar anguish inside his Indian (and Nepali) prison walls as well as a free man.