Sunday, February 22, 2009

Uniqueness In Newness

When Girija Prasad Koirala starts advising the Maoists not to ignore Nepal’s uniqueness while striving for newness, you get a feeling that the peace process is in far serious jeopardy than what the International Crisis Group has warned us.
“A new Nepal can’t be realized just by donning a tie and a suit,” the Nepali Congress president admonished Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal. Not that Koirala never had a passion for that garb. During the post-referendum Panchayat decade, Koirala was hardly ever seen in daura-suruwal on his rickety jeep. When the national dress became part of his wardrobe after People’s Movement I, it looked more like a political statement. The dress-up didn’t exactly help to delink in the national consciousness the Tanakpur hush-hush from the reality that he was born on Indian soil. Nevertheless, Koirala stuck with the national outfit. (Personally speaking, he looks better in it.)
“Wrong values and trends shouldn't be encouraged in the name of building a new Nepal,” Koirala cautioned Dahal the other day. Indeed, the Maoists have been trying to substitute symbolism for substance almost every step of the way. If this imagery is intended to cover the road to the Maoists’ real destination, then a short-cut would work better for everyone. If Year Zero is so ingrained in the ex-rebels’ psyche, why bother with an 11-month calendar? Granted, a great leap forward is out of the question. But we don’t need a hundred flowers blooming either. Instead of sending a floral basket to the North Korean Embassy on Dear Leader Kim Jong-il’s birthday, Dahal should denounce the U.N.-backed genocide trials of a handful of junior Khmer Rouge functionaries as a crude diversion from the many modern-day killing fields.
Such boldness would at least energize the rank and file and prepare the nation for a final Maoist triumph. Who knows? Ordinary people may find a complete Maoist takeover more palatable than a return to full-scale conflict. Nepal’s international partners, too, might find it more expedient to co-opt the former rebels in pursuit of their respective interests. Why bother with the messiness of manipulating parties and their blocs when Maoist factions are so anxious for patrons?
That maybe what Koirala is really getting at. Nepali uniqueness, after all, is all that stands between the Nepali Congress and irrelevance. The octogenarian probably won’t deign to head an army-backed Nepali Congress-led government. The way daughter Sujata has been frolicking ever since Gen. Rukmangad Katuwal tabled his reform proposal to the constituent assembly suggests something is brewing on that end. But half a dozen Koiralas are bent on blocking Sujata’s anointment.
No matter what the generals think of Sher Bahadur Deuba, they would have a hard time foisting him on the country again. (Unless, of course, Deuba’s stars are really as bright as that man from Turkey claimed several years ago.) Ram Chandra Poudel can’t keep his Tanahu flock together much less the clutter called the Nepali Congress parliamentary party. So perhaps Koirala will be forced to lead an undemocratically installed government in the name of saving democracy. In suit and tie, maybe?