Sunday, March 08, 2009

Delhi Compromise Redux?

Call it the wolf crier’s woe. Each time the Maoists warn us that reactionaries may be plotting something sinister in New Delhi, the admonition rings emptier. It shouldn’t have been this way. Not when it looks like the itineraries of former king Gyanendra, Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala, CPN-UML leader K.P. Sharma Oli and Rastriya Janashakti Party chief Surya Bahadur Thapa will partially overlap in the Indian capital soon. The rumor mill is grinding faster and harder for the Maoists to bear.
Our former rebels are doubly aggrieved. They can’t shame their rivals – regardless of the individual stripes they come in – for courting New Delhi, since their own rise to power began there. (Not to mention the murderous momentum the insurgency gained once the commissars were safely snuggled across the southern border.) For the average Nepali, the Maoists’ rants resemble more of a ploy to divert attention from the government’s ineffectiveness than a prologue to catastrophe.
Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai, arguably the most India-friendly personification of a Maoist, is leading the effort to explain the putative peril. The ex-king wants to install his grandson on the throne, he’s been telling us almost every day. It’s interesting that this illumination should come from the very man who, quite late in the day, had all but supported the retention of a “cultural” monarchy.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has belatedly used the new-palace-massacre-probe card to ward off calamity. The ex-king dared the new power brokers to reopen the case the day he vacated the palace. If Dahal’s real target is New Delhi, then the Indians don’t seem too worried about what the Maoists might be able to add to the geopolitical conspiracy Dr. Bhattarai so famously laid out days after the carnage. What does seem to worry the Indians is Beijing’s version of the tragedy which the Maoists are most likely to mouth. (Professor Wang Hongwei had barely touched the surface the last time he spoke on the matter.)
Having nurtured a broad set of policies on Nepal, New Delhi can spring one up effortlessly in keeping with – to borrow one of Dr. Bhattarai’s favorite terms – the ground realities. The hardline republican camp advising Prime Minister Manmohan Singh before and after the April 2006 uprising got its chance and squandered it. A new peace and friendship treaty between Nepal and China was not what the Indians had envisaged in the post-monarchy setup.
The anti-monarchy camp in New Delhi had won over the skeptics by advancing a larger imperative: blunting their own Naxalite insurgency by pushing our Maoists into the mainstream. Exposing the Maoists as a clumsy conglomeration of perpetual malcontents was therefore part of the package. The cunning Maoists embraced the Chinese as an insurance policy. But the crafty mandarins got the better deal. The Maoists have veered too closely to Beijing. Or, in fairness to our ex-rebels, the Chinese have clutched the Maoists too hard – and more.
The Chinese got their candidate elected as UML chief. If Jhalnath Khanal ends up subverting the Maoist government, Beijing can still expect to have a friendly premier/government. But that’s not the whole story. The Chinese stepped on Indian turf by cozying up with the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum. They had sent a delegation of observers to the party convention whose ranks stunned the MJF leadership. Matrika Yadav, as we all know, reorganized the Maoist party after returning from Beijing with a confidence that a million séances at Mao’s mausoleum could not have instilled.
Meanwhile, the parallel peace process probed previously in this space has continued apace. The army’s suggestion that a referendum be held on crucial national issues stems from Gen. Rukmangad Katuwal’s visit to India last year. Should the constituent assembly fail to produce a new basic law within a reasonable time, reactivation of the Constitution of 1990 becomes a likelier possibility. But the clock is already ticking.
The fact that the ex-monarch set out on his India trip now may have little relevance in view of the occasion. If the political content is to be pursued, then the timing does merit greater attention. Gyanendra Shah chose not to attend Arjun Singh’s grandson’s wedding (with Devyani Rana, one might add), where he was expected to have met Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi et al. So what has changed? Surely, not merely the fact that he has lost his crown?
Does the ex-king feel he can more comfortably explain that the “China card” he supposedly flaunted at the Dhaka SAARC summit was not something that came out of personal animosity toward India? Could the current political context be considered more congenial for Indians to comprehend the compulsions on the royal regime emanating from the north?
As for the “baby king” concept, the palace consistently rebuffed it when it was better placed to institutionalize it. Does the ex-monarch feel he has finally convinced all concerned that he would be the best person to act as regent? (For a monarch who has endured far worse calumny than his ancestor Rana Bahadur Shah did in his time, the parallels keep getting curiouser, don’t they?)
India, for its part, may want to establish how the monarchy ended up becoming the worst victim of Beijing’s cuddle in order to deter the Maoists and future “mischief makers”. The Chinese have certainly given the Indians enough ground here. In a major symbolic act, China’s ambassador Zheng Xianglin became the first envoy to present his credentials outside the palace. The new Chinese ambassador, Qiu Guohong, was compelled to concede that kings Mahendra, Birendra and Gyanendra had contributed much toward consolidating bilateral ties.
It may yet be imprudent to conclude that Beijing’s symbolism has worked against it. Matrika Yadav, after all, was rumored to have met former crown prince Paras for consultations before returning home from China. And then there is the Cambodian analogy. Pragmatism is an all-encompassing tenet of policy making.
So a deposed monarch, a Koirala and the Indian National Congress have been arrayed in formation. Can a new Delhi Compromise be crafted without the chief of the Nepalese government of the day? This may be where a Matrika enters to complete the picture.