Sunday, April 19, 2009

‘Powerless’ Premier’s Real Lament

For Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, this has become a season of lamentations. Despite the constitution having vested executive power in him, our premier bewailed the other day, he feels utterly powerless. He’s been playing that variation for quite a while.
The premiership wasn’t Dahal’s first choice. It was only when he realized he could get an all-powerful presidency that the former rebel-in-chief set his sights a notch lower on the order of precedence. It has been a struggle ever since.
Dahal has sought to place his current predicament at the door of the nature of his regime. A coalition government per se should not have lent itself to this kind of apathy. Moreover, in making such a case, the premier may be implicitly accusing Nepali voters of immaturity. But, then, Dahal sits atop a creepy coalition that leaves little room for common sense.
The Unified Marxist-Leninists (UML) have concluded that they need seats in the cabinet to check the Maoist juggernaut. A disloyal opposition is far easier to contend with than an impudent putative ally. As a relatively new entity, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) understandably wants to stake out positions that would set it apart from the flock. This orientation makes it likelier for the third partner to be at odds with the first.
But, then, there are Dahal’s own comrades. If anything, Defense Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa has exposed him to graver dangers from the generals. Finance Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai shoots from his mouth on all sides that donors end up being the first ones running for cover. C.P. Gajurel and Mohan Baidya concede that being out of the government allows them to speak their mind. We know both have their special beef against the Indians. But they don’t have to kow-tow to the Chinese at every turn to prove their point.
The Chinese, for their part, are breathing heavier down Dahal’s neck. A new Treaty of Peace and Friendship with could easily have been a hush-hush affair during Dahal’s visit to China. Beijing could have invoked the secret treaty the next time Mustang really lit up as the launching pad of the Free Tibet movement. (At least Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohan Shamsher Rana jointly share our opprobrium for the secret letters exchanged with the 1950 Treaty.)
But someone leaked the details of the draft when the foreign minister and the foreign secretary were out of the country. The prime minister’s foreign affairs adviser Hira Bahadur Thapa accused the acting foreign secretary, Suresh Pradhan, of doing so. Pradhan blamed the prime minister’s press adviser, Om Sharma, and seems to have impressed legislators enough that they confirmed his nomination as ambassador. So Dahal’s press secretariat is left leaking word that the premier would not sign the treaty in Beijing since the document has not been able to muster a consensus.
That seems to have energized the Chinese, which are increasingly emulating the Indians on Nepal. To ratchet up pressure on Dahal, Beijing not only played host to MJF chief and Foreign Minister Upendra Yadav but bade him farewell with a goodie bag clearly aimed at bolstering his party. Much like the “Himalayan Marshall Plan” India announced during then premier Girija Prasad Koirala’s visit to New Delhi in 2006, the operating word in the Chinese largesse is pledge.
Now UML chairman Jhal Nath Khanal is in Beijing. Coinciding with the advent of the New Year, at least one astrologer has bolstered Khanal’s claim to the premiership by insisting that the line-up of his stars augurs well for the entire country. And one of his deputies, Bidya Bhandari, used the opportunity to castigate Dahal’s government as the most incompetent never has ever seen.
What surprise might the Chinese spring next? A formal request to recruit Gurkhas, given its expanding peacekeeping role in the United Nations? A sure-fire way indeed to widen the rift between the Maoist young and the rest of Nepal’s restless.
Prime Minister Dahal can blame for his woes everyone in every direction but the north. What powers must he be putting in to restrain himself?