Sunday, April 12, 2009

Triumph Of Truculence

Five out of six. And the by-elections were supposed to be a referendum on the supposedly unpopular Maoist-led government. With the former rebels netting half of the seats up for grabs, some gloating on their part was entirely predictable. There is no alternative to the Maoists, Finance Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai gushed. No monkey business this time.
Although the Unified Marxist-Leninists (UML) and the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) bagged a seat each, it was a teachable moment for both. You’re either with the Maoists or against them. The two coalition partners may find straddling the government and opposition boats audaciously adventurous in these choppy waters, but to what end when the spectators aren’t quite biting their nails. Some Maoists quickly let it be known they didn’t need the UML any longer. And dutifully, the junior partner signed a nine-point agreement with the Maoists.
Nepali Congress spokesman Arjun Narsingh K.C. claimed the results were not a verdict on the opposition. Well, certainly not after the results came in. Heading into the polling booth on election day, his boss, Girija Prasad Koirala, had said the outcome would be revealing. To him, personally, it has been.
With nephew Shekhar now clearly in the succession race, things are bound to deteriorate in the Koirala clan. The military supposedly blocked daughter Sujata’s grand entry into the cabinet by advising the Nepali Congress to stay out in view of future exigencies. Might the Maoists now want Shekhar to lead the Nepali Congress contingent in power? He was a Maoist favorite during the early stages of the peace process. Who knows how deep Shekhar’s roots run in New Delhi after all that nurturing during his extended study tour at the All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences?
Can Sujata be expected to cede ground after having so successfully weeded out B.P. Koirala’s children from her path? Sher Bahadur Deuba and Ram Chandra Poudel et al are marginal figures in the party. Privately, they must be rooting for internecine bloodletting. Onetime heavyweight Khum Bahadur Khadka has developed his own plan, especially after the meeting he supposedly had with former king Gyanendra in India.
Before the ex-monarch’s departure for India, Maoist sources were telling us how they planned to arrest Mr. Shah upon his arrival at the airport. Instead, security officers had to rough up a couple of reporters anxious for a word from the former king on his political talks in New Delhi. The baby king specter continues to haunt the Maoists at every turn these days. Not because royalists seem so palpably rejuvenated. It’s because diehard critics of the monarchy have become deadlier opponents of the Maoists. The silence of much of our civil society luminaries on the prospect of a restoration of the monarchy has acquired the chilling crescendo of an echo chamber in Maoist circles.
Defense Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal says he won’t be intimidated by Army Chief Gen. Rookmangad Katuwal, although he sounded every bit nervy in Gulmi the other day. He must have been close to some panchas or the generals to know how the military used to intimidate the politicos in the partyless decades. Hearsay couldn’t have brought out such pathos in our defense minister.
The generals don’t seem quite sure of their ability to handle things, either. The February 1, 2005 takeover, after all, was basically a military putsch. The generals thought they had everything sewn up. They should have focused more on international power politics than on ways of blocking the Internet. When things finally unraveled, the top brass succeeded in forcing the supreme commander in chief take the hit. What’s their fallback position this time? President Dr. Ram Baran Yadav doesn’t look like a future chief martial law administrator, does he? Deep down, any way, today’s generals must regard the winter of 2005 as a golden age of governability.
Small wonder, then, that the Maoists have no tolerance for the judiciary. Dr. Bhattarai has challenged the justices either to jail the Maoists leaders for contempt or step out of the way. So it has all come down to the finesse with which the Maoists succeed in juggling the new Peace and Friendship Treaty with the Chinese and the old extradition treaty with the Indians.
A net gain of one seat in the legislature cannot be discounted in a fledgling democracy like ours. But how far can it take the Maoists – democratically, at least – now that the pedal has really hit the metal?