Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sizing Up Squirts From This Side

Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal is ready to tolerate any criticism from the opposition parties for the sake of political consensus and cooperation. The country, he selflessly claims, is at a very critical juncture of history. And geography, one might add.
The new premier will swallow every squirt of venom the Maoists clearly intend to spew, and instead try to be a cultured and civil leader. Quite the sentiment you would expect from a man who rose to office on with a halo of a consensus-builder.
But circumstances have been less than kind to the man. The helicopter taking Nepal to his home district of Rautahat for the first time since his belated ascension to the premiership caused a freak accident. Given Nepal’s deeply religious extended family background, the portent was gripping. But we didn’t need such a sign to grasp the scale of the challenges his government faces.
The Maoists have gone on the warpath after Speaker Subash Nembang refused to allow their resolution against President Dr Ram Baran Yadav for discussion in the assembly. A teachers’ union called a strike in around 6,000 schools in Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur, demanding better pay and working conditions. And the Maoist-affiliated Newa Mukti Morcha is agitating for an autonomous state for the Newar community.
Consensus, therefore, is key. Nepal claims the 12-point agreement reached between then Seven Party Alliance and Maoists hasn’t lost its relevance. Except that Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala and Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal – the two prime signatories – don’t seem to think so. If they badly want a new understanding, then Premier Conciliator must deliver, here or on foreign soil. The devil, as always, will be in the details.
But need we venture so far? Nepal knows that there will come a time – sooner rather than later – when the Nepali Congress will seek to exact its price for its current magnanimity. Koirala didn’t forgo his party’s claim to lead the government, as the second largest group in the assembly, because he felt the responsibility too onerous.
In acknowledging the crucial role of the Maoists in drafting of the new constitution, Nepal has zeroed in on his real job. But he must be careful not to put the cart before the horse. The Nepali Congress is struggling to name its team to the government. The Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) is accusing the Nepali Congress and the Unified Marxist-Leninists (UML) of trying to split the party.
If both MJF factions have decided to join the government, it is because they want to carry the fight on to another day. And the UML? Well, who has ever been able to keep up with the shifting alliances within?
Forget the opposition. The question really is, how tolerant can Nepal afford to be of criticism that his allies are almost certainly going to start spewing?