Sunday, August 02, 2009

Convictions Forged Behind Bars

As Chandra Prakash Gajurel was echoing his party’s outrage over the government’s purported appointment of retiring Gen. Rukmangad Katuwal as ambassador to France the other day, news came in that the Maoist leader’s daughter, Shobha, had been arrested in that country for violating its immigration laws. Coincidence?
Perhaps. But one that occasions greater luminosity on Papa. Gajurel, as we all know, shot into prominence when was arrested in Chennai in 2003 while trying boarding a flight to London on a false passport. By his own admission, Gajurel was travelling on a Briton’s passport wherein his slightly crumpled picture stood out as an odd add-on.
Chennai airport authorities happened to find a fellow traveler who also happened to be a senior British diplomat. Gajurel, who had been sufficiently warned by several associates of the risk inherent in identity theft so glaringly obvious, lost his cool amid the diplomat’s interrogation – and his freedom, too.
The Maoist leader was on his way, we understand, to meet King Gyanendra, shortly due in London, to shore up the faltering peace talks. Consider the crucial details. British Prime Minister Tony Blair had appointed a special envoy for Nepal. Gajurel had received a British passport and was quit blasé about having doctored it. Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal was sore that Nepal had not been taking New Delhi into confidence vis-à-vis the peace talks. Talk of means, motive and opportunity.
Lest they be accused of singling out Gajurel, the Indians arrested Mohan Baidya from an eye clinic in Silguri. But, then, these two men were always in a different league because of their views on India and its motives in Nepal. Prachanda, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and other Maoists enjoyed Indian hospitality, while people like Matrika Yadav and Suresh Ale were being handed back to Nepal.
Fast forward to 2006. Shortly after having shed his own subterranean existence, Prachanda traveled to New Delhi and declared how he had declined Pakistani aid to perpetuate his revolution. His bona fides established, the Maoist supremo won the release of Gajurel and Baidya. Once in Kathmandu, the two men incessantly criticized Prachanda for having kowtowing to the Indians, to the point where the supremo had to remind them they were now free men again.
Gajurel’s own crusade was relentless. The top Maoist in charge of international relations was candid about his party’s real intentions during a talk program in New Delhi in February 2007. Addressing Maoist-affiliated students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Gajurel revealed that the Maoists’ foray into mainstream politics was also a part of their “ongoing revolution.”
If parliament failed to achieve results, Gajurel insisted, the Maoists would mount a “city-based revolution.” The refusal by Prachanda, Dr. Bhattarai and other senior leaders to participate in the interim parliament was part of this strategy, Gajurel claimed. Much grief came Gajurel’s way for those comments, which he thought he was making in camera. (As if in vindication, Prachanda just the other day repeated many of those sentiments.)
As for his own decision to stay out of the government, Gajurel suggested that it had enhanced his ability to keep up his tirades against those who sought to infringe upon Nepali sovereignty from across the southern border. Over the subsequent months, he also sought to explain how closer the Chinese were to the notion of good-neighborliness.
To be sure, there is a risk in contending with people whose history of relative obscurity outstrips their years in public life. Madan Bhandari became the preeminent face of Nepalese nationalism during his brief public life. Yet there was something disquieting about his past. It was not for nothing that Bhandari merited a half page interview guised as a news analysis in that virtual Indian government mouthpiece chronicling the country’s times. That gray area has made Bhandari’s death all the more, shall we say, intriguing.
This, by no means, suggests an impending short-circuiting of Gajurel politics. But it would explain partially, at least, why daughter Shobha may have thought she had a case for political asylum abroad, wouldn’t it?