Sunday, August 16, 2009

Right Message, Wrong Messenger

As the Indian Embassy was in the midst of Independence Day fervor over the weekend, a group of Nepalis demonstrated right outside demanding their own country’s freedom from its southern neighbor. All this came against the background of the incessant pleas by the ruling Unified Marxist-Leninists and the opposition United Maoists to Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal not to sign any agreements prejudicial to Nepal during his upcoming visit down south.
With the southern sojourns of his defense and foreign ministers – both, like Nepal, lacking popular mandate – having precipitated all manner of conjecture and innuendo, the premier was explicit about his intentions. His mandate for the most audacious diplomatic venture of his political life, we are led to believe, has been defined by his surname.
So when Deputy Prime Minister Bijay Kumar Gachchadar took a different tack on wider subject of India, it was rather refreshing. “Don’t blame India for our own failures,” the strongman of the new Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Loktantrik) said. Chastising Nepalese leaders for their inability to defend the 1990 constitution, thereby precipitating our deepening crisis, Gachchadar said neither Girija Prasad Koirala nor Pushpa Kamal Dahal had been able to provide the steady hand the country needed on its path to newness.
The expansiveness of the Constituent Assembly may have facilitated the election by appeasing disparate groups, the DPM suggested, but now that very size has become an obstacle to the constitution drafting process.
The cynic in Maila Baje immediately sprung up on multiple levels. Isn’t this akin to the pot calling the kettle black? If Koirala has been so odious, how could Gachchadar as a principal collaborator be immune from his own criticism? Once his relations with Koirala soured, Gachchadar helped Sher Bahadur Deuba split the Nepali Congress and create the Democratic parallel. All for what?
He may have tried to patch things up with Koirala after the collapse of the monarchy, but the grand old man didn’t need him that much. That alone couldn’t explain Gachchadar’s decision to break away from the reunited Nepali Congress to join the new MJF, merely days after he denied having any such plans.
Moreover, wasn’t the emergence of the MJF one of the reasons why the assembly had to become so bloated? Granted, the man gave an eye to the commies in defense of democracy during his student days. But what kind of vision allows him to believe that he can wipe the slate clean merely by forming a new party?
The Maoists’ upset electoral win redefined the political parameters. Who can forget Koirala’s tap on Gachchadar’s shoulder in the assembly chamber following his resignation speech, which set off the post-monarchy bedlam that delayed Dahal’s immaculation for weeks? The Maoists’ overreach galvanized Gachchadar once more. But the prospect of getting the deputy premiership in a post-Maoist government alone is unlikely to have goaded him to split the party.
The venue of Gachchadar’s latest pontificating – the Nepal-India Friendship Association celebrations of India’s Independence Day – raises questions as well. As the leader of the fourth largest party and a heartbeat away from the premiership, Gachchadar must have his own ambitions for the top job. (Fueled in no small measure by filling in for his boss during Nepal’s trip to the non-aligned summit in Egypt.) In the current scenario, that entails carefully calibrating his move amid Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala ostensible offensive and Premier Nepal’s widely anticipated stumble.
All this posturing does not detract from the validity of Gachchadar’s core claim. Blaming India for everything under the sun erodes our ability to hold it accountable for things it has been plotting in the dark all these years. But, then, the dissonance between the message and the messenger rings too deep into the soul of our nation.