Sunday, September 13, 2009

Divide And Don’t Rule

Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal is firing on all cylinders. With each passing day, he is becoming an equal-opportunity aggressor. The Maoists are a bunch of bloodthirsty ingrates, who now risk the fate of the likes of Pol Pot. And his own party? The Unified Marxist-Leninists are in such disunion precisely because they are trying to out-red the Maoists.
The Nepali Congress should have been the beneficiary of the bloodletting. But it has too many people itching for the premiership. Party president Girija Prasad Koirala asked the premier not to believe everything he read in the papers. Once Nepal left the room, Koirala aides began whispering to favorite reporters how the old man had refused to acknowledge the premier from his sick bed.
The Maoists had actually promised the premier their conditional support, Nepal revealed the other day. He hasn’t lost his spirit of reciprocity, though. Pick any number of ministries, he offered the ex-rebels, barring the top job. Bringing the foremost Marxist-Leninist into the Constituent Assembly, overruling the people, was the greatest mistake of the followers of the Great Helmsman, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai shot back.
When Koirala offered the premiership to Nepal earlier this year, there was even less reason to believe the octogenarian was being magnanimous. The treachery with which Koirala backed out from that consensus-candidate pledge in 2004 will resonate forever. Maybe the man this time only wanted Nepal to help elevate his daughter to the top job. Nepal felt he could sit on that, as long as Koirala refused to come out with a public affirmation of such a quid pro quo.
Of course, UML chairman Jhal Nath Khanal was out to get him from the start. By pitting Khanal and Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli against each other, Nepal staked out his ground. By propping up Oli as a prime ministerial candidate, Nepal knows he can now checkmate both Khanal and Sujata Koirala. As for Khanal, well, the country has space for only one Mao wanna-be anyway, and Pushpa Kamal Dahal has the better swept-back hair to go with the devious eyes.
Given the deep sting Dahal left behind with his northern tilt, the Indians preempted Nepal with the affirmation that he was born in India. At a time when allegations of foreign birth was bedeviling the leader of the world’s most powerful democracy, that was a chance Nepal reckoned he could take. (As additional insurance, he would go on to cite his India visit as the most successful part of his government’s 100 days.)
But how long can the prime minister hope to thrive on the disarray of his opponents? As someone transfixed by halo of his predecessor, Madan Bhandari, surely Nepal must have some thoughts about his own legacy. During his years as opposition leader, especially after the UML decided it had to obstruct Koirala every step of the way, critics used to dare Nepal to offer solutions for a change. Let me get the premiership first, he hardly shied from saying.
But that was when he enjoyed the people’s mandate. When he finally got the long-coveted job, it was only because the parties chose to go against the people. Performance must await times that are more propitious. Don’t count on the ‘doubly defeated’ epithet to go too far. It lost its luster the moment the Maoists and Koirala took turns feigning altruism.
So what lies at the core of Nepal’s confidence that so unnerves his critics? His newfound canon of divide and don’t rule.