Sunday, September 20, 2009

Tempting Fate With Every Step

First she blamed Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal for meddling in the affairs of Nepali Congress-held ministries. Then she accused factionalism in her own party for her lackluster performance in power.
Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala will not see it any other way until she gets her due. And it no longer seems the deputy premiership. Her quest began the moment she proclaimed within the earshot of Queen Aishwarya at a Foreign Ministry reception in 1991 how a new empress was about to be crowned.
The coronation has been long in despite her entanglements in all sorts of alliances, within and outside. This week it became clear that by pulling out of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal’s New Delhi entourage last month, Sujata was sending a message primarily to the Indians.
That slight did not prevent her recent visit to China from descending into a banality, at least initially. But there were tell-tale signs. In a television interview in Beijing, Sujata related how, on her first visit to China in 1990, she had concluded the Chinese dragon would one day swallow the world. The throat-wrenching expression got little more than a chuckle from the Chinese interviewer. He seemed to know more than we did about the real purpose of her visit up north.
Our foreign minister was merely paving the way for Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s visit to China. Frustrated in their design to forge a Unified Marxist-Leninist (UML)-United Maoist front, the Chinese appear to have set their sights on the Nepali Congress. Even party president Girija Prasad Koirala is said to have signaled to visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao his reevaluation of regional priorities. By throwing in the likes of Upendra Yadav and Matrika Yadav into a putative Maoist-Nepali Congress combine, the Chinese may even end up stanching what has been the nation’s inexorable glide into geographical ambiguity.
With almost Newtonian effect, Sujata’s rivals in the Nepali Congress have been energized. Ram Sharan Mahat asserted the other day that Sujata would never become premier. Parliamentary leader Ram Chandra Poudel revealed that he had already declined Dahal’s offer of the premiership, expounding on the extent of the Maoists’ fishing expedition. Reminiscent of his 1999-2000 posturing, Sher Bahadur Deuba is reportedly in consultation with forces on both ends of the political spectrum. A group of senior Nepali Congress leaders met with Prime Minister Nepal pledging support to his government until the next elections.
UML leaders, too, have been full of zip. Chairman Jhalnath Khanal has been warning of a military takeover should consensus continue to elude the Nepal government. Other leaders have been giving subtle hints that a Maoist-led national government could be possible. Prime Minister Nepal dug in his heels the other day by praising how the Nepal Army has always upheld civilian supremacy. The generals, for their part, were envisaging a seminar on civil-military relations.
From the muddle, it looks like Sujata has time on her side. The Nepali Congress is growing increasingly incapable of surviving without a younger Koirala at the helm. Power, pelf and patronage alone were insufficient to catapult Sujata to the top. She wants the crown so bad that even fate now seems tempted to see how it might fit. If it does well, then Beijing Union Medical College Hospital had better make room for an influx of Nepali political patients.