Monday, November 02, 2009

Flashback: Ceremonialism By Executive Order

President Ram Baran Yadav remains in a state of volatility on matters ranging from official abode to administrative assistance. The way he appears to be redefining the role and reach of the highest office of the land thus becomes all the more remarkable.
Contrary to the purely ceremonial role envisaged by most architects of New Nepal, Yadav seems set to acquire executive influence. His high-profile political consultations in connection with the formation of the new government have angered sections of the Maoists.
The president’s direct participation in the activities of the Nepal Army has alienated some quarters on the other end of the ideological spectrum. In conveying best wishes to soldiers heading for the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Lebanon and expressing hope that they would carry out their duties with discipline, Yadav hardly departed from the tradition established by his predecessors as supreme commander. The president’s physical presence at Panchkhal sparked a queasiness among some that remains unmitigated by the realization that he would, in all probability, never don the uniform.
Overall, this overt exhibition of republicanism has set off speculation of an emergence of a political co-habitation practiced by that other former monarchy, France. Former king Gyanendra Shah’s overtures to Yadav have put in new perspective the possibility of a broad nationalist platform.
As such, geopolitics has lost little time in entering the debate. President Yadav’s understandable preoccupation with the construction of the long overdue post-election government forced him to cancel a visit to China to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Scribes across the southern border scurried to put on a sinister spin. Yadav knows he did not snub the Chinese, at least not deliberately. Deep down, the mandarins up north must have known he was in no position to break with tradition and pay them a visit first.
Indian ebullience on this count came after the media there went gaga over Yadav’s supposed Indian roots. Admittedly, the physician turned politician shares fewer such links than, say, his former boss Girija Prasad Koirala, who was born in India. But that piece of reality did not fit the operative narrative of the reporters and editors – and the officialdom patronizing them – down south.
Yadav’s 11th-hour ascension to the top job has evidently satisfied the Nepal Army, whose reluctance to take orders from a presumptive Maoist protégé fueled rumors of an imminent political accident. Yet talk of a military coup has acquired greater resonance since Yadav took his oath. And not only because of his deputy’s choice of language at the swearing-in ceremony.
Should Sujata Koirala win the by-election through the active support of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum’s Upendra Yadav, who vacated one of last April’s keenly contested seats, the non-communist bloc will have gained significant ground.
Efforts to marginalize the Maoists from monopolizing the state would see President Yadav’s active participation. Endeavors to tame the former rebels, too, can be expected to feature Yadav in the central role.
With Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah and current president Pervez Musharraf having entered the core of Nepal’s political lexicon, the non-left cluster would do well to examine another analogy.
In the early 1990s, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party named one of its senior leaders, Farooq Ahmed Khan Leghari, as candidate for president. Ensconced in office, Leghari ended up dismissing Benazir and her government in 1996 (while, one might add, our own star-crossed Sher Bahadur Deuba was paying an official visit as premier). The head of state is, after all, expected to rise above the party. A sobering thought indeed for the Nepali Congress.

Originally posted on Monday, August 04, 2008