Sunday, December 13, 2009

Oh! These Appointments With Death

It’s getting a little frustrating, this fixation with death. Not that Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal shouldn’t be thinking about the great beyond every day. (For someone with so much blood on his hands, it probably comes as easily as breathing.)
After decades of shadowy subterranean existence, life in the public glare wasn’t going to be easy for Dahal. But he has had it reasonably good. For every Nepali who thought he really didn’t exist, countless others doubted he would ever emerge to tell his story of secrecy and subterfuge. Yet he continues to enjoy a celebrity status that is rare for his tribe.
The last time he hollered hoarse about how threatened his life had become, Dahal ended up winning the largest number of seats in the constituent assembly. Despite having lowered his sights from the presidency to the premiership, governing wasn’t going to be easy. But the Maoist chief had made a good beginning. Not because he made China his first overseas destination. Because within his honeymoon period, he had managed to hug Hu Jintao, Manmohan Singh and George W. Bush, the trinity mattering the most to us.
That vital balance of power could have been secured had Dahal received an opportunity to rub shoulders with Vladimir Putin. But the parallels with King Mahendra were getting too ominous. So instead of expounding on what transpired during the brief meeting with Bush on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Dahal had to explain to reporters at the airport how much his wife and son had received in government allowances during the visit.
When things went awry after that, it was not because Dahal tried to be all things to all people. His party acted as if it had already captured the state. The Americans had second thoughts about withdrawing the terrorist tag. The Indians weren’t about to get caught in semantics about how Dahal’s first official visit abroad was, in fact, to India. And the Chinese? Well, we’re not quite sure what really happened.
Even if Dahal wasn’t behind the leaking of the draft peace and friendship treaty in some bizarre plot to sabotage his own visit to China, his assertion on Indian television that a string of Chinese military delegations had basically invited themselves to Nepal forced a rethink up north. Beijing realized it should have dealt with Dahal first as the leader of Nepal’s newest communist party. But even that second visit to China had to be preceded by a secret preparatory mission via Hong Kong. While the Singapore confab with Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala is attributed to Indian auspices, can we really conclude there isn’t a Chinese angle there?
Admittedly, for a leader of a party that has come this far through a maze of mendacity, diversionary tactics have a special value. But isn’t it time to grow up, regardless of how convoluted politics has become? Despite all the rancor, Dahal, after all, still heads the country’s most organized party. Or does he?
Factional alliances are constantly shifting among the Maoists to make perpetual revolution an existential imperative. But Dahal just can’t seem to follow the Great Helmsman. If the equivalents of Liu Shaoqi and Lin Biao are the problem, how long can he try to pit them against each other?
Dahal probably has more to fear from his ideologically driven foot soldiers who see in this kind of dithering the root of the betrayal of the revolution. But he seems intent on redefining suicide as murder.