Monday, December 27, 2010

Denial And Deception: Sorry ’Bout That

Just as we thought Sri Lanka’s apology had settled that curious diplomatic fracas, Colombo strenuous denied ever having said sorry to us. So we are back to the old question. Did or didn’t President Ram Baran Yadav ask his Sri Lankan counterpart, Mahinda Rajapakse, to be a peace mediator in Nepal?
Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris repeatedly told his country’s parliament that Yadav had done so during a meeting with Rajapakse in China in late October. Colombo’s latest stance bolsters that position. Peiris, of course, had a vested interest in extolling Rajapakse’s credentials as a peacemaker, especially as an alternative to the regional you know who. As his nation’s top diplomat, Peiris may have easily employed that time-tested tool of his profession in what he considered the pursuit of national interest.
Our own media had reported that Yadav had met Rajapakse in Shanghai, the only foreign counterpart he did so in China, saying they had discussed the peace process. From the local coverage, Yadav had made a bland request for Colombo’s support to the peace process. So when the Sri Lankan media reported Peiris’s far more definitive claim, our president’s press secretary issued a flat denial. Yet Peiris persisted.
When Sri Lanka’s Deputy Foreign Minister Neomal Perera arrived in Kathmandu for a regional conference, few Nepalis seemed to associate him with his boss’s assertions. During a courtesy call on Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, according to section of the Sri Lankan media, Perera offered an apology on behalf of Peiris. The idea ostensibly was to keep things quiet. Once word got out, Colombo issued a flat denial. Clearly, this is much more than a story of who lied.
To Maila Baje, the circumstances in which it gained traction remain far more complex and merit greater scrutiny. When Rajapakse suppressed the once seemingly invincible Tamil Tigers, he sparked easily audible voices of displeasure in India. Although the Tamil Tigers were responsible for the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, New Delhi did not seem too happy with the suppression of the group. Among other things, the overt backing of Beijing had made Colombo’s enterprise particularly galling for New Delhi.
Through that triumph, Colombo felt it had broken out of the sphere of India’s influence – psychologically if not physically – which New Delhi expected to have formalized even after its ill-fated military expedition two decades ago. Thus, as the Rajapakse government has discovered to its discomfiture, the storyline has now shifted to allegation of Sinhala war crimes against Sri Lankan minority Tamils.
President Yadav, for his part, had hosted Rajapakse as the first head of state to visit Nepal since it became a republic. Yadav thus went into the Shanghai meeting with a high comfort level. Our president, moreover, already had demonstrated his eagerness to gratify his Chinese hosts. In a republic as wobbly as ours, the presidency remains the most vulnerable institution. How far Beijing has reconciled itself to Nepal having become a republic – at least in its current form – remains open to question. Around the time of Yadav’s trip, Beijing had hosted Vice-President Parmananda Jha, Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and leading Maoist commanders. And as far as China is concerned, every visit has a remarkable degree of official halo.
So President Yadav tread familiar path on befriending China. He urged Beijing (through its top rep in Lhasa) to accelerate the extension of its railway network up to Nepalese border, sidestepping the abiding obsession of the Indians. Any fallout from the south would be manageable, in Yadav’s estimation, by the sheer orientation of the Nepalese government.
Once in Shanghai, Yadav could have been carried away by his ebullience. It would not be hard to see how he might have sought Rajapakse’s role in Nepal’s peace process as part of his northern charm offensive.
It is easy to be sidetracked by Yadav’s current public persona as ceremonial president. Scratch the veneer a bit and you can see his keenness for a new version of that much-maligned Article 127, notwithstanding his professed desire to return to his village as a farmer. Yadav essentially remains a Nepali Congress stalwart and his partisan role during the recent party convention has been amply chronicled by the aggrieved faction.
While Yadav would indeed emerge stronger in the arena of plausible deniability, why would the Sri Lankan foreign minister lie – if that were indeed what he did – and stand firm? Projecting the smaller South Asian nations’ ability to extricate themselves from their own problems is an objective Colombo shares with Beijing, an aspiration non-official Nepal would easily endorse.
Then there is the fact that Peiris’s claim came after Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna’s visit to Sri Lanka, ostensibly to open consulates in the southern and northernmost parts of the island nation. Krishna travelled to the southern town of Hambantota to open a consulate barely a week after the government launched the first stage of a 1.5-billion-dollar Chinese-funded port there. The other new Indian mission is in northern Jaffna, the former stronghold of the Tamil Tigers and ostensibly the most ideal venue to whip up the war crimes allegations against Colombo.
Who would benefit from a falling out of the two nations on northern and southern ends of South Asia, intent on redefining the region’s strategic balance? That’s where the heart of the matter lies, regardless of who may be lying around the edges.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chitwan Mêlée And The Back Stories

Paras Shah and Rubel Choudhary are probably having a hard time counting the number of people thankful for the Chitwan fracas.
The Nepali Congress has managed to paper over – if temporarily – the rift created by party president Sushil Koirala’s contentious appointments. Sujata Koirala, who was on the verge of striking an alliance with Sher Bahadur Deuba to prise the general secretaryship away from Krishna Prasad Situala, has now been emboldened to go it alone, courtesy of her live-in son-in-law.
Sitaula, it emerged early on, was the man who instigated a hesitant Rubel to file the complaint against the former crown prince. But Maila Baje feels that was aimed more at influencing the Nepal component of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s talks with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao in New Delhi. Bringing all those skeletons out of the Mandikhatar closets while Sujata was abroad was secondary to Sitaula’s last-ditch effort to disprove the inherent inanity of the 12-point agreement.
The Maoists, for their part, managed to forge a semblance of unity between Mohan Baidya and Pushpa Kama Dahal factions as well as name India as the principal enemy. Granted, they clubbed “domestic reactionaries” with our southern neighbor. But the ex-rebels’ end-justifies-the-means reaction to the Paras controversy put all that in context. Chief dissident Dr. Baburam Bhattarai did rail against ex-royalty for trying to fish in troubled waters. But when he blamed the current leaders – his rivals within the party included – for emboldening them, Bhattarai sense of glee was unmistakable.
The Chitwan mêlée allowed the CPN-UML to deepen indecision on whether to espouse ideology (Maoists) or expediency (Nepali Congress) in going forward. That is no mean achievement for a party that exacerbated the farce succeeding the resignation of Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal. As for the pro-monarchist Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal, rumors of a rift with the ex-royals seemed to be just that, considering the sustained street action.
The Americans were frantically trying to contain the embarrassment likely to result from the Wikileaks revelations on Nepal. Yet Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood, who faced Maoist black flags in Dhankuta, was the greater beneficiary. The Ministry of External Affairs’ public embrace of the ambassador did little to appease Sood or brighten his prospects in Nepal. With the hands of the law having reached the former crown prince, a public offense case has been filed in Solukhumbu against the local Maoist leader for hurling shoes at Sood over two months ago.
The special treatment police meted out to Rubel must have emboldened the kinsfolk of all the other drivers of new Nepal. Whether the women and children will be off limits, allowing the principals to monopolize the name-calling and finger-pointing, is another matter.
What else might have gone on behind the crescendo is anybody’s guess. If there were unusual arrivals or departures – aircraft as well as individuals – at the airport, someone somewhere must have taken note. Less visible would have been any private deliberations at key venues.
If Nepal were to take a decisive turn in the new year, it would be hard not to see the ambience – if not entirely the essence – of this period as a key spur.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Maoists’ Mendacity Of Hope

So the Maoists have now unequivocally conceded that they had espoused the mainstream opposition’s version of democracy only to uproot the monarchy. The real news for Maila Baje lay not in Maoist leader Dev Gurung’s blatant repudiation of loktantra but in the public exasperation of the Nepali Congress’ Ram Chandra Poudel.
In retrospect, the 12-point agreement was the culmination of a thought prevailing in a section of the Indian establishment from the start. A Pushpa Lal-Bharat Shamsher-B.P. Koirala alliance against the palace was never really outside the realm of possibility. Nor was its corollary of whipping up Nepal’s ethnic, linguistic and religious disparities to demolish the international identity the country saw so essential to its survival. However, the evident risks of pursuing those courses long outweighed the expected benefits. Those files were stacked away somewhere, but certainly were not gathering dust.
When the equations changed toward the end of 2005, the Maoists and the mainstream parties were brought together in an alliance against the palace. The Maoists were no doubt in search of a safe landing. But clearly, in that instance, New Delhi had read them the riot act. Still, in consenting to become the propellant of the anti-palace campaign, the Maoists must have tried to gauge what India’s real objections to the monarchy were.
It was certainly not any sickening displays of opulence. Nor could it have stemmed from any aversion to the feudalistic heritage many ex-royals have injected in their political reincarnations across party lines in India. How only one of the three Himalayan monarchies independent India considered irksome managed to survive was best answered by the content of the relationship Bhutan had developed with New Delhi. Top Maoist leader, for their part, were quite perceptive about this reality in the words they wrote and spoke.
In the 2008 elections, the Maoists managed to avoid the political marginalization the architects of the 12-point agreement had envisaged for them. So when the ex-rebels, once in power, chose to tilt toward China, there was some expectation that they were fully prepared for the fallout in the interrogatory and retaliatory forms. Admittedly, taming an organized political force that had emerged with the largest share of votes in elections certified as free and fair should have been harder for the Indians. But the Maoists chose almost to flaunt how every step aimed at assuaging Beijing was, by extension, one aimed at infuriating New Delhi.
Out of power, the Maoists were still best placed to prove how a nation’s expectation of fortifying itself against the convulsions created by the complicated relations between the two regional giants could not be called hubris. But, as the Palungtar conclave demonstrated, the former rebels were more interested in papering over their internal rifts by identifying principal, secondary and tertiary enemies in a preposterous claim to capture state power.
If Gurung’s claim seemed to sound less a statement of fact than an admission of remorse, there is good reason.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Whose Reputation Is Really On The Line?

Krishna Prasad Sitaula has become the newest emblem of an old malady gripping the Nepali Congress. As a polarizing figure, Sitaula may be non-pareil, but he continues a tradition upheld by men like Bhadrakali Mishra and Surya Prasad Upadhyaya.
While they drew much ire from within the Nepali Congress neither man had enough influence to take over the party like that other polarizer Girija Prasad Koirala eventually would. As long as they lasted, however, Mishra and Upadhyaya had forced the Nepali Congress to learn to live with them.
Critics, including many longtime associates, had called them puppets, whose external masters had devised for them specific roles that could never be clear or conclusive. As politics grew murkier in the 1990s, so did the motives and intentions of the puppeteers. No clear successor to the likes of Mishra or Upadhyaya could thus be established. On specific issues, and during specific contexts, a variety of people came into prominence.
Sitaula, in Maila Baje’s estimation, seemed to do so remarkably swiftly after the royal takeover of February 1, 2005. Safe on Indian territory, a week after the palace struck, Sitaula told Indian reporters that the Nepali Congress was ready to join hands with the Maoists against King Gyanendra. Of course, Sitaula carried the usual proviso that the Maoists must first lay down their arms. But that contention was made redundant in the next paragraph of the Press Trust of India story when Sitaula revealed that Girija Koirala had virtually finalized some kind of a deal with the Maoists, thereby precipitating the royal action.
Regardless, the Sitaula track would have to await the endorsement of the Indian National Congress government, which was still hoping to engage with the royal regime all the while seeking to appease its avowedly republican Marxist allies. When the palace sought to project greater international maneuverability, the Sitaula scheme came to the forefront. His special relations with sections of the Indian Marxists and the intelligence services gave the plan some indigenous cover. The Dhaka SAARC summit, of course, made that line of action inevitable and propelled Sitaula’s politics.
When Sitaula, as Home Minister, escorted Maoist chairman Prachanda to Kathmandu for peace talks, U.S. Ambassador James F. Moriarty felt compelled to ask Prime Minster Koirala to describe the antecedents and implications of the special ties his newest kid on the block seemed to share with the rebels. Many in the Nepali Congress subsequently branded Sitaula as a Maoist all but in name, while Koirala one more than one occasion wondered aloud whose home minister Sitaula really had become.
Still, it fell upon Sitaula to persuade ex-king Gyanendra to hand over the crown and scepter and vacate the palace in favor of the placidity of Nagarjun. However, by then, the Gaur massacre had alienated the Maoists from Sitaula. As Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal departed from the New Delhi-driven 12-point agreement script, Sitaula, predictably enough, became an acerbic critic of the Maoists.
Girija Koirala’s death was thought to have ended Sitaula’s career. Barely on speaking terms with the new party leader Sushil Koirala, Sitaula secured his space. The issue of extending the constituent assembly, we are told, served as the basis for the grand rapprochement.
Fate was propitious to Sitaula. He happened to walk into a heart clinic to visit Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, only to suffer a bout of chest pains. An immediate angioplasty and “stenting” made him fit as a fiddle – ready to confront the resentment smoldering in the party.
Sushil’s nomination of Ram Chandra Poudel and Sitaula as vice-chairman and general secretary, respectively, as his first official action convulsed a party that was supposed to have emerged united after the post-Girija Koirala convention. Sujata Koirala, Arjun Narsingh K.C. and Ram Sharan Mahat – all claimants to the general secretaryship – have now joined Sher Bahadur Deuba’s faction in criticizing Sushil’s act of brazen unilateralism.
Why would Sushil risk grand dissidence in the first place? With little to go beyond his surname in terms of political credentials, Sushil was no long ago named by India’s intelligence community as a leading benefactor of its Pakistani counterpart. By projecting the two most India-friendly members of his party, Sushil must have felt he could redeem his name while putting the onus of victory on someone else.
Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood has inherited much more than the interventionist traits of a renowned predecessor, C.P.N. Singh. He shares the stodgy Singh’s outspokenness in deriding anti-Indianism as an inherent affliction of the Nepali political class. If the overt external prop these two men supposedly enjoy – and have at times unabashedly flaunted – failed to see them through, then, Sushil knows, that would be more of Sood’s problem.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Our Managers of Contradictions

Mohan Baidya and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai had gone into the Maoist plenum at Palungtar hoping to tame their boss. They seem to have succeeded, albeit not without having shamed themselves a bit.
Most of the delegates at the conference, we are told, admonished Pushpa Kamal Dahal to cut back on his verbal machinations. The chairman’s multi-speak, far from managing contradictions, was tarnishing the party’s image. The reprimand undoubtedly thrilled the two vice-chairmen.
But they, too, had their earfuls. Baidya was asked to consider his age and health before opening his mouth. At his stage of life, many delegates feel, guardianship would be his best contribution. His radicalism, in any case, only ignored the country’s ground realities.
The latter – a favorite Bhattarai term – was not propitious for the junior chairman, either. Ideological eloquence has its time and place, but certainly not when it comes to publicly airing internal rifts. The top rebel penman seemed to enjoy the least support among the People’s Liberation Army.
In a sense, the Maoist conclave has institutionalized the status quo. Sail on comrades, but do not rock the boat, at least not in public view. For the rest of the country, the conference has shown how profoundly the three-way split pervades all echelons. Dahal, Baidya and Bhattarai cannot stand one another, but they cannot stand alone, either. The prospects of any two coming together against the third, if anything, appears to have receded amid such diffusion of dissidence.
Yet none of the men is likely to abjure his position. Dahal by nature, Baidya by outlook and Bhattarai by attitude are incapable of reinventing themselves.
The ringing affirmation that the Maoists remain a divided house marks the first success for the architects of the 12-point accord across the southern border. To their diffident political masters, these designers proclaimed how the Nepalese rebels could be employed to strike at the royals and then neutralized. Today, the Maoists cannot afford to abandon the mainstream, nor can they expect to monopolize it. With the other political forces in far more pathetic shape, Nepal will continue to hemorrhage. ‘Nepalization’ will stand beside ‘Bhutanization’ and ‘Sikkimization’ as metaphor not only for a process but also for prescriptions specific to time and space.
The emaciation of the Maoists may or may not deprive the Indian Naxalites of any of their ideological fervor. Clearly, the denigration of their Nepali cousins would allow the Congress, BJP and the mainstream communists to use the Indian insurgency to advance their own politics. Might it still be prudent to write the Maoists off? Who knows how they might employ their current divisions to open up new possibilities – internally and regionally – when contradictions abound everywhere?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Still Waging Our Peace War

Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal exonerates the Maoists from damaging allegations that they are training India’s Naxalite guerrillas. In return, our former rebels beat up Finance Minister Surendra Pandey in parliament just when he thought he had the Maoists’ approval to present the delayed budget.
The minister happens to be an in-law of Premier Nepal’s chief rival in his CPN-UML, the chairman Jhal Nath Khanal. Amid the bedlam, the prime minister rams his budget through a presidential ordinance and announces his intention to go to Russia for a tiger summit.
The Maoists, upholding their pledge to block a full-fledged budget, get to growl inwards at their Gorkha plenum. The Nepali Congress’ Ram Chandra Poudel, the sole candidate for much of the legislature’s embarrassing search for a new prime minister, is left in limbo. However, he, too, gets to boast that his hanging candidacy is what stops the Maoists from capturing the state.
Meanwhile, the chief of the Armed Police Force denies ever having suggested that he had found no evidence of the Maoists’ training the Naxalites – which had ostensibly underpinned Premier Nepal’s exculpation. And so the peace process completed four agonized years.
When the nation is expected to pin its hopes on secret conclaves, peace in pieces looks better than nothing. But what exactly is it that we have been collectively seeking?
For the mainstream parties, the peace process was something to hit back at the monarchy with. The Maoists went along because their principal external patron shared that sentiment, all the while hedging its bets.
Today, the international community is anxious to see the integration of the state and former rebel armies as the most compelling evidence of peace. This comes at a time when fewer and fewer ex-fighters seem to consider that as a prerequisite to peace. The human rights wings of the world body want to see that part of their agenda on the front-burner, something their cousins in the non-state sector are far more incendiary in asserting. Words like justice and reconciliation would have retained their sonorous ring if the truth of it all had not kept shifting so swiftly.
A chastened Nepali Congress today wants the Maoists to prove their commitment to the democratic process, despite the fact that the voters validated those credentials by electing them the largest party over two years ago. Even then, the Nepali Congress wears a far more substantive aura than the UML, which does not seem to know what it wants from the ex-rebels.
The Indians want the Maoists sidelined because they had envisaged the ex-rebels merely as something that would propel the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) protests beyond Ratna Park. The SPA’s subsequent performance has fallen far short of New Delhi’s expectations. The mainstream parties may have succeeded in pulling the Maoists to their own level of ordinariness. But they did little to foil the ex-rebels’ overtures to Chinese pragmatism. Beijing, which once helped the palace and the parties in their effort to crush the rebels, today wants the Great Helmsman’s local offspring to head a broad patriotic front.
The Americans want the ex-rebels to maintain equidistance between the regional behemoths and have been extending a lateral hand in all directions. The Europeans, Russians, Japanese, Pakistanis, Arabs are all staking their claims. The international left is more interested in peddling such pet issues as homosexuality and abortion – not to mention that perfect watermelon, environmentalism – as the defining characteristics of Nepal’s newness over everything else. The global right is not only resisting with full force, but the evangelical variant also wants to spread the Good News in such a way that there is no Second Going.
What do Nepalis want? Surely, there must be something more than the CNN Hero and Alternative Nobel laurels.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Accounts Of Awe And Aggrandizement

All these years later, Marich Man Singh Shrestha, the last prime minister of the partyless Panchayat system, continues to extol this quality of that polity: Where else could someone from his modest social and economic milieu rise to become head of government?
It wouldn’t take much to hear in Shrestha’s query the tenor of inadequacy many ex-panchas still express almost as an act of expiation. Hard as it might be to believe, there were people who were genuinely inspired to serve their nation under the banner of partylessness. Yet it turns out that every man or woman like Shrestha was outnumbered by those who believed they had the right to be served by the system.
The post-April Uprising spurt in published reminiscences of the period abounds in such sentiment. Take this gentleman who reached the pinnacle of political, administrative and diplomatic service. Doubtless, Nepalis today continue to benefit from his wisdom percolating across the media on diverse matters. In ruminating on them, there are times he appears to emphasize his own role in events all the while demeaning what he was representing.
Not that we couldn’t have tolerated personal aggrandizement from this esteemed personage, at least. A youth once seen milling around a foreign medical professional apparently impressed the benefactor sufficiently to find his mooring in higher education overseas. The country saw in him immense promise even before he had submitted the dissertation justifying the erudite honorific that was a rarity then.
Questions persisted as to when – or even whether – he ended up fulfilling that academic requirement. Then far intense speculation swirled around the true purpose of his ascendancy. But these things hardly detracted, as far as Maila Baje is concerned, from the extraordinariness of his personal story. But today condemnation of the system that seemed to have made all that possible tends to appear as an essential ingredient of his recollections.
Another gentleman recently revealed how one monarch had dispatched him to China on a highly sensitive mission. Nowhere in his tantalizing narrative did he seem to marvel at the great trust he happened to bear amid Nepal’s geopolitical vulnerabilities. Everything seemed to have been scripted to demolish the monarchy’s image in keeping with the prevailing political climate. The reality that the man reached one of the top rungs of the palace-led system, complete with its perks, remained buried in his story.
A few former palace officials continue to offer interesting details about how individual royals varied in their values, attitudes, needs and expectations. But for the most part, their musings have descended into a barefaced settling of scores. The holier-than-thou approach of advocates for rival palace camps has marred what remains of redeeming value for historians. How even the supposedly worst victims in individual palace secretariats ended up far better than the average stalwart retiree in the Singha Darbar wing of the civil service, especially in terms of providing for their family, is not part of the storyline.
Everybody was simply too good for the Panchayat system and therefore the polity simply owed them. It is this subtext that makes former prime minister Shrestha’s seemingly worn-out words all the more refreshing.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Dishonesty Is Such A Bustling Word…

So we are no longer capable of integrity in camera. Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal blamed the lack of honesty for the failure of the two-day secret talks among top leaders of the major three parties at Hattiban.
From the accumulated wisdom available to us, you could commiserate in Nepal’s ostensible naiveté. What power can arise or hold its own without hypocrisy, lying, punishments, prisons, fortresses or murder? (Leo Tolstoy) Or is our honorable gentleman outright uninformed? It is not power that corrupts people but fools who get into a position of power that corrupt power. (George Bernard Shaw).
However untrue everyone else may have become, Prime Minister Nepal does not seem to have lost his own candor. He wanted the premiership so bad that he moved destiny. Once there, he started radiating so much triumph over common sense that everyone else felt impelled to ask him to quit. He did so on his terms and is set to become the longest caretaker head of government in the world. Contentment was bound to run out. Regardless of particular status in power, the man knows that the country wants him to take care of them.
But the Maoists won’t allow him to present the budget in the legislature because they believe he’s going to interpret approval as a regularization of his government. Premier Nepal so detests the comparisons with Nagendra Prasad Rijal that he wants to hand over the reins to President Ram Baran Yadav. No one, with the ostensible exception of Nepal Workers and Peasants Party President Narayan Man Bijukchhe, likes that idea.
Might Nepal’s candor help the country get a new prime minister? The three parties were mulling the prospect of a rotational prime ministerial system before that secret conclave. Even though the current legislature has barely six months of life left, this Back to Village National Campaign central committee-style collective leadership still sounds interesting. It would allow the rival aspirants within each party, too, to deliberate on how they might take turns. Through last-minute consensus, the assembly could be extended again, legitimized by, if not anything else, precedent. But here too the Nepali Congress, which wants the first crack at it, is playing the spoiler.
So Prime Minister Nepal will probably want to continue until the alternative arrangements U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke about after UNMIN’s departure. The government would perhaps delay responding to the Indian government’s allegations that Nepalese Maoists are training their Indian counterparts on our soil – or at least waffle.
With the dawn of the New Year, all the three major external players will have been at their seats on U.N. Security Council. The unstable tripolarity on Nepal can then be expected to enter a new phase of instability. Prime Minister Nepal, no doubt, knows that Nepalis do not have a monopoly on perfidy.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Contemplating The Counteroffensive

It took the Government of India 10 days to summon our Ambassador Rukma Shamsher Rana and lodge a strong protest over the Maoist attack on Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood in Solukhumbu. New Delhi, moreover, allowed Kathmandu to remind itself how the remonstration was the first since 1989, when Nepal bought arms from China, precipitating a crippling trade and transit embargo that produced a deformed democracy.
The contrast Sood’s plight offered with the reception accorded Chinese ambassador Qiu Guhong in Mustang around the same time doubtless aggravated the Indians from the start. But they must have waited to ascertain how the Maoists would behave in the aftermath. The ex-rebels not only seemed unapologetic but almost relished the prospect of repeat performances. Nepalis in general are left pondering the size and scope of India’s likely response to the Maoists’ brazenness.
Opinion seems divided on our end. There are suggestions from some quarters that India has, in the past few years, become more magnanimous toward Nepal. Not out of altruism, though, but out of cool confidence. In the global balance of power, New Delhi believes it is in the best position to maximize its autonomy. From one side of the mouth, the Americans can claim how China has become an equally vital stakeholder in Nepal. From the other, they must acclaim New Delhi as a partner to stabilize South Asia.
Moreover, Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s brandishing of the ‘China card’ does not amount to a clear and present danger to India because New Delhi knows the extent of Beijing’s distrust of the Maoists. The other school of thought holds that Dahal may be tilting northward on the express advice of the south to help avoid encroachment of the Indian version of the Monroe Doctrine by the Americans. If you can’t stop the dragon from breathing hard down your neck, the second best thing is to try to lower the temperature. As long as the Indians recognize that the Chinese cannot be a viable economic substitute for Nepal, they feel secure enough. So when Nepal Workers and Peasants Party president Narayan Man Bijukchhe claims that the Indians, being Dahal’s political progenitors, remain unruffled by the northern alliance, he has a point.
But would the Americans countenance a diminution of their influence? So here comes the other twist, pushed by the Rastriya Jana Morcha’s Chitra Bahadur KC. Continued political rivalry could result not only in the reversal of the republican order but the return of the Panchayat system. Before laughing off KC’s remark as a has-been’s quest to maintain relevance, consider this: for all its alleged internal ills, the Panchayat system did absorb the competing external pressures to provide geopolitical equilibrium.
It is no accident that the deadline we are most worried about is the expiry of the current mandate of UNMIN, not the term of the constituent assembly. From Chinese soil, Dahal contended that the end of UN mission would not affect the peace process.
With India set to take up its seat on the Security Council at the beginning of next year, the counteroffensive from the south is likely to carry the payload of all the other directions.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

As Long As It Catches Mice…

It’s becoming harder not to see the acerbity in the tenor of Dr. Baburam Bhattarai’s observations on India in the light of the appellation emanating from the north.
Honestly, Maila Baje really doesn’t know whether He Yong, the secretariat member of Communist Party of China Central Committee, had actually described Dr. Bhattarai as Nepal’s equivalent of Deng Xiaoping during their meeting in Kathmandu last month. But Beijing as well as the Maoists seem to have sensed the benefits of letting the parallel prevail.
More interesting are the motions gripping our Maoists. When Dr. Bhattarai met separately with Shyam Saran, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s special envoy, earlier in the year, the Maoist leader engendered much criticism from within his own party. When Dr. Bhattarai met He, in no less confidential circumstances, the entire party appeared elated. In fact, leading Bhattarai critics seem ready to wear the Dengist badge with pride. (He, whose recent career rested on the campaign against corruption and indiscipline, must have been struck by the Nepalese obsession with his rank as vice-premier.)
Reading deeper into the tea leaves, no member of the Bhattarai faction sought to play up the questions surrounding party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s Malaysian sojourn. If the former rebels have embarked on an internal realignment with a pronounced geopolitical tilt, then the postponement of the extended meeting of the politburo has come in handy.
As to the Deng name, it holds particular resonance for Dr. Bhattarai, the preeminent Maoist economic pragmatist this side of the Himalayas. But it connotes many other things. “He can write and he can fight”, Mao Zedong once said of the comrade he called the “little man”. When Mao purged Deng during the Cultural Revolution, he equated Deng and Liu Shaoqi as capitalist roaders. Whereas Li’s fate was almost doomed from the beginning, Mao seemed to hold Deng – in the words of the celebrated China-watcher, Harrison Salisbury – in “special reserve”.
Dr. Bhattarai’s antecedents in the party have been far less tumultuous. But he, like Deng, has been a man in a hurry, one whom his boss has learned not to underestimate.
There are palpable gaps in his record. How seriously Bhattarai questioned Dahal’s leadership and policies during those crucial underground days remains unknown. Everything seemed to have unraveled during his first purge in 2004-2005, which was lifted on account of India’s desire to settle scores with the palace.
Before the constituency assembly election, Bhattarai was projected as the party’s prime ministerial candidate. But, then, Dahal lowered his sights from the presidency, probably because he was not so sure the monarchy would be abolished. Dutifully serving as finance minister, Dr. Bhattarai worked to raise revenue collections and steered clear of the controversies of the Dahal government.
Earlier this year, Dr. Bhattarai’s brinkmanship pushed Dahal toward extending the tenure of the constituent assembly. Despite his growing popularity in the race to succeed Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal – within the party and outside – Dr. Bhattarai remained in fetters. Just as he seemed to have made up his mind to openly challenge Dahal, the Shyam Saran brouhaha erupted.
When the Krishna Bahadur Mahara ‘cash-from-China’ controversy broke out, many a whisper emanating from the aggrieved attributed the leaked tape to someone ostensibly close to the Bhattarai faction.
During all this, the Chinese must have recognized that Dr. Bhattarai was the only Maoist prime minister Nepal could hope to get in the near term. So instead of allowing the Indians to walk away with the trophy, Beijing saw it fit to begin conferring titles in the way the Ming and Qing courts did. In doing so, the Chinese may have hoped to inject some suspicion in the minds of their principal rival for influence. Dr. Bhattarai is too much of pragmatist not to see the benefit of publicly attempting to readjust his geopolitical posture.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Treading Between These Two Thapas

From the extreme ends of the political spectrum, at almost the same time, Nepalis last week heard frantic pleas for preserving the nation’s identity.
Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal President Kamal Thapa, who has become increasingly vociferous in asserting the need to restore both Hinduism and the monarchy officially at the core of nationhood, has come out heavily against foreign egregiousness in this area.
Ideologically opposed to both religion and royalty, the Unified Maoist’s Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal, too, has acknowledged the urgency of strengthening Nepal’s ‘glorious’ identity in the face of sustained external onslaughts. What he didn’t say merits no less scrutiny. Contrary to what might have been expected from someone of his persuasion, Badal hasn’t explained how both institutions might have subverted that glory.
Nor has he expounded on how an identity he presumably believes had once stood out in the comity of nations might regain its position without them. That’s why it becomes prudent to anticipate some point of convergence between the opposite camps without the cynicism that customarily surrounds the subject.
Internally, there has been growing recognition – from votaries themselves – that the political changes ushered in since April 2006 to the detriment of the monarchy have failed to supplant the crucial pivot it had provided to the nation.
Indeed, through sheer legacy and character, Nepali Congress President Girija Prasad Koirala regained the leadership the assorted crew of activists and organizers had become tempted to arrogate to themselves in the post-uprising period. Flawed as his leadership was in terms of stemming the slide, Koirala’s departure only revealed the threat of tentativeness on holding the center. True, it may still be impolitic to equate the country’s fate with the crown and religion. Amid the inability of the successor elite to create a new anchor, howls of derision become barely distinguishable from those of despair.
The principal foreign powers have secured their ground sufficiently to acknowledge the perils of prolonged rivalry. During the last phases of the active monarchy, the United States managed to build a huge embassy largely bypassing what would have been close parliamentary scrutiny. The Indians dug in deeper by installing their long-awaited consulate in Birgunj and forcing their way directly into the northern reaches of Nepal with economic largesse. The Chinese secured a clampdown on their Tibetan challengers and much more. At this stage of republican Nepal, all three powers have reached a point unrestrained by the logic of the strategic triangle. The European Union, Japan, Pakistan and Russia all feel they have a stake in the region. Non-state advocacy groups consider themselves no less important stakeholders.
A sense of mortification prevents the architects from repudiating their blueprint. So U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake recently cited ‘progress’ in Nepal whereas the International Crisis Group described the country as not being exactly gripped by ‘chaos’. As a psychological palliative, neither assertion is comforting on the ground because of the obvious disconnect.
Conversations in private reveal the depths of the foreigners’ amazement at Nepal’s ability to rile them. Haunted from the outset by the prospect of an open-ended commitment, they have been assiduously attempting to build internal capacities to hasten an exit strategy. Every ostensible breakthrough has sowed the seeds of the next confrontation. The four-month extension of UNMIN has bought the international community time – but for what? Precipitate action would require the courage of convictions, something you know is sorely lacking when all the external players are busy scratching their heads.
The convergence between the statements of the two Thapas may have been entirely coincidental. In terms of the imperative of internally driven peace, the possibilities are too good not to cherish.

Monday, September 27, 2010

New Roads To Yesterday

*The head of government cancels his trip to New York City because the United Nations secretary-general refuses to meet him.

*The Nepali Congress ponders its next move as its dynastic head, an ailing Koirala, is in hospital.

*The chatterati expect politics to take a new turn when the ceremonial head of state returns from visit to China.

If there is any remaining hope of newness in Nepal, it surely seems to be in the refurbishing of the old. But what else can the people do?
How sensible is it to blame an assembly that has outlived its two-year life for failing to produce a prime minister even after the eighth ballot? And how different might any such premier be from the incumbent, whom voters had actually packed off into retirement?
The tentativeness of the peace process is gripped by the tantrums within the major parties. Even before all the results from the much-touted unity convention of the Nepali Congress came in, the Sher Bahadur Deuba faction began complaining of the underhanded tactics Sushil Koirala and his loyalists used to secure victory. Individuals may be free to switch camps with abandon in Nepal’s self-proclaimed most democratic party, but the convention seems to have widened emotional differences.
Within the CPN-UML, the ruling and dissident establishments are busy trying to demolish the other. But the real battle is over whether the party should align with our northern or southern neighbors, with or without the generals.
It is hard not to join in the glee over how the Maoists are now reaping what they had sown vis-à-vis the prime ministerial election process. But the ex-rebels do not seem to have exhausted their ability to amaze. After chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s withdrawal from the contest, his deputy, Mohan Baidya, now insists that the Maoists would even ready to be a part of a CPN-UML or Nepali Congress-led government if it helped toward forging national consensus. Having done so much to set the two mainstream parties apart over the past weeks, the Maoists have shown that they now need to compromise for a new government.
The international community is understandably perplexed. Clearly, UNMIN wants to abandon the field with the same fervor its critics desire to evict it. The whole brouhaha earlier this month was only about the manner. UNMIN now gets to get out on its own terms, by blaming the parties.
Amid the wackiness, hope springs eternal among some. Civil society leaders Daman Nath Dhungana and Padma Ratna Tuladhar want the protagonists to sign a new understanding, urging civil society to play a new role. But can these self-appointed messiahs go scot-free, especially since the ridiculousness of the 12-point agreement and aftermath was purely papered over by civil society’s insistence that the parties could work things out? Just because these men and women are back to donning their lawyers’, doctors’ journalists’ and activists’ hats does not absolve them from complicity in the chaos.
These are indeed remote issues when you see a caretaker government set to stay in office longer than K.I. Singh’s full-fledged administration had. All eyes are on President Ram Baran Yadav, but where is his gaze? The relevance of the question becomes apparent now that Nepal Workers and Peasants Party president Narayan Man Bijukchhe, the most vocal advocate of presidential rule, seems unsure of whether the incumbent is capable of upholding that responsibility.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Death By A Thousand Cuts

The recent troubles of two journalists have put the spotlight on the new pains gripping the profession. Not that the tribe ever really had it easy in Nepal. Under the Ranas, the only place where the dissemination of news and views stood a chance was in exile.
The dawn of democracy promised to bring a new morning for the fourth estate. Publications competed with politicians to capture the public domain. Newspapers became instruments to attain power as well as places to settle scores after the fall.
With the rise of the Panchayat system, the press and the parties fell together. But a new breed of scribes came up. The joie de vivre of the private-sector papers compensated for the staidness of the government press. Many editors masqueraded as critics of the partyless system, while the real crusaders were hurting.
If the palace press secretariat emerged as the chief national editorial board, it did its job with some semblance of order. In the 1960s, one key official was an academic while another had a degree in journalism. The man at the top during much of the 1970s and 1980s at least came to the job with a letter to the editor published in TIME magazine in defense of the crown.
The year of the referendum brought a new spring. Although the Panchayat system got a decade-long extension, the papers, like the still-banned parties, refused to let go of their freedoms. Opposition grew from within the liberal flank of the Panchayat system and was reflected in the weekly press.
When a pancha-cum-turned journalist was shot, the clumsiness of the perpetrator did not diminish the arrival of the new peril. But you still had legions of boisterous men in safari suits raking in their Dasain allowances and government advertisements, while the real opposition was toiling away. So these latter journalists participated as well as covered the movement to restore multiparty democracy in 1990.
The advent of private-sector media houses brought a new breed of young and enterprising people who tended to consider themselves only behind the king, queen and crown prince in the national order of precedence. (Not Maila Baje’s characterization but an actual assertion by a member of that group, made with a tinge of cynicism.)
Times had changed in less assuring ways. A Maoist editor was one of the early high-profile victims of that convulsion. In the aftermath of the Narayanhity carnage, the editor of the largest daily was arrested for printing an opinion piece by a top Maoist. It was perfidious alright but also provided a critical foray into the geopolitical maneuvering preceding the tragedy.
When a tabloid printed that damaging picture that forced the ostensible subject, an aspiring actress, to commit suicide, the editor’s life seemed to hang in the balance. Shortly thereafter, Nepal turned into an internationally certified death zone for journalists.
Sadly, journalists continue to lose their lives. But the increasing danger is one of a death by a thousand cuts. An editor who also happens to be an advisor to the vice-president, who has not endeared him to anyone, is arrested for having printed an advertisement for recruitment in a banned armed outfit.
Another reporter, visible on the increasingly rancorous water resources beat for a leading daily, is prosecuted for sexually harassing a co-worker. There are just too many holes. The story behind the stories is probably already having a chilling effect in the trade.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Anxiety Attack, Conventional Conceit

As it prepares for its crucial 12th general convention, the Nepali Congress has notched up some notable successes in its self-rejuvenation campaign. The organization has drawn in some 180,000 new members, with those in the 18-35 age group comprising some 29 percent of the entrants. Regardless of whether this would be enough to reverse what was becoming a gerontocracy, there is a palpable sense of optimism within.
The leadership has been busy projecting the upcoming event as a celebration of unity. This is understandable since it is the first convention after the reunification of the Koirala and Deuba factions. Concerns that the rift remains to be fully healed have pervaded the discourse on both sides.
In spreading the unity message, some of the Nepali Congress’ traditional smugness has returned. Former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba reminded the country the other day that, like it or not, the Nepali Congress is the only democratic party. A few days later, assistant general secretary Arjun Narsingh K.C. went a step further by likening the Maoists and the CPN-UML as kindergarteners when it came to democracy.
Such egotism is bound to unnerve the other major and minor parties that have stood the popular test. But the more relevant dimension of that contention is internal. How could the party that claims to have led all three of Nepal’s democratic upsurges end up contributing the most to squandering the promise of two and imperiling the third?
Did the party really play such a monumental role in, to borrow a favorite line, restoring a king that had escaped to Delhi in 1950? Or did the Nepali Congress leadership peddle that narrative to mask the ignominy of having merely signed the dotted line in the Indian capital? B.P. Koirala’s effort to marginalize the monarchy, while ideologically consistent for a dyed-in-the-wool socialist, reflected a monumental misreading of the geopolitics of the time.
The 1959 election did not mark – to borrow a more recent phrase – the end of history. The admixture of charisma and rigidity glued with impetuosity was bound to come unstuck. Prison and exile did not diminish B.P. Koirala’s sense of righteousness. When he finally acknowledged the paramountcy of external factors in Nepal, B.P. crafted it in the guise of a national reconciliation policy, which was essentially an effort to mask the original letdown.
The Nepali Congress’ retelling of the 1990 story was another self-serving embellishment of what was a new geopolitical turn. Fear of the extremists taking the field nudged the palace and opposition parties, in tandem with the external protagonists, to accelerate what was essentially a work in progress. In the ensuing tussle, the Nepali Congress had time and popular tide on its side.
The arrogance bred by the desire to monopolize the democratic space could only come with its natural corollary: an abiding fear of relegation to the opposition in open and competitive politics. In blaming the palace, the CPN-UML or the Maoists for the October 2002 meltdown, the Nepali Congress establishment simply refused to take responsibility for the sequence events that culminated in the party split earlier in the year.
By forcing the palace to restore the House of Representatives, G.P. Koirala vindicated a stance that some of his closest colleagues had begun to doubt. But to what effect? Compared to 1951 and 1990, the 2006 script had even far little to do with the Nepali Congress. That the Nepalese people had to return to the man most responsible for the last democratic debacle for their supposed salvation was a reflection of the anomaly of the time, something the Maoists played on.
If the former rebels ended up driving the early phase of the peace process, it was because they had entered the mainstream with a firm intent to hammer away the Nepali Congress quest to monopolize the political space, if not necessarily to supplant it. It has become amusing for a far wider audience to see some of the same people in the Nepali Congress who once found it politically chic to hail the Maoists for having raised their weapons in defense of the people to now come out and criticize the former rebels for failing to become full-fledged civilian party.
You did not have to have a tinge of a Marx, Lenin or Maoist to recognize the common political, economic and social cords the Nepali Congress and the monarchy shared. With that link sundered, the party could only be left gasping for air. The death of the patriarch accelerated the sputters.
From the flux, the Nepali Congress may still be able to reinvent itself in accordance with the country’s requirements. And Nepal would be better for it. So when Deuba and his ilk regurgitate how the Nepali Congress is the only democratic party around, their conceit is not the real problem. It is their attempt to palm off an anxiety attack as a burst of confidence.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Techniques Of Recording And Reading Tapes

As the reverberations from latest Maoist audiotape scandal continue to head in all directions, this much is clear. Krishna Bahadur Mahara is having such a hard time denying that it was his voice that we all heard that he has not bothered pursuing that line of defense.
From his contention, it seems the contents of those two conversations were an amalgamation of disparate statements he might have made in different contexts. Once the answers were conveniently compiled, saboteurs easily crafted their questions.
Outlandish perhaps, but Mahara’s assertion is not implausible. The pauses, cadences, ambient noise and gratuitous whispers together with the muffled quality of the second recording raise new questions. The purported Chinese accent could very well belong to anyone sharing a linguistic legacy with the Middle Kingdom.
The first few questions could easily have come from a news reporter, a doctoral student, or a purely personal acquaintance intent on finding out what really ails the world’s newest republic.
The price tag Mahara purportedly quoted could have meant something else, like, say, his estimation of how much the Indians were paying the 50 MPs to stay away from voting for the Maoists. How are we to be sure the “help” the “friend” was offering was the Rs.500 million referred to? Maybe the “friend” had a Sun Tzu-like exhortation for the Maoists that would create uncertainties for rivals through the application of direct and indirect non-financial maneuvers.
Indeed, the haggling over the venue of a meeting between Mahara and the “friend” over the two conversations raises problems. Saying Hong Kong had a large Nepalese community that could spark all manner of speculation, Mahara wants Chengdu. But the interlocutor is reluctant, saying he does not want any impression of government complicity. Singapore is another potential destination for Mahara, but the interlocutor seems to suggest somewhere more accessible without a special permit. In the end, Hong Kong or Singapore emerge as possible venues.
Here, too, the interlocutor might be talking about a “friend” seeking to write an authorized biography of Mahara. How could a man active in Nepali Congress student politics during the referendum period emerge as a leading Maoist? B.P. Koirala sought to veer closer to the palace to ward off what he saw was a growing Indian-Soviet nexus in South Asia. Did that revolt Mahara and goad him toward a radical nationalism that no political force had espoused? Maybe someone from a leading think tank in Beijing was anxious to probe that dimension of China’s regional developments in the past to extrapolate lessons for its peaceful and harmonious rise?
Then there is the question of how the tape was recorded. Mahara insists that Nepal Telecom, his service provider, does not have the technology to do so. Did the U.S. National Security Agency listen in on a series of conversations as part of its job of monitoring terrorism chatter and forward those bits and pieces to India’s Research and Analysis Wing as part of counterterrorism collaboration? Were there willing accomplices within the Maoists, sore over the way Pushpa Kamal Dahal succeeded in keep losing the prime ministerial election for the simple intention of keeping any other rival emerging from the party? If so, were those Nepalese voices heard in between apparently directing which segments to play up?
Of course, Maila Baje concedes the tapes could be what they are. In that case, it only goes on to prove that the Maoists, as their critics contend, have a far way to go to becoming a civilian party. In a place where even walls have ears, you just don’t put money where your mouth is, especially not when you don’t know who the person on the other end really may be.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Man On A Mission With A Message

Upendra Yadav is a man on a mission. Over the weekend, the former foreign minister described India as the main obstacle to solution of the two-decade long Bhutanese refugee problem. The chairman of the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF) also threw in his lot with the Maoists and emphasized the urgency of extending the tenure of United Nations Mission in Nepal.
You have to hand it to the ex-Maoist lawyer. He has come closer than any former foreign minister in identifying the crux of the Bhutanese refugee problem, as far as Nepal is concerned. Citing Bhutanese insincerity, Yadav said, India always chose to remain silent whenever the Nepalese government sought its help in resolving the crisis. “So, Nepal alone cannot do anything to repatriate the refugees,” he said in a conversation with a Bhutanese delegation at his residence.
Yadav told the Bhutanese team that Nepal’s Madhesi people were in a better position than the traditional elite to empathize with the refugees, owing to their “similar suppression” from those in power. He assured the Bhutanese team that he would raise their concerns with caretaker Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and other leaders. What kind of reassurance that must have instilled in his interlocutors in our own tottering times is best left to the imagination. Still, it was an act of boldness on the part of the MJF leader.
He was no less audacious in directing his attention to UNMIN. The mission’s role was still relevant, Yadav averred, as the country was not yet free from the danger of conflict. Though reborn as a republic, some anti-republic forces were actively working to fulfill their motives, he claimed. Considering his recent own dalliances around that five-star hotel in front of the former palace, Maila Baje is forced to wonder what exactly he has in mind. But, then, you cannot discount the import of that assertion precisely because of Yadav’s motions.
In any case, not everything he said should inspire cynicism. Pointing to the threats of conflict from a number of armed outfits operating especially in the Eastern and the Terai regions, Yadav said UNMIN could play a role in roping these groups into the mainstream of peace.
If you think Yadav exudes the kind of confidence any incumbent foreign minister should, there may be a good reason. He probably rues the fact that by this time he would have returned to the job under a Pushpa Kamal Dahal government, were it not for Indian obstructionism. So even if you think his comments on Bhutan and UNMIN sounded more like they were meant for audiences across the southern border, at least try not to tune them out. Not just yet.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The Refuge Of Affectations

The sullen demeanor Shyam Saran wore on his departure from Kathmandu should not obscure us to the success he believes he achieved during his three-day sojourn as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s special envoy. Notwithstanding the secrecy with which the former foreign secretary conducted himself, as far as the substance of his confabulations went, Saran succeeded in widening the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-Baburam Bhattarai rift – conceding nothing – in keeping with the original intent of the 12-point accord.
Contrary to expectations in many quarters, the former ambassador to Nepal was not on a mission to handpick the next prime minister. He wanted to throw down the dice once again in an effort to force the other two principal players, China and the United States, to make their next move. In a sense, he was on a mission to salvage his personal credibility. And to understand the mission, it becomes to understand the man.
Saran represents that face of India’s Nepal policy that has taken the hardest hit. The Sitaram Yechuris and S.D. Munis could have hollered at the top of their lungs forever on the wisdom of abandoning the monarchy. Without the pulling the Indian External Affairs Ministry firmly in their camp, Messrs. Y&M wouldn’t have stood a chance. Predilection and circumstances made Saran the perfect medium.
Emulating the perfect babu, Saran rose in the Ministry of External Affairs by playing all sides. He succeeded in wooing opposite personalities like A.P. Venkateshwaran and Muchkund Dubey with equal gusto, keeping his true self to himself. Working the media, he even succeeded in turning an upsetting appointment as ambassador to Myanmar into an act of energetic altruism.
Returned to power in 2004, the Congress-led government of Manmohan Singh merely confirmed its Bharatiya Janata Party-led predecessor’s decision to catapult Saran to the position of foreign secretary. His admirers on left, however, never lost faith in his ideological moorings. The Maoists on both sides of the border had to be stopped before they eroded the space of the mainstream communists.
Despite his own predilections against the monarchy as an historical anachronism, Saran as foreign secretary could not have pushed the MEA to make a final break and press the Maoist-Seven Party Alliance 12-point agreement. But External Affairs Minister Kunwar Natwar Singh’s disgraceful exit from the ministry on allegations of complicity in the U.N. oil-for-food scandal in Iraq, left the field open for Saran. After King Gyanendra helped shift South Asia’s geopolitical locus at the Dhaka summit in November 2005, Saran won over many skeptics.
The Manmohan Singh government, despite its reliance on the Indian left, needed more prodding. Governments come and go but the Indian nation would have to live with the consequences of any precipitous move, especially one entailing the abolition of an entire institution. With Singh having assumed direct charge over the MEA, Saran was well placed to present his case personally to the top man. King Gyanendra, familiar with Saran’s antecedents and antics as ambassador and after, excluded him from joining the palace deliberations with Karan Singh. Saran, who considered himself nothing less than a co-equal on that mission, was understandably irked. Once back home, he almost singlehandedly pulled India away from the twin-pillar policy by presenting to his government as a fait accompli the “mood” on Kathmandu’s streets.
Like some of his predecessors who had become foreign secretary after ambassadorial or No.2 stints at Lainchour, Saran was already seeing himself in larger-than-life hues. He had the added disadvantage of assuming charge of the MEA bureaucracy after the viceroyalty in Nepal. Exacerbating the megalomania was the fact that he worked directly under the prime minister until October 2006. Once Pranab Mukherjee became foreign minister, Saran’s glory days ended.
The Indian Administrative Service, eager to ensure its primacy over all things bureaucratic, rose up against Prime Minister Singh’s effort to get Saran a year-long extension. So he won appointment as the Prime Minister’s Office as a special representative. His media buddies lavished him with praise for the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal and prophesied better things in his new brief: climate-change envoy.
Meanwhile, the new foreign secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon – who like Saran superseded more experienced officers – gave a candid admission of how difficult his job had become as the MEA pulled in different directions under his predecessor. On Nepal, New Delhi’s tentativeness had become clearer. Every move in Nepal’s republican set-up was now a work in progress measurable against the Saran roadmap. By the time Menon became National Security Adviser, Saran had sunk deeper in conflict with State Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh. There was little he could do but head for the PMO exit door.
With the prospect of irrelevance looming larger, Saran could no longer see his judgment questioned so widely. So he contrived the pretense that the centrality of the 12-point agreement – the weakening of the Nepalese Maoists – remained as workable as ever. The Nepal mission, Maila Baje understands, was largely drawn up at Saran’s own initiative.
So what’s the deal here? By appearing to prop up Dr. Bhattarai, Saran believes he can restrain Dahal from hobnobbing any further with royalists as well as Beijing. Should Dr. Bhattarai get the premiership, his own pro-Indian image would be an albatross around the Maoists’ neck making the prospect of a party split untenable. That way, the Americans, forced to deal with the Maoists as a single organization, would be less emboldened to play off the Indians and Chinese against one other.
The secret meetings that really counted for Saran were the ones with Dahal and Dr. Bhattarai. While reminding each of the commitments he had made during the 12-point agreement negotiations, Saran must have been explicit in spelling out his expectations as well as the cost of non-compliance. Dr. Bhattarai himself has added his voice – albeit still muffled – to the chorus against foreign interference, hasn’t he?

Monday, August 02, 2010

Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled

“Nepal royals & Maoists making common cause worries India,” the top Nepal watcher for venerable Times of India intimated us the other day. Quoting unnamed sources that the former king’s son-in-law was lobbying for Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s bid to become prime minister by “trying to buy off some constituent assembly members particularly from the smaller parties,” the correspondent went on to speculate on the motives for the “bizarre development … that is certain to upset India”. (Whether Dahal’s improved tally in the third round of voting had anything to do to royal patronage might be worthy of a follow-up.)
After professing the perfunctory proviso that it was not clear whether the son-in-law was actually on behalf of the ex-king, the reporter went on to blur the distinction. Why would Gyanendra Shah embark on such a venture? “Certainly there is absolutely no chance of the Maoists reinstalling the monarchy.”
Probably not. But who knows what the Chinese are up to? It would be relevant to note that a long-time royal associate turned critic reminded us recently that Dahal had pledged to support the monarchy if Beijing expressly asked him to do so. You could argue that Dahal chose not to challenge that assertion because he had made the purported undertaking at a time the monarchy was an established – and perhaps eternal – fact. But, then, you are also forced to reflect on the Maoist leader’s innate ability not to foreclose any option.
There is a constituency across the southern border that believes the Maoists could win the largest number of seats in constituent assembly elections because King Gyanendra lobbied on the ex-rebels behalf. By urging the Nepalese people to vote in the interest of the nation, the monarch was sending a thinly veiled instruction to his silent supporters to vote for the Maoists. The royalist vote, no matter how minuscule, tipped the balance for the Maoists in many constituencies, according to this version.
Whether the ex-monarch’s apparent rehabilitation among sections of constituencies that campaigned to “teach him a lesson” during 2005-2006 was rooted in that realization remains a strand the TOI reporter chose not to pursue. It would also be germane not to ignore the publication’s penchant for subterfuge. During the height of the Seven-Party Alliance-Maoist engagement in New Delhi, the TOI wrote about how India’s left hand was in the dark about what the right hand was doing. As we all know, both had been firmly clasped together.
In the search for answers, the journo also speculated that, like India’s former royalty, Gyanendra Shah may be searching for some political relevance by aligning his family with the biggest political player in Nepal. Or the former royal family, knowing India’s discomfort with the Maoists, could be looking for something from New Delhi. “Either way, this is not a welcome development so far as India is concerned.”
Judging from other reports, New Delhi sought to make its displeasure known before the publication of the report in what has long been considered the government’s unofficial mouthpiece. Under strict instructions from the Madhav Kumar Nepal government, security officers deployed during the former king’s latest temple sojourn went on the offensive against journalists seeking to ask him a few questions.
The effort to malign the ex-king sputtered. Days after Mr. Shah promptly apologized for the untoward incident, former crown prince Paras drew another impressive crowd (for him) in the Terai, a region throughout monarchy years we were led to believe was the most virulently republican.
There have been further developments that should confound the TOI reporter. Royalist foreign minister Ramesh Nath Pandey suddenly meets President Ram Baran Yadav at a time when the maligned home minister of the time, Kamal Thapa, days after asserting that even the Maoists have started feeling the absence of the monarchy, sets off on a visit to Europe.
Or maybe the TOI reporter, in the grand tradition of the publication, is faking it. Like much of the rest of anti-monarchy constituency that has realized its miscalculation, the journo perhaps wants to make it look like the Chinese alone are writing the script for the next act.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Geography Of Political Thought

As many legislators voted for Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal as cast their ballots against Nepali Congress vice-president Ram Chandra Poudel in the second round of voting for prime minister last week. Unless the frenzied behind-the-scenes jockeying that we all can sense is under way produces something spectacular, Nepal seems set for an extended spell of parliamentary gaucherie.
Yet there seems to be a dark horse lurking behind the shenanigans. Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Democratic) leader and Deputy Prime Minister Bijay Kumar Gachhadar has made no secret of his prime ministerial ambitions. Given the unabashed way in which the Madhes-based parties are bent on extracting their pound of flesh, Gachhadar’s time may have indeed come.
The president and vice-president already represent the region and a premier with roots there is unlikely to resolve the Madhes issue. After all, playing up the discrimination card has proved politically potent for all within the country and geopolitically invaluable for those outside. Nepalis, for their part, have recognized the geographic, ethnic, linguistic and socio-cultural variations in the debate. But non-Madhesis, apparently, are expected to be more of listeners than anything else.
If Girija Prasad Koirala was not considered rooted deeply enough locally to prevent a hemorrhage toward regionalism from the Nepali Congress – including some longtime loyalists – no ethnic hillsman or woman can expect to drive the deliberations. Yet the agenda needs to be advanced in a manner consistent with the aspirations of all Nepalis if a constitution with a modicum of credibility is to emerge.
Gachhadar remains part of the madhesi alliance whose common platform barely disguises its divisions. Still, he wields enough individual and ideological distinctiveness to rise to the occasion. As a Tharu, Gachhadar could refocus attention on the nuances of the Madhes debate. A supporter of restoring the Hindu character of the Nepali state, he could inject relevance into the national picture whose hues have shifted after the heady exhilaration of the spring of 2006.
Now that we have heard rumors of an estimated price tag of 200 million rupees on Nepali secularism, there is some urgency to revisit the haste with which Nepalis had to let go of Hinduism before contemplating casting aside the kingdom. Although Gachhadar has not explicitly endorsed the restoration of the monarchy, he certainly possesses the capacity to press forward that side of the national debate as well.
Then there is Gachhadar’s recent open claim, fresh from consultations in New Delhi, that he enjoys India’s blessings as far as the unfolding political developments are concerned. Considering that assertion, the Chinese can be expected to become more energetic in opposing or coopting him. The Americans would have an easy time playing both sides. On the bright side, you wouldn’t have to be a terminal cynic to appreciate the invigorating candor of it all.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Proportions And Politics Of Prejudice

Vice-President Parmanand Jha certainly spoke for much of the country last week. “Even after the year-long extension of the constituent assembly, the Nepalese people are not at all certain whether they will get their constitution,” he declared.
Seeking to prove the Veep wrong, the major parties have set April 13, 2011 as the date for promulgating the new statute. Seeking to project an element of seriousness to their assertion, they gave a two-month timetable to the state restructuring commission to come up with recommendations on one of the more contentious issues. Yet 22 out of the 25 parties in the assembly registered their disagreement over the decision by the Nepali Congress, the CPN-UML and the UCPN-Maoist to form the commission. Not quite a confidence booster.
That’s where Jha’s other assertion gains relevance. In order to build an inclusive society, he said, it is vital to enact inclusive acts and put into practices rather than limiting them into mere words. It would be wrong to view the preceding as a mere reiteration of Jha’s well-known claims of anti-Madhesi discrimination. Things are different this time, something even the Veep appears to acknowledge.
In a statement he made a few days earlier, Jha had the candor to claim that discrimination had been reduced to some extent. The top two – albeit ceremonial – offices have gone to the community. The caretaker premier is associated with the Terai constituency he lost in the last test of popular strength than the Kathmandu neighborhood that spurned him. Moreover, a Madhesi leader is among the men staking their claim to form the next government.
And all this is happening at a time when we still haven’t settled on who is a madhesi or what it take to be one – geography, ethnicity, skin color, verbal intonation, political sympathies, social behaviors, etc.
“Why can’t the state openly accept that there exists discrimination at the state level?” “Is it incorrect to demand equal representation?” When Jha asks such questions, they must be taken as rhetorical ones. Otherwise, the deadliness of the Maoist insurgency and the difficulties of peace process are there for all of us to see.
Stung by the parochialism that marred his last attempt at prominence, the Veep has attempted to rope in the cause of other marginalized groups. But the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) has opted to break its own new ground. It declared a fresh stir to pressurize the political parties to draft the constitution on time. “It is immaterial for us which party leads the government and who is elevated as next prime minister,” Rajkumar Lekhi-Tharu, the chairman of NEFIN, said at a press conference. “We want a constitution that ensures rights to the Janajatis,” he said repeatedly.
Finally, someone seems to have their priorities right. NEFIN has declared economic blockade August 14, 2010 for Kathmandu valley and disruption of vehicle movement throughout the country. If this is not the kind of common cause Jha had hoped to build, then perhaps he should begin wooing other constituencies that now feel dispossessed, such as, say, Brahmins and Chettris.
As to the issue of discrimination in general, someone once said that if we were to wake up some morning and find that everyone was the same race, creed and color, we would find some other causes for prejudice by noon. Another averred that human history is written by the fluid of prejudice. Still another claimed that everyone is a prisoner of his own experiences; no one can eliminate prejudices – they can just recognize them.
What do you do after that? Prejudice, not being founded on reason, cannot be removed by argument, we are told. Since it is all in the mind, if you believe that discrimination exists, it will. These nuggets of human wisdom accumulated over experiences good and bad over the centuries have their relevance in our context. But for the international laboratory that we have become, there is that added problem. We can’t really recognize where the highlighting of discrimination ends and the rationalization and legitimization of it begins.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Watching All Those Skeletons Dance

After the abolition of the monarchy, many Nepalis expected a torrent of putrefaction gushing endlessly deep from the bowels of Narayanhity Palace. A few enterprising scribes brought out purported “exposes” they were careful enough to qualify as works of fiction. Beyond that, it has been period of disappointment for thrill seekers.
Two years after the last king vacated the palace, no underground torture chamber has surfaced. There has not been the faintest trace of any grand harem. The elusiveness of the shrines to royal decadence and debauchery is weighing down the most fervent forager. For all its worth, the palace, since it was turned into a museum, has made international news for its monumental drabness – and that, too, for about five minutes. As former royalist minister Prakash Koirala mused the other day, who would have expected the last crown prince to get the kind of public reception he now revels in?
Yet skeletons have been tumbling out of other closets. Nepalis have become more informed of the machinations of the palace bureaucracy, the incivility of the military secretariat and the insecurity posed by a bevy of collateral royals. These days, the Mallas, Thapas and Pandes all have their advocates pushing their own versions of history. Everybody has reputation to destroy. Corrupt parvenus are juxtaposed with ostensibly pedigreed multi-millionaires. Palpalis undermined traditional Gorkhali families. Traitors to the king and country were repeatedly rewarded. The loyal and the honest were continually sidelined. Victim and aggressor alike pose a holier-than-thou pretense that enlivens the narrative.
Perspectives abound from outside as well. Yet they seem to hide more than they reveal. Take the two most gripping examples. The man who helped found the Rastrabadi Swatantra Bidyarthi Mandal continues to tell us of his disenchantment with the Panchayat system. Reborn as a journalist after the referendum, he invited such wrath from the princes that only a clumsy gunman appeared capable of providing the anti-climax. Yet there are elements of Edensque proportions that are missing from the story, especially after our own drug wars got nastier amid the American crackdown in the mid-1970s. Politics alone cannot – and must not be allowed to – explain events that may be actually rooted in the growing exclusivity of economic opportunity.
In another exposition, we learned how King Mahendra’s supposed emissary to Mao Zedong years later got an invite from Indira Gandhi. By that time, the interlocutor, by his own admission, refused the monarch’s advance request for a debriefing. His locus standi does not surface in any appreciable way, given the seriousness of his purported involvement. Nor does it emerge in any way how the man mustered the courage to defy whom conventional wisdom has held to be the most vengeful among our modern monarchs.
Yet the gentleman seems to have possessed rare indispensability. Years ago, Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal is said to have assured him that the rebels would accept the monarchy if the Chinese specifically asked them to do so. The gentleman’s failure to facilitate dialogue between the two sides brought another revelation. The Americans and Indians had entrenched themselves too deep on opposite sides of the breach at a time when they were publicly touting the convergence of their views.
Maila Baje tends to find the Newar families that have traditionally served the palace – some over several generations – the most reticent when it comes to giving out even off-the-record royal tid-bits. Should that change, we can expect things to reach a new level of spiciness. Until then, let’s appreciate the skeletons we get to their barest bones – mindful of the ambiguities and obfuscations accompanying the cracks and crevices.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Flashback: Who Do We Want Maoists To Be?

India’s Maoists accuse their Nepali brethren of betraying the cause. At the same time, Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram believes our ex-rebels may be arming his country’s increasingly lethal insurgents. The truth must lie somewhere in between.
Clearly, our Maoists succeeded far beyond their wildest dreams. The Nepali Congress had democracy on their side. Yet their insurgencies faltered almost from the start. When the Jhapali Reds began hunting heads, skulls should have accumulated across the country. After all, the people who abhorred the partyless government had no other way of articulating their sentiments. Leaders in those two groups came in various shapes and sizes. There must have been a reason beyond ideology, injustices and idiosyncrasies for the Maoists’ triumph.
With that question, Maila Baje slipped into sleep. The probe persisted with every move of the eye, starting from that April midnight in 1990. King Birendra lifted the ban on political parties to checkmate the Indians, who were pressuring him to Bhutanize Nepal. New Delhi was stunned by the monarch’s impudence but it certainly was not out of options. While Nepalis were dancing and singing their way to “one of the world’s best constitutions”, the real fight had entered a more virulent round.
Controlled chaos was always the operational term on India’s Nepal file. In the post-1990 years, it seemed far easier to operationalize. The Chinese, on the other hand, pulled back from their Panchayat-era assertiveness, only after ceding space to their allies, the Pakistanis. As the Nepali Congress squandered opportunity after opportunity, the Unified Marxist-Leninists were getting too big for their boots. Enter the Maoists.
Clearly, the palace saw the Maoist rebellion as a vindication of its disbelief in the Fukuyaman end-of-history exegesis the mainstream parties had been peddling. More important, however, was the dominant Indian and Western view of this ragtag band of extreme Nepali leftists. They could come in handy to show the UML its place. The Nepali Congress, not too soon, was mesmerized by the prospect. Sure, success would swell the Maoists’ head, too. But that was for another day.
By the end of the nineties, Nepalis had a revelation. The world’s only Hindu state’s relations with India had never been as bad as it had during the first few years of the ascension of a Hindu nationalist-led government in New Delhi. Of course, the palace’s ties with prominent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders remained excellent. But they were Indians first. Across the southern border, the dump-the-monarchy cabal was ready for the final battle King Birendra had apprehended from moment of his enthronement. By the time of the Narayanhity massacre, this group of Indians believed they had an organized group ready to take control.
In the West, the monarchy had more influential allies than adversaries. But that changed after the US Republicans’ White House win in 2000. When the neocons in the wider West discovered that King Birendra and Crown Prince Dipendra were up to something not in conformity with their worldview, the equations shifted. As vital as Nepal was as a geopolitical prize, it was menacing as the world’s only Hindu state. Nepal was among the six most difficult countries to spread the Gospel. The godless Maoists could not be the answer.
The India-West divide became apparent after the carnage when Zee News and Star News were confidently reporting that no one had survived the Narayanhity massacre and that thousands of Maoists were moments away from capturing the palace. CNN was equally certain about that Prince Gyanendra was safe in Pokhara. The Maoists who were supposed to storm Narayanhity simply melded into the crowd of mourners.
The Maoists recognized they were totally in India’s lap now. This was not a source of comfort to the Indian government. But those who botched up had an instant CYA moment. In the eyes of much of the world, the Great Helmsman and his legacy were associated more with the Chinese. Why not paint the new king as pro-Chinese, notwithstanding the fact that his entire business associations had been with the Indians?
The Indians enjoyed plausible deniability. And there were other interests at play. Controlled chaos meant peace as a prelude to more virulent war. Every life lost became a statistic. Every infrastructure blown up was a potential opportunity for reconstruction.
The Maoists’ success rested on their flexibility with alliances. If being branded as palace lackeys helped, that was fine for the time. If allying with India helped perpetuate the myth the Nepal would become a paradise the moment the monarchy was out, that was good, too. War and peace, purity and flexibility all became interchangeable concepts and campaigns. Without the arsenal of Dr. Baburam Bhattarai’s words, Pushpa Kamal Dahal would have had long lost his war on the battlefield.
The external investment paid off in 2005, when King Gyanendra did what his brother or nephew would have done: adjust Nepal’s geopolitical locus. The see-we-told-you-so grin on the Indians was too wide to measure for the mortified westerners. With the monarchy finally out of the way, the Maoists could be mainstreamed as part of India’s national-security strategy.
To their good fortune, the Maoists joined the mainstream at a time of great geopolitical shift. Chinese President Hu Jintao visited New Delhi but not without instructing his ambassador there to reaffirm claims to Indian-held territory. After using former U.S. president Jimmy Carter to validate their electoral triumph and rise to power, the Maoists looked northward.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s men and women, in the eyes of China’s Nepal pointman, Wang Hong-wei, not only emerged as the largest party. It is also the best placed to unite all nationalist elements. Yet, considering all that has happened, the Chinese, too, must be wondering who they would like the Maoists to be. That was the question Maila Baje woke up to and has been pondering ever since.

Originally posted on October 26, 2009

Monday, June 28, 2010

Chicken Soup For The Meddling Soul

At times, the comparisons must be getting too uncomfortable for Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood. He enjoys nowhere near the power of his legendary predecessor, Chandreshwar Prasad Narayan Singh.
Okay, maybe he does. It’s just that Sood doesn’t monopolize matters the same way. For one thing, the Great Meddler didn’t have to contend with the Americans, Europeans or the Chinese.
Today politicians in power do everything to woo Sood to stay there. Those outside castigate him eternally. And those who want back in are more liable to see attacks on Sood and his establishment as the surest path to success.
The newspapers have been after him all along. Even supposedly friendly ones are at it now. The Indian government’s federal-state administrative rigmarole makes for a weird inspection procedures on newsprint and pretty much everything, but our aggrieved media house goes public – and gains sympathetic amplification
Sood is Nepal’s new king, the Wall Street Journal blog, "India Real Time", suggested the other day, quoting the sentiment of some journalists. “[Sood] can meet the prime minister anytime he wants and call the ministers and give directions,” one scribe from the affected newspaper was quoted as saying. “That’s far beyond what any normal diplomatic protocols allow.” As if that’s a privilege only the Indian ambassador enjoys these days.
The media house thinks India is paying back for having leaked Sood’s letter demanding that Nepal grant India the contract to print the machine-readable passports both for security and financial reasons. (What about the payback India expects for the 12-point agreement?)
It was reported that the Indian Embassy had had a hand in forcing a change of ownership in the said media house a couple of years ago. Perhaps the beneficiaries have been enticed and emboldened by far more powerful patrons? Again, all this may be a red herring for some real scoop in the days and weeks ahead. But the media, here, is merely a footnote in the larger story.
When news came in that Sood was being sent to Nepal instead of Jayant Prasad, the son of former ambassador Bimal Prasad, there was an air of anticipation. In Afghanistan, he was credited with ensuring the turnaround from an incorrigibly pro-Pakistan nation to one more conducive to India. An expert on disarmament, Sood’s tenure could have had special relevance in Nepal. He is among the few Indian deputy chiefs of mission who continue to be talked about in Washington.
Yet during his tenure, Nepal has slipped significantly – and certifiably – away from India’s orbit. Every time the American ambassador acknowledges China as an equal stakeholder in Nepal, Sood’s superiors must seethe at their man on the ground.
But His Excellency may draw some comfort from history. Some of his predecessors have risen to become foreign secretary, while others are still consulted for their expertise on the country. Given Sood’s uneasy ties with Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, it might be helpful to review C.P.N. Singh’s brush with B.P. Koirala.
“It is said openly in Katmandu that the ‘real ruler of Nepal today’ is Indian Ambassador Sir C. P. N. Singh,” The New York Times had reported on December 16, 1952. Indeed, B.P. Koirala was so upset about Singh’s behavior that he demanded his recall as a precondition to improved Nepal-India relations. B.P., of course, had a personal grudge. First, he saw Singh catapult an obscure man called Bhadrakali Mishra as a Nepali Congress member in the coalition cabinet led by Mohan Shamsher Rana.
Mishra instigated B.P. to quit the cabinet en masse on the ground that he would automatically be invited to lead a ‘homogenous” Nepali Congress government. Instead, King Tribhuvan asked Matrika Prasad Koirala. B.P. never forgave Singh for preventing him from becoming Nepal’s first post-Rana premier.
When the Nepali Congress won the first general election and King Mahendra showed no sign of inviting him to form the new government, B.P. had learned his lesson well. While seeking Jawaharlal Nehru’s intervention with the palace, B.P. was careful to display due deference to the then Indian ambassador. It worked.
When the Indians tried reminding B.P. of that “favor”, especially during his talks on his way to and from Israel, Koirala ascribed his position purely to the people’s mandate. (How Nepal’s political history may have evolved had Subarna Shamsher Rana become Nepal’s first elected premier, as many in the Nepali Congress had desired, is worthy of deeper analysis.)
C.P.N. Singh found that the exertions of office would not go unrewarded. Back home, he became governor of Punjab. As B.P. prepared to assume the premiership, Singh was serving as ambassador to Japan. Amid B.P.’s incarceration, exile and infirmity, Singh would go on to head the Reserve Bank of India and serve as governor of Uttar Pradesh.
As for the legacy of interference, Singh lives on through his daughter-in-law’s television broadcasts into Nepal. The odds are Sood will have his payback – with interest.