Monday, January 04, 2010

Great Republican’s Greatest Reproach

Fake republicans are dominating national politics by sidelining the real ones, Dr. Baburam Bhattarai lamented the other day. Speaking at the launch of Ram Raja Prasad Singh’s biography, the Maoist leader said his party had proposed making the Great Republican Nepal’s first president for a greater cause.
At the inauguration of the Narayanhity Museum in 2008, Indian ambassador Rakesh Sood had all but congratulated Singh in advance, saying heavy responsibilities would be coming his way. But higher powers willed otherwise. This was to be another Ram’s burden to bear.
Whether Ram Raja might have been a better post-monarchist than he was an anarchist can be debated forever. At a more mundane level, the fact that ill health prevented him from attending the launch of his own biography forces us to wonder whether we should have saddled him with such onerous responsibilities. But ponder we must on why he did not get the job.
The presidency was something Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal realized he did not want. It was not because his critics had branded him the “wall president”. (And let us not forget that Dahal was the chief executive of first organized republican movement that succeeded.) As campaigning for the constituent assembly elections advanced, Dahal lowered his sights to the premiership.
You could argue that part of the reason was that the Maoists wanted to dangle the presidency in front of Nepali Congress president Girija Prasad Koirala to wean him away from any residual support within the party for any kind of monarchy. The Maoist rank and file agreed that the Koiralas who built the Nepali Congress on the back of the monarchy could eventually bury the party with the crown.
Even if they had genuinely wanted Koirala at the helm, the presidency was not something the Maoists’ alone to bestow. For one thing, not everyone was impressed by Sood’s public validation of Ram Raja. After all, there was the case of that other Singh, Ganesh Man. The supreme leader of People’s Movement I was good enough for the Indians only until he formally declared that the Zone of peace proposal would find no place in the new constitution. After that, he could only be a liability. Ganesh Man had to be hounded from the Nepali Congress.
The other political parties had other ideas about Ram Raja. His claim to republicanism was the graduate constituency election campaign during King Mahendra’s Panchayat years. In fairness, that was not small undertaking. But after the palace tided over that challenge, Singh’s grenades-on-mango-trees speeches did not carry him much further. He had to make a cameo and set off real bombs in the mid-eighties. The Nepali Congress and key mainstream communists still believe the palace had engineered those blasts in an effort to subvert the satyagraha that was gaining momentum. The royals had merely paid off Ram Raja to claim credit for the attacks.
Key communists believed Ram Raja deprived them of their first real chance of ousting the panchas. B.P. Koirala, whose “inexplicable-but-true” endorsement of the referendum result strengthened the partyless regime, had departed to meet his maker. Ganesh Man Singh and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai were less ideologically inclined to oppose an alliance with the communist. So if Ram Raja had any role at all in the mid-1980s, it was to have ensured the Panchayat regime’s survival for another half-decade.
But those with a stronger sense of parallel history would surely remember that the nature of Nepal’s political system was not the defining geopolitical issue. Kathmandu had begun to strengthen ties with Beijing. In 1984, Li Xiannian had become the first Chinese president to visit Nepal. Shortly after that, China signed an agreement with Nepal – as with Pakistan – to bring regular trading caravans into its western regions, marking the first relaxation of border controls in more than 30 years.
Two months before the bomb blasts, Nepal and China had reached agreement permitting foreigners to travel to Tibet through the Himalayan mountain passes. This potential boost to our tourism industry would have lessened our economic dependence on you know which neighbor. Boom, the blasts went off. Who would want to transit in a country that couldn’t even protect its top hotel, not to speak of the palace and national legislature?
As for the Great Republican, surely, there is a more basic issue here than age and antecedents. The name Ram Baran sounds jarring enough for the first president of a secular Nepal. Wouldn’t Ram Raja have been doubly weird?