Sunday, January 10, 2010

How Deviously Some Envy The Departed

Madan Bhandari lives on spotlessly in the national consciousness not just because he was an eloquent public speaker and avowed nationalist who was cut down in his prime. Part of the reason is that he never wielded real power and patronage, at least not of the kind that so easily taints. So when Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal decided to dip into Bhandari’s legacy the other day, it was hard to avoid that tinge of covetousness.
Dahal’s declarations and denials don’t matter here. We know that Bhandari was killed shortly after he held extensive consultations with King Birendra and unequivocally acknowledged the palace as a major force. We also know that the UML general secretary was scheduled to meet Nepali Congress’ Ganesh Man Singh over the country’s perilous southward drift. We learned last week that Dahal himself was supposed to have met Bhandari to stanch the widely felt erosion of Nepaliness.
In arrogating to himself the Birendra-Bhandari pedestal, Dahal raises an important question. Who exactly was the future rebel-in-chief then? Bhandari, as we know, was not terribly impressed by what known radicals like Mohan Bikram Singh and Nirmal Lama still had to say. But, then, who remembered Bhandari’s own antecedents during those edgy days? No leader had ever gotten a break in Nepali politics through a half-page interview in the leading Indian daily newspaper of the day. For many Nepalis, it was as if Bhandari simply jumped out of the Times of India to claim part of the post-Panchayat province.
When payback time came, something changed somewhere. The Marxist-Leninists became the fiercest proponents of the two-thirds-vote-ratification provision in the constitution on key treaties. Leading the charge against Girija Prasad Koirala’s Tanakpur sleight of hand, Bhandari had already earned the enmity of India. He raised the threat to his personal security a couple of notches by hobnobbing with the West Bengal lefties. Basking in the appellation of a modern-day Marx bestowed by an American newsmagazine celebrating the end of history was one thing. But trying to export Calcutta-style left-wing control to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh was unpardonable.
Bhandari’s end must have infuriated Dahal to no end. The Maoists put the agenda of anti-Indianism higher than anti-monarchism in the declaration of war against the old state. King Birendra, by this time, was already voicing skepticism over the intentions of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, not to speak of the two major mainstream parties. For the Indians, another imperative was at play. If radical commies could help cut the UML down to size, the tirade was worth bearing.
Bhandari’s successors seemed to have learned their lesson well. But others in the party proved that nationalism was not a personality quirk of the departed soul. The party suffered a split over the Mahakali Treaty, no doubt a UML-driven extension of the Tanakpur immorality. The nationalism mantle soon exhibited its power to energize the Reds in a variety of ways. Every comrade with an ego could not be accommodated in power. Among those who were, discontent brewed over protocol and portfolio. Across the political spectrum, patriotism became the first refuge of would-be potentates. You couldn’t really blame them. Nepalis may not know who they are. But they do know who they are not.
Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal knows that as well as anyone else. Reading the popular pulse, he came out with unusually warm words for the monarchy the other day. Nepalis must learn to appreciate important roles played by former kings in protecting our flora and fauna, he said. The prime minister was careful not to name names. But look at it this way. Although Nepal’s premier conservation agency was named for King Mahendra, the royal most associated with the color green was his second son who would go on to become the last king.
In one pithy comment, Premier Nepal praised the two most reviled kings. Was he truly overcome by that visceral approbation of the two men even the most rabid republicans cannot really conceal anymore? Or was the ghost of Madan Comrade swirling around our prime minister?
It’s not clear whether Dahal might volunteer anything more specific on the conspiracy angle of Madan Bhandari’s death. But Maila Baje has this nagging feeling that Premier Nepal and his party rival K.P. Sharma Oli are working fast and furiously somewhere to patch up their differences.