Monday, March 08, 2010

Rawal’s Rakish Recalcitrance And Reticence

No matter how this fight goes down, you have to hand it to Home Minister Bhim Rawal for steadfastness. From the outset, he recognized that, in order to claim his scalp, his critics have to come up with something better than the worst-home-minister-in-history soubriquet. Yes, even amid this egregious breakdown in law and order.
Rawal’s deputy and fellow CPN-UML member, Mohammed Rizwan Ansari, complained that the home minister juggled around top officials for considerations other than their competence. But Ansari’s moans reek far more deleteriously with the UML’s deepening factionalism.
Much was made of former inspector general of police Achyut Krishna Kharel’s reaction. All he said was that unnecessary political interference in the force, political protection to criminals and rising impunity were major contributors to the weakening security situation. Those general observations could have been as much an indictment of Bam Dev Gautam, Khum Bahadur Khadka or Govinda Raj Joshi.
Despite the compelling case of collective responsibility, however, there is something in the man in all this. As a lucid and internationally quoted chronicler of the origin and development of Nepal’s communist movement and a leading overseer of its transformation, Rawal has had rare insights into the personalities, practicalities and perfidies of our nation. So it was surprising that he would describe Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram – tautologically, one might add – a personal friend. The country wasn’t fooled just because Palanisamy managed to squeeze in some time for Rawal at Tribhuvan airport’s VVIP lounge last August while on his way to Bhutan.
But it is to New Delhi we must return to make sense of the present. What is striking is the sequence of events. In January, Rawal took a delegation to the Indian capital with the three security chiefs in tow. Anticipating the pressure he was about to face, Rawal made a pre-departure claim that the signing of an extradition treaty would not figure on his agenda. That was the pardonable part. In his exuberance, Rawal had also told the legislature that if Nepal signed the extradition treaty, “China would approach us the next moment for the same”.
The treaty was not signed – at least not publicly. (An important distinction that must be made when it comes to Nepal-India relations ever since those secret letters were exchanged with the 1950 Treaty.) Shortly thereafter, Rawal left for Beijing along with the same three security officials. Worse, the visit took place after Rawal requested a postponement of a SAARC home ministers’ meeting in Islamabad that would have brought ole pal Palanisamy face to face with his Pakistani counterpart for some straight talk.
The Chinese detailed their assistance for the deployment of the Armed Police Force along the Tibet border. Down south, it looked like Rawal was more attentive to Beijing’s request to place air marshals on Chinese airliners flying to Kathmandu.
Suddenly things got into motion. The script was two decades old. Turn the other way when rivals set out to settle scores. When reality and perception become indistinguishable, it doesn’t matter whether the act is one of commission or omission. In Rawal’s absence, Jamim Shah was eliminated on what was supposed to have been highest-level security zone. Rizwan Ansari mobilized the deputies who all cop out. If violence begat violence – as it so tragically has – then it was Rawal problem. Except he didn’t think so. If his was the only head that had to roll, Rawal wasn’t about to oblige without a rattle.
And it has been a quiet one. Even in the midst of the rising acrimony between the government and UNMIN, Rawal has not joined vociferously in castigating the world body. Part of the reason may be his advocacy of a UN role in the pre-February 2005 months. (Remember Rawal’s vigorous defense of Kul Chandra Gautam’s comparisons between Nepal and Cambodia, which the UML leader insisted was based on his own one-year experience with the UN Transitional Authority there?) But his reticence now seems equally aimed at audiences across the southern border.
Rawal must recognize the easy escape he has from his woes. “Nepal has a bitter experience that the leftist forces have played almost decisive role in every mass movement since 1950 together with other pro-people organizations,” he said in an address to a conference jointly organized by the International Left Forum and the Transform Asia Gender and Labor Institute Inc. in Manila in 2007. “Nevertheless, the rightist forces again control the state power and the country is deprived of transformation according to the will of common masses.” But he knows that, as someone who takes pride in legacy of his words, he cannot pin all this on the regressive right. Maybe that’s what impels him to stay on.