Monday, April 26, 2010

A Premier In His Prime

For a man who came to office with an image as a consensus builder, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal has surely evolved over the months. Or is he really stuck in the groove? In some ways, after all, Nepal still behaves like the leader of the opposition during much of the 1990-2002 phase of democracy, when the CPN-UML tried to decide who the ruling Nepali Congress should name premier.
Nepal announced the other day he would not resign until a consensus candidate emerged to succeed him – and, yes, that someone better not be named Pushpa Kamal Dahal. That sentiment was far from gracious, especially in view of the Maoist leader’s latest olive branch. At least Dahal promised to disband the Young Communist League in exchange for a return to Baluwatar. (The Maoist chairman, of course, seems to have realized that his promise to extend the term of the constituent assembly in exchange for the premiership has raised more cackles than confidence.)
But look at matters from Nepal’s vantage point. Having toiled so much for the high office, he could hardly be expected to let go so easily. And especially not in favor of Dahal. Forget that the Maoist leader is responsible for much of the current rancor for having foisted onto the constituent assembly a man voters had doubly denied direct access. But that was not the only way Dahal demeaned democracy. As if his failure to sack an army chief he so boisterously accused of insubordination was not bad enough, Dahal resigned the premiership last year without anyone having demanded he do so. And what kind of politician threatens to capture state power and then dangles all these goodies to wriggle in?
For Nepal, it is not about playing favorites between Dahal and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai. There are far too many claimants to his job. Deputy Prime Minister Sujata Koirala has dubbed her boss a failure and wants her Nepali Congress to form the next government. That is her way of saying how badly she wants the top job. Try convincing the Nepali Congress about her suitability, especially now that papa is not around to preach. That would set off Sher Bahadur Deuba, Ram Chandra Poudel and Sushil Koirala in another orgy over the order of precedence in the party.
Nepal’s other deputy, Madhesi Janadhikar Forum leader Bijay Kumar Gachhadar, has already projected himself as the next premier. He may have the traits and temperament, but can he rally the MJF, much less the nation, on this one? The three top jobs of the nation going to men from the eastern Terai would make even the most historically aggrieved among us to pause for a chuckle.
Within his own party, Nepal can continue pitting contenders against one another. Chairman Jhal Nath Khanal seems to want to choke on his words each time he attempts to open his mouth lately. Perennial malcontent Bam Dev Gautam, who seemed to relish the royalist tag in the bad old days, does not seem to mind being called a Maoist in all but name these days.
With all the political capital Defense Minister Bidya Bhandari has invested in the army, could she be counted out? Even if that meeting between leaders of the UML-allied Youth Force and the generals was merely a rumor, we know who the generals’ favorite comrades are. Let’s say K.P. Oli, with his external patronage and internal belligerence, emerges as the frontrunner. Can we really be sure he is healthier than Bhandari and hence in a better position not to fly out of the country for medical treatment/consultations?
The machine readable passport fiasco may have undermined Prime Minister Nepal’s standing down south. But what else can the Indians do if they still can’t quit sulking? And the Chinese? Somebody seems to have an answer. Consider this gem from the Zimbabwe Herald of April 20, 2010 in a story extolling Harare’s ties with Beijing: “Zimbabwe supports the One China Policy on Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Nepal.”