Monday, May 10, 2010

Clenched Fist Versus Tender Fingers

In the contest of spin, the Maoists and the government are on overdrive. Deep down, Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal knows he cannot persuade the Nepalese people that the suspension of the previously proclaimed fight-unto-the-finish indefinite shutdown was no capitulation. But he persists.
The government was instigating violence to prepare for a state of emergency that, in turn, would provide the perfect pretext to extend the tenure of the constituent assembly, the Maoists insist. Or was the anti-Maoist sentiment among the people too strong to ignore, especially considering that there might be a couple of more election cycles before the former rebels could really hope to capture state power? Maybe the pressure from abroad was too hard to bear. (When the Norwegians come out so openly against the cause, what hope can there be?)
Pitiable as the Maoists’ plight may be, it pales before the vulgarity of the government’s triumphalism. The Maoist retreat does not diminish the state’s responsibility to function on its own competence. But, then, the fact that national players have so disgracefully lost the initiative is not the main issue here. Nor is the perception that India has lost ground. The strongest coalition of international powers at any given moment will have the decisive say. And it did, through the Europeans, this time. But what did we hear?
Everyone bought time from this ordeal. The CPN-UML, which had teetered on the brink of a split, will have to tend to its wounds. The Nepali Congress’ paroxysms have not fully shaken the party before the final showdown at the convention. Within the Maoists, the Dahal-Bhattarai face-off, which has been papered over for so long, must now be allowed to run its course. Without that, the party cannot gain relevance.
Whoever emerges the winner, the Maoists should quit trying to establish themselves as another Nepali Congress or UML. They have proved sufficiently proved their democratic credentials by winning the largest number of seats in elections the international community largely certified as free and fair. As the co-signatory to the peace accords, they are not unjustified in feeling they have an equal right to define and deliberate upon whether the original intent has been maintained. The challenge, again, lies in persuading the people of the validity of their grievances. In this sense, the tactical retreat may be just that.
Where the Maoists can entrench their position is on the nationalist plank. Amid his fiery rhetoric and the fierce ridicule it has generated, it is easy to forget Dahal’s basic success. He is still around to criticize India and coddle the Chinese and confuse the Americans. Even if the Maoist supremo’s anti-Indianism were in reality New Delhi-inspired drivel, its putrefaction has long exceeded the tolerance of even the most devious sponsor. As we all know, leaders have lost their lives and political careers for far less. To tout Dahal’s survival as success might seem tantamount to cravenness to some, but you cannot diminish its importance.
Without fighting their internal battles first, the major parties cannot hope to confront one other in ways necessary for a decisive breakthrough. To say so can no longer be dismissed as an extremist rant it once used to be. We know how compromises beget half-measures that sow the seeds of even greater conflicts.
Ordinarily, the recalibration of the external hand this episode has revealed would have been exciting news. But with so many fingers working in so many odd ways, things promise to become messier. How about figuring out whether what we see next time on the external horizon is really a clenched fist or a quintet of dexterous tender fingers?