Monday, July 26, 2010

Geography Of Political Thought

As many legislators voted for Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal as cast their ballots against Nepali Congress vice-president Ram Chandra Poudel in the second round of voting for prime minister last week. Unless the frenzied behind-the-scenes jockeying that we all can sense is under way produces something spectacular, Nepal seems set for an extended spell of parliamentary gaucherie.
Yet there seems to be a dark horse lurking behind the shenanigans. Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Democratic) leader and Deputy Prime Minister Bijay Kumar Gachhadar has made no secret of his prime ministerial ambitions. Given the unabashed way in which the Madhes-based parties are bent on extracting their pound of flesh, Gachhadar’s time may have indeed come.
The president and vice-president already represent the region and a premier with roots there is unlikely to resolve the Madhes issue. After all, playing up the discrimination card has proved politically potent for all within the country and geopolitically invaluable for those outside. Nepalis, for their part, have recognized the geographic, ethnic, linguistic and socio-cultural variations in the debate. But non-Madhesis, apparently, are expected to be more of listeners than anything else.
If Girija Prasad Koirala was not considered rooted deeply enough locally to prevent a hemorrhage toward regionalism from the Nepali Congress – including some longtime loyalists – no ethnic hillsman or woman can expect to drive the deliberations. Yet the agenda needs to be advanced in a manner consistent with the aspirations of all Nepalis if a constitution with a modicum of credibility is to emerge.
Gachhadar remains part of the madhesi alliance whose common platform barely disguises its divisions. Still, he wields enough individual and ideological distinctiveness to rise to the occasion. As a Tharu, Gachhadar could refocus attention on the nuances of the Madhes debate. A supporter of restoring the Hindu character of the Nepali state, he could inject relevance into the national picture whose hues have shifted after the heady exhilaration of the spring of 2006.
Now that we have heard rumors of an estimated price tag of 200 million rupees on Nepali secularism, there is some urgency to revisit the haste with which Nepalis had to let go of Hinduism before contemplating casting aside the kingdom. Although Gachhadar has not explicitly endorsed the restoration of the monarchy, he certainly possesses the capacity to press forward that side of the national debate as well.
Then there is Gachhadar’s recent open claim, fresh from consultations in New Delhi, that he enjoys India’s blessings as far as the unfolding political developments are concerned. Considering that assertion, the Chinese can be expected to become more energetic in opposing or coopting him. The Americans would have an easy time playing both sides. On the bright side, you wouldn’t have to be a terminal cynic to appreciate the invigorating candor of it all.