Sunday, October 10, 2010

As Long As It Catches Mice…

It’s becoming harder not to see the acerbity in the tenor of Dr. Baburam Bhattarai’s observations on India in the light of the appellation emanating from the north.
Honestly, Maila Baje really doesn’t know whether He Yong, the secretariat member of Communist Party of China Central Committee, had actually described Dr. Bhattarai as Nepal’s equivalent of Deng Xiaoping during their meeting in Kathmandu last month. But Beijing as well as the Maoists seem to have sensed the benefits of letting the parallel prevail.
More interesting are the motions gripping our Maoists. When Dr. Bhattarai met separately with Shyam Saran, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s special envoy, earlier in the year, the Maoist leader engendered much criticism from within his own party. When Dr. Bhattarai met He, in no less confidential circumstances, the entire party appeared elated. In fact, leading Bhattarai critics seem ready to wear the Dengist badge with pride. (He, whose recent career rested on the campaign against corruption and indiscipline, must have been struck by the Nepalese obsession with his rank as vice-premier.)
Reading deeper into the tea leaves, no member of the Bhattarai faction sought to play up the questions surrounding party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s Malaysian sojourn. If the former rebels have embarked on an internal realignment with a pronounced geopolitical tilt, then the postponement of the extended meeting of the politburo has come in handy.
As to the Deng name, it holds particular resonance for Dr. Bhattarai, the preeminent Maoist economic pragmatist this side of the Himalayas. But it connotes many other things. “He can write and he can fight”, Mao Zedong once said of the comrade he called the “little man”. When Mao purged Deng during the Cultural Revolution, he equated Deng and Liu Shaoqi as capitalist roaders. Whereas Li’s fate was almost doomed from the beginning, Mao seemed to hold Deng – in the words of the celebrated China-watcher, Harrison Salisbury – in “special reserve”.
Dr. Bhattarai’s antecedents in the party have been far less tumultuous. But he, like Deng, has been a man in a hurry, one whom his boss has learned not to underestimate.
There are palpable gaps in his record. How seriously Bhattarai questioned Dahal’s leadership and policies during those crucial underground days remains unknown. Everything seemed to have unraveled during his first purge in 2004-2005, which was lifted on account of India’s desire to settle scores with the palace.
Before the constituency assembly election, Bhattarai was projected as the party’s prime ministerial candidate. But, then, Dahal lowered his sights from the presidency, probably because he was not so sure the monarchy would be abolished. Dutifully serving as finance minister, Dr. Bhattarai worked to raise revenue collections and steered clear of the controversies of the Dahal government.
Earlier this year, Dr. Bhattarai’s brinkmanship pushed Dahal toward extending the tenure of the constituent assembly. Despite his growing popularity in the race to succeed Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal – within the party and outside – Dr. Bhattarai remained in fetters. Just as he seemed to have made up his mind to openly challenge Dahal, the Shyam Saran brouhaha erupted.
When the Krishna Bahadur Mahara ‘cash-from-China’ controversy broke out, many a whisper emanating from the aggrieved attributed the leaked tape to someone ostensibly close to the Bhattarai faction.
During all this, the Chinese must have recognized that Dr. Bhattarai was the only Maoist prime minister Nepal could hope to get in the near term. So instead of allowing the Indians to walk away with the trophy, Beijing saw it fit to begin conferring titles in the way the Ming and Qing courts did. In doing so, the Chinese may have hoped to inject some suspicion in the minds of their principal rival for influence. Dr. Bhattarai is too much of pragmatist not to see the benefit of publicly attempting to readjust his geopolitical posture.