Sunday, October 03, 2010

Treading Between These Two Thapas

From the extreme ends of the political spectrum, at almost the same time, Nepalis last week heard frantic pleas for preserving the nation’s identity.
Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal President Kamal Thapa, who has become increasingly vociferous in asserting the need to restore both Hinduism and the monarchy officially at the core of nationhood, has come out heavily against foreign egregiousness in this area.
Ideologically opposed to both religion and royalty, the Unified Maoist’s Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal, too, has acknowledged the urgency of strengthening Nepal’s ‘glorious’ identity in the face of sustained external onslaughts. What he didn’t say merits no less scrutiny. Contrary to what might have been expected from someone of his persuasion, Badal hasn’t explained how both institutions might have subverted that glory.
Nor has he expounded on how an identity he presumably believes had once stood out in the comity of nations might regain its position without them. That’s why it becomes prudent to anticipate some point of convergence between the opposite camps without the cynicism that customarily surrounds the subject.
Internally, there has been growing recognition – from votaries themselves – that the political changes ushered in since April 2006 to the detriment of the monarchy have failed to supplant the crucial pivot it had provided to the nation.
Indeed, through sheer legacy and character, Nepali Congress President Girija Prasad Koirala regained the leadership the assorted crew of activists and organizers had become tempted to arrogate to themselves in the post-uprising period. Flawed as his leadership was in terms of stemming the slide, Koirala’s departure only revealed the threat of tentativeness on holding the center. True, it may still be impolitic to equate the country’s fate with the crown and religion. Amid the inability of the successor elite to create a new anchor, howls of derision become barely distinguishable from those of despair.
The principal foreign powers have secured their ground sufficiently to acknowledge the perils of prolonged rivalry. During the last phases of the active monarchy, the United States managed to build a huge embassy largely bypassing what would have been close parliamentary scrutiny. The Indians dug in deeper by installing their long-awaited consulate in Birgunj and forcing their way directly into the northern reaches of Nepal with economic largesse. The Chinese secured a clampdown on their Tibetan challengers and much more. At this stage of republican Nepal, all three powers have reached a point unrestrained by the logic of the strategic triangle. The European Union, Japan, Pakistan and Russia all feel they have a stake in the region. Non-state advocacy groups consider themselves no less important stakeholders.
A sense of mortification prevents the architects from repudiating their blueprint. So U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake recently cited ‘progress’ in Nepal whereas the International Crisis Group described the country as not being exactly gripped by ‘chaos’. As a psychological palliative, neither assertion is comforting on the ground because of the obvious disconnect.
Conversations in private reveal the depths of the foreigners’ amazement at Nepal’s ability to rile them. Haunted from the outset by the prospect of an open-ended commitment, they have been assiduously attempting to build internal capacities to hasten an exit strategy. Every ostensible breakthrough has sowed the seeds of the next confrontation. The four-month extension of UNMIN has bought the international community time – but for what? Precipitate action would require the courage of convictions, something you know is sorely lacking when all the external players are busy scratching their heads.
The convergence between the statements of the two Thapas may have been entirely coincidental. In terms of the imperative of internally driven peace, the possibilities are too good not to cherish.