Monday, May 24, 2010

Actually, Everyone’s Raring To Go

For a country lamenting its lack of soft power that is both supple and supreme, India must be enjoying the spectacle unfolding in Nepal.
Having to cede the ground to the likes of the French and the Norwegians may have injured Indian pride. What was the alternative? The Americans now insist they have a convergence of views on Nepal with not only New Delhi but also Beijing. And the United Nations? Wasn’t it supposed to have been an Indo-Chinese initiative to limit external influence? It has become a behemoth in its own right.
Indians have long complained how Nepal’s policy toward them is based on extracting concessions without meeting its obligations. In the beginning, Jawaharlal Nehru would fire off missives to Matrika Prasad Koirala castigating this strain of anti-Indianism. Then the New York Times went on to portray how the average Nepali considered the threat from India far more insidious than that from China. Nehru and his daughter and grandson then opted for economic pressure to keep Nepal on a tight leash. With every assertion of its version of the Monroe Doctrine, Nepal became hospitable to alien influences from all quarters.
That was then. Today India is pulsating with Great Power ambitions. It believes it deserves a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council on its own merit, bypassing the rigmarole called the reform agenda. The Chinese can’t say no to their face. The Americans say they would love to hear Hinglish in its diverse intonations resonate in the chamber permanently. How bad must it hurt the Indians to realize that they cannot even tend to their neighborhood?
In the aftermath of “People’s Movement II”, no Indian leader or official of importance really expected Nepali leaders to credit New Delhi with their rise to power. Deep down, many Indians must have expected our leaders to be more subdued in their rage once they fell. When a former prime minister starts publicly accusing the Indians of murdering a king, you know the dissonance can get only detrimental.
There is a reason for this. Bahadur, ordinarily a term evoking awe and admiration, is a stinging pejorative because it is still in currency. Nobody remembers how regularly the Manchus up north called us bandits. Time is a greater healer. Distance, too, is a softener. The fact that Nepal always seems to be among that select group of countries subject to rigorous visa screening procedures seems to escape us.
Macao, one of two Special Administrative Regions (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China, became the latest to rank us among the Nigerians, when we have had our own immigration woes with those good folks. (The visa stringency of other SAR, Hong Kong, need not be recapitulated here.) Yet the open border with India continues to be blamed for Nepal’s woes by no less a man than Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, the Maoist friendliest to our southern neighbor with unrivalled consistency.
Surely, there will be many among us who would prefer asphyxiation by distant devils to spite the one closest to us. That won’t stop the Indians from regaling in how more and more Nepalis are finally realizing how when it comes to pushing and shoving around, everyone – near or far – is raring to go. Whether we have learned the real moral of the story is a different matter.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Some Words To Go With ‘Our’ Voices

With the Constituent Assembly now having failed its primary responsibility, Maoist leader Mohan Baidya ‘Kiran’ tells us his party will unveil the ‘people’s constitution’ from Khula Manch on May 29 to mark Republic Day. But the statute will not be promulgated immediately. Phew.
Baidya tries to sound reassuring in another way. The new constitution would be based on the discussions that took place in various thematic committees of the assembly and would be promulgated only in consultation with the other parties. But, then, haven’t the Maoists already said the door to compromise has been slammed shut.
By whom, it is not clear because it does not seem to matter. What we do know is that the Maoists abruptly withdrew their general strike for a reason. You cannot promulgate a ‘people’s constitution’ from the streets without letting the people back onto them in time first.
What exactly would this constitution supposed resonating with our voices look like? Most of us think we have a fair idea. In a great leap, the People’s Republic of Nepal would likely resemble China not of 1949 but that of the mid-Sixties. The opposition will have a place in a consultative assembly expected to rubberstamp the official line. The recalcitrant will confront struggle sessions complete with dunce caps. But how might all this be codified in words and paragraphs? Here are some of Maila Baje’s thoughts.
The Preamble: “Chairman Dahal is the great leader of all the nationalities of the country, the head of our proletarian dictatorship state and the supreme commander of the whole nation-whole army. Vice-chairman [Baidya/Bhattarai/Shrestha, take your pick] is Chairman Dahal’s close comrade in arms and successor, and the deputy commander of the whole nation-whole army. The thought of Pushpa Kamal Dahal is the policy leading all the nation's work.”
The People’s Liberation Army: “It is the task of the People’s Republic of Nepal’s armed forces to guard against subversion or aggression by imperialism, social imperialism and their lackeys. The PLA and the people’s militia are led by the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist.”
Fundamental Rights: “The most fundamental rights and duties of citizens are to support Chairman Dahal and his close comrade-in-arms to support the leadership of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal, to support the dictatorship of the proletariat, to support the socialist system, and to observe the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Nepal.”
The State: “The PRN is a full-fledged Socialist state led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants.” (The very first paragraph of the Preamble originally contained assurance that the people’s democracy could “build a prosperous and happy Socialist society.” But we understand that was put in abeyance by the party pending a final decision on Dahal’s successor.)
The People: “There is three-level system of ownership within the collective ownership economy. According to that system, ownership is shared by the people’s commune, the production brigade and the production team - the latter being the basic accounting unit within the three-fold system. The right of members of people’s communes to operate small-sized private plots shall be ensured provided that the development and the absolute supremacy of the collective economy is guaranteed.”
The Upshot: This will be Nepal’s first constitution to acknowledge with great pride the country’s status as a dictatorship.

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?

Monday, May 03, 2010

What Would We Do Without Him?

In Nepal’s triangular logjam, western powers have filled the space vacated by the monarchy four years ago. So it seems in the estimation of Narayan Man Bijukchhe. But what about that most vilified external hand? The leader of Nepal Workers and Peasants Party (NWPP) has chosen to give the Indians a pass this time.
The Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML are feudal parties, Bijukchhe asserts. No surprises here. The Maoists are dividing the country in the name of caste, ethnicity and regionalism, and hence, do not qualify to be counted as communists. By pitting the two poles against each other, the western powers are pushing Nepal to perpetual failed status. With much of Washington, London and Brussels already in a muddle, they more than ever need lousier places to cheer them up.
In castigating the collective West, the spokesman for the toiling masses of Nepal has made this much clear. The folks in that hemisphere are incapable of changing their colors, regardless of the fact that the first black man in the White House is ideologically the reddest any American could ever hope to be.
Bijukchhe accuses UNMIN of conspiring against Nepal in much the same way the Maoists have. By playing up our divisions, the international merchants of peace get to settle down to business. Okay, but what do we do next? Never at a loss for creative solutions, Bijukchhe wants his onetime classmate, President Ram Baran Yadav, to impose presidential rule and extend the tenure of the constituent assembly.
Forget whether we could really hope to get a constitution that way. The key point to ponder is Bijukchhe’s reason for keeping mum on India this time. Distrust of our southern neighbor has remained the very essence of his being. In 1971, as a young radical, Bijukchhe broke away from Pushpa Lal Shrestha’s faction of the Communist Party after that organization supported India’s intervention in what was then East Pakistan. Bijukchhe also criticized Pushpa Lal’s enthusiasm for cooperation with the Nepali Congress and the failure of his party to condemn the Soviet Union as imperialist. As the Sino-Soviet split widened, Bijukchhe considered it prudent to tag himself onto the belligerent closer to home.
After the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990, and especially during the hung parliament of 1994-1999, Bijukchhe was a central figure in Operation Destabilization. His handful of MPs would make and break governments. But at least the NWPP leader had the honesty to concede that it was all part of Indian machinations. In the process, Bijukchhe perhaps saw some expiation in studiously avoiding power.
Considered close to King Gyanendra until the very end of the monarchy, Bijukchhe nevertheless remained an energetic face of the anti-palace opposition. A signatory to the 12-point agreement between the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists, he was the first leader not only to cast doubts on the wisdom of the enterprise but also the motive of the prime facilitator.
By seeking presidential rule backed by the army, it is easy to suspect whether the NWPP leader may have struck a tacit alliance with India. With a madhesi commoner as supreme commander, Bijukchhe probably thinks the generals can mount a genuine and popularly acceptable second national unification campaign. But Maila Baje has another take. Maybe the NWPP leader believes the Maoists are already doing a pretty good job of going after India. By taking on the West, Bijukchhe can still don his individualist image and keep his own ground.
Nepalese politics would be drabber without him, wouldn’t you say?