Thursday, November 25, 2010

Our Managers of Contradictions

Mohan Baidya and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai had gone into the Maoist plenum at Palungtar hoping to tame their boss. They seem to have succeeded, albeit not without having shamed themselves a bit.
Most of the delegates at the conference, we are told, admonished Pushpa Kamal Dahal to cut back on his verbal machinations. The chairman’s multi-speak, far from managing contradictions, was tarnishing the party’s image. The reprimand undoubtedly thrilled the two vice-chairmen.
But they, too, had their earfuls. Baidya was asked to consider his age and health before opening his mouth. At his stage of life, many delegates feel, guardianship would be his best contribution. His radicalism, in any case, only ignored the country’s ground realities.
The latter – a favorite Bhattarai term – was not propitious for the junior chairman, either. Ideological eloquence has its time and place, but certainly not when it comes to publicly airing internal rifts. The top rebel penman seemed to enjoy the least support among the People’s Liberation Army.
In a sense, the Maoist conclave has institutionalized the status quo. Sail on comrades, but do not rock the boat, at least not in public view. For the rest of the country, the conference has shown how profoundly the three-way split pervades all echelons. Dahal, Baidya and Bhattarai cannot stand one another, but they cannot stand alone, either. The prospects of any two coming together against the third, if anything, appears to have receded amid such diffusion of dissidence.
Yet none of the men is likely to abjure his position. Dahal by nature, Baidya by outlook and Bhattarai by attitude are incapable of reinventing themselves.
The ringing affirmation that the Maoists remain a divided house marks the first success for the architects of the 12-point accord across the southern border. To their diffident political masters, these designers proclaimed how the Nepalese rebels could be employed to strike at the royals and then neutralized. Today, the Maoists cannot afford to abandon the mainstream, nor can they expect to monopolize it. With the other political forces in far more pathetic shape, Nepal will continue to hemorrhage. ‘Nepalization’ will stand beside ‘Bhutanization’ and ‘Sikkimization’ as metaphor not only for a process but also for prescriptions specific to time and space.
The emaciation of the Maoists may or may not deprive the Indian Naxalites of any of their ideological fervor. Clearly, the denigration of their Nepali cousins would allow the Congress, BJP and the mainstream communists to use the Indian insurgency to advance their own politics. Might it still be prudent to write the Maoists off? Who knows how they might employ their current divisions to open up new possibilities – internally and regionally – when contradictions abound everywhere?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Still Waging Our Peace War

Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal exonerates the Maoists from damaging allegations that they are training India’s Naxalite guerrillas. In return, our former rebels beat up Finance Minister Surendra Pandey in parliament just when he thought he had the Maoists’ approval to present the delayed budget.
The minister happens to be an in-law of Premier Nepal’s chief rival in his CPN-UML, the chairman Jhal Nath Khanal. Amid the bedlam, the prime minister rams his budget through a presidential ordinance and announces his intention to go to Russia for a tiger summit.
The Maoists, upholding their pledge to block a full-fledged budget, get to growl inwards at their Gorkha plenum. The Nepali Congress’ Ram Chandra Poudel, the sole candidate for much of the legislature’s embarrassing search for a new prime minister, is left in limbo. However, he, too, gets to boast that his hanging candidacy is what stops the Maoists from capturing the state.
Meanwhile, the chief of the Armed Police Force denies ever having suggested that he had found no evidence of the Maoists’ training the Naxalites – which had ostensibly underpinned Premier Nepal’s exculpation. And so the peace process completed four agonized years.
When the nation is expected to pin its hopes on secret conclaves, peace in pieces looks better than nothing. But what exactly is it that we have been collectively seeking?
For the mainstream parties, the peace process was something to hit back at the monarchy with. The Maoists went along because their principal external patron shared that sentiment, all the while hedging its bets.
Today, the international community is anxious to see the integration of the state and former rebel armies as the most compelling evidence of peace. This comes at a time when fewer and fewer ex-fighters seem to consider that as a prerequisite to peace. The human rights wings of the world body want to see that part of their agenda on the front-burner, something their cousins in the non-state sector are far more incendiary in asserting. Words like justice and reconciliation would have retained their sonorous ring if the truth of it all had not kept shifting so swiftly.
A chastened Nepali Congress today wants the Maoists to prove their commitment to the democratic process, despite the fact that the voters validated those credentials by electing them the largest party over two years ago. Even then, the Nepali Congress wears a far more substantive aura than the UML, which does not seem to know what it wants from the ex-rebels.
The Indians want the Maoists sidelined because they had envisaged the ex-rebels merely as something that would propel the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) protests beyond Ratna Park. The SPA’s subsequent performance has fallen far short of New Delhi’s expectations. The mainstream parties may have succeeded in pulling the Maoists to their own level of ordinariness. But they did little to foil the ex-rebels’ overtures to Chinese pragmatism. Beijing, which once helped the palace and the parties in their effort to crush the rebels, today wants the Great Helmsman’s local offspring to head a broad patriotic front.
The Americans want the ex-rebels to maintain equidistance between the regional behemoths and have been extending a lateral hand in all directions. The Europeans, Russians, Japanese, Pakistanis, Arabs are all staking their claims. The international left is more interested in peddling such pet issues as homosexuality and abortion – not to mention that perfect watermelon, environmentalism – as the defining characteristics of Nepal’s newness over everything else. The global right is not only resisting with full force, but the evangelical variant also wants to spread the Good News in such a way that there is no Second Going.
What do Nepalis want? Surely, there must be something more than the CNN Hero and Alternative Nobel laurels.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Accounts Of Awe And Aggrandizement

All these years later, Marich Man Singh Shrestha, the last prime minister of the partyless Panchayat system, continues to extol this quality of that polity: Where else could someone from his modest social and economic milieu rise to become head of government?
It wouldn’t take much to hear in Shrestha’s query the tenor of inadequacy many ex-panchas still express almost as an act of expiation. Hard as it might be to believe, there were people who were genuinely inspired to serve their nation under the banner of partylessness. Yet it turns out that every man or woman like Shrestha was outnumbered by those who believed they had the right to be served by the system.
The post-April Uprising spurt in published reminiscences of the period abounds in such sentiment. Take this gentleman who reached the pinnacle of political, administrative and diplomatic service. Doubtless, Nepalis today continue to benefit from his wisdom percolating across the media on diverse matters. In ruminating on them, there are times he appears to emphasize his own role in events all the while demeaning what he was representing.
Not that we couldn’t have tolerated personal aggrandizement from this esteemed personage, at least. A youth once seen milling around a foreign medical professional apparently impressed the benefactor sufficiently to find his mooring in higher education overseas. The country saw in him immense promise even before he had submitted the dissertation justifying the erudite honorific that was a rarity then.
Questions persisted as to when – or even whether – he ended up fulfilling that academic requirement. Then far intense speculation swirled around the true purpose of his ascendancy. But these things hardly detracted, as far as Maila Baje is concerned, from the extraordinariness of his personal story. But today condemnation of the system that seemed to have made all that possible tends to appear as an essential ingredient of his recollections.
Another gentleman recently revealed how one monarch had dispatched him to China on a highly sensitive mission. Nowhere in his tantalizing narrative did he seem to marvel at the great trust he happened to bear amid Nepal’s geopolitical vulnerabilities. Everything seemed to have been scripted to demolish the monarchy’s image in keeping with the prevailing political climate. The reality that the man reached one of the top rungs of the palace-led system, complete with its perks, remained buried in his story.
A few former palace officials continue to offer interesting details about how individual royals varied in their values, attitudes, needs and expectations. But for the most part, their musings have descended into a barefaced settling of scores. The holier-than-thou approach of advocates for rival palace camps has marred what remains of redeeming value for historians. How even the supposedly worst victims in individual palace secretariats ended up far better than the average stalwart retiree in the Singha Darbar wing of the civil service, especially in terms of providing for their family, is not part of the storyline.
Everybody was simply too good for the Panchayat system and therefore the polity simply owed them. It is this subtext that makes former prime minister Shrestha’s seemingly worn-out words all the more refreshing.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Dishonesty Is Such A Bustling Word…

So we are no longer capable of integrity in camera. Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal blamed the lack of honesty for the failure of the two-day secret talks among top leaders of the major three parties at Hattiban.
From the accumulated wisdom available to us, you could commiserate in Nepal’s ostensible naiveté. What power can arise or hold its own without hypocrisy, lying, punishments, prisons, fortresses or murder? (Leo Tolstoy) Or is our honorable gentleman outright uninformed? It is not power that corrupts people but fools who get into a position of power that corrupt power. (George Bernard Shaw).
However untrue everyone else may have become, Prime Minister Nepal does not seem to have lost his own candor. He wanted the premiership so bad that he moved destiny. Once there, he started radiating so much triumph over common sense that everyone else felt impelled to ask him to quit. He did so on his terms and is set to become the longest caretaker head of government in the world. Contentment was bound to run out. Regardless of particular status in power, the man knows that the country wants him to take care of them.
But the Maoists won’t allow him to present the budget in the legislature because they believe he’s going to interpret approval as a regularization of his government. Premier Nepal so detests the comparisons with Nagendra Prasad Rijal that he wants to hand over the reins to President Ram Baran Yadav. No one, with the ostensible exception of Nepal Workers and Peasants Party President Narayan Man Bijukchhe, likes that idea.
Might Nepal’s candor help the country get a new prime minister? The three parties were mulling the prospect of a rotational prime ministerial system before that secret conclave. Even though the current legislature has barely six months of life left, this Back to Village National Campaign central committee-style collective leadership still sounds interesting. It would allow the rival aspirants within each party, too, to deliberate on how they might take turns. Through last-minute consensus, the assembly could be extended again, legitimized by, if not anything else, precedent. But here too the Nepali Congress, which wants the first crack at it, is playing the spoiler.
So Prime Minister Nepal will probably want to continue until the alternative arrangements U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke about after UNMIN’s departure. The government would perhaps delay responding to the Indian government’s allegations that Nepalese Maoists are training their Indian counterparts on our soil – or at least waffle.
With the dawn of the New Year, all the three major external players will have been at their seats on U.N. Security Council. The unstable tripolarity on Nepal can then be expected to enter a new phase of instability. Prime Minister Nepal, no doubt, knows that Nepalis do not have a monopoly on perfidy.