Sunday, January 09, 2011

Enduring Earthly Relevance Of Divine Counsel

Prithvi Narayan Shah is riding a new wave of recognition in republican Nepal. From across the political spectrum, a growing number of leaders are voicing reverence for the founder of the nation, as opposed to the progenitor of Nepal’s last royal dynasty.
Such acknowledgment of our roots was never antithetical to our march to newness. The belatedness of the sentiment surely does not detract from its relevance, especially with the imminent withdrawal of the United Nations peace mission, or UNMIN, and the regionalization of Nepal’s search for peace and stability.
UNMIN chief Karin Landgren vented her frustration with Nepal’s knottiness by stating that the nation stood between presidential rule or an outright military takeover and a Maoist revolt. Although Landgren phrased her remarks in a way suggesting she was merely regurgitating popular sentiment, they prompted much outrage. Yet much sympathy was also available from sources as disparate as Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai and Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal’s Kamal Thapa.
At U.N. headquarters, Indian diplomats could barely conceal their glee at having mounted a hugely successful start at the Security Council in evicting the United Nations from India’s backyard. As New Delhi unleashed its much-touted seminar diplomacy, the broadly participated event turned out to be merely a sideshow to Dr. Bhattarai’s confabulations with top Indian figures associated with that country’s Nepal policy.
If Nepalis back home sought to see Dr. Bhattarai as the next prime minister, the man was in no eagerness to dispel that notion. The Chinese, of course, already labeled him as our version of Deng Xiaoping, which was interpreted to mean anything. In the current context, Beijing’s appellation does not appear to stand in the way of Dr. Bhattarai’s ascendancy.
His boss, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, finds himself in the pre-12-point agreement phase, when he had to lift the punitive action against Dr. Bhattarai and dispatch him to New Delhi to forge an anti-palace alliance with the mainstream parties. This time, Dahal desisted from fresh action with a screech that battered his own reputation. Even the man he deputed to escort Dr. Bhattarai to the Indian capital chose to make news by sparring with former army chief Rookmangad Katuwal, to little effect.
After a meeting with President Ram Baran Yadav, Dahal ruled out the possibility of presidential rule or a Maoist revolt, at least not immediately in the case of the latter. (Maila Baje found his silence on the possibility of an army takeover rather intriguing.) Relegated to essentially a leader of a faction – albeit the dominant one – from his grand pedestal of supremo, Dahal may have little choice but to accept Bhattarai as prime minister. Even if were to succeed in regaining the premiership, Dahal will have to confront a rejuvenated Bhattarai. Fighting his battles from within the party and government would seem to be his safest bet.
Despite India’s conspicuous delight, the withdrawal of UNMIN has come at a time when it faces a palpable erosion of its tradition influence. During Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s recent visit, New Delhi exhibited the dominance of the ‘hyperrealists’ hawks by not reiterating that it considered Tibet a part of China. Juxtaposed with India’s decision to send its representative to the Nobel peace prize award ceremony to Chinese dissident Liu Xiabo, the trends point to continuing political tensions between the Asian giants. Yet Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Wen spared time to discuss the fragility in Nepal, while we were regaled by the Paras Shah-Rubel Chaudhary ruckus.
After Wen’s visit, the hot line between New Delhi and Beijing has already seen prime ministerial consultations on Nepal at least one more time. Beijing seems anxious to restore stability through the military and other tools still available, while New Delhi is eager for a democratic fa├žade to any changeover. In that seemingly narrow space lies much potential peril for Nepalis.
Prithvi Narayan Shah wanted posterity to maintain friendship with both neighbors. A closer reading of his most celebrated divine counsel suggests that he considered the danger from the south more serious. It would be worthwhile to extrapolate that assertion into our times and draw our lessons. The Chinese regularly give out messages in support of Nepal’s independence and integrity, but in a way that is barely audible to themselves. The Indians, for their part, speak from all sides of their mouth for everyone to hear.