Sunday, January 16, 2011

Loitering Around The Premier League

In terms of sheer effrontery, India’s public triumphalism in having evicted UNMIN from its purported backyard is rivaled by a palpable surge in prime ministerial ambitions in Nepal. Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, CPN-UML chairman Jhal Nath Khanal and the Nepali Congress’ Sher Bahadur Deuba are among front-runners who each seem prepared to countenance either of the other two if only to keep the other aspirants out.
Yet the field is wide. Ram Chandra Poudel, the Nepali Congress leader who withdrew his candidacy after becoming the uncomfortable sole contestant for most of the 16 unsuccessful legislative legerdemain, remains very much in the fray, if you ask a section of his party members.
One section of the UML has floated the candidacy of Bharat Mohan Adhikary in the interest of maintaining factional balance. Not one to shy away from his newfound prowess as a power broker, Maoist leader Mohan Baidya has pushed Ram Bahadur Thapa for the top job.
Whom do the Indians envisage? After bolstering Maoist leader Dr. Baburam Bhattarai’s credentials for the high office, New Delhi insists that it would be comfortable with anyone who it believes it could work with. Quite a standard, that. But even the lame affirmation of detachment has not been able to stand for long. Through familiar representatives, New Delhi has made its preferences clear.
Nepal is the head of India, retired general Ashok K. Mehta said in a recent interview with a Nepali weekly. In that magnanimous vein, any imbalance at the top is bound to rattle the rest of the body. Pressed to name names, Mehta insisted that Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Democratic leader Bijay Kumar Gachchadar may be best suited for the premiership, a candidate Maila Baje has endorsed in the past, albeit for different reasons.
How gullible might Gachchadar be to this intimation? He is hardly unfamiliar with the resume enhancement Dr. Bhattarai achieved through two successive visits to India in the past fortnight. The Maoist leader, it is understood, conducted more substantive discussions with his putative patrons during the Mumbai sojourn, emboldening him to proclaim his readiness to assume any responsibility.
Yet how might Dr. Bhattarai actually rate his chances, notwithstanding his impressive standing in Nepali public opinion polls. He was not blind to the shabbiness with which the CPN-UML’s Khadga Prasad Oli was treated in official circles in the vicinity of the Vivekananda International Foundation conference. Ram Chandra Poudel, who felt he had earned New Delhi’s appreciation, if not the premiership, by merely continuing his losing candidacy for so long, was not even invited to the conclave. One Indian daily, known for conveying New Delhi’s official views on Nepalese affairs, even characterized that legislative process farcical.
In issuing a joint statement pledging post-UNMIN support to Nepal, the heads of diplomatic missions of Australia, Canada, Denmark, EU, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States have established themselves in a lesser league of their own. India, in other words, is set to be in the driver’s seat.
But, clearly, New Delhi also seems to appreciate how the Chinese, Russians, Pakistanis and all other stakeholders will chart their own course in the ambiguity of the post-UNMIN milieu. All roads may lead to Delhi, but, in India’s estimation, no Nepali traveler must be allowed to take anything for granted.