Monday, February 07, 2011

Buoyancy In The Boundlessness Of Betrayal

It must have been quite a moment to savor for Jhal Nath Khanal on the night of his election as premier last Thursday. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made two frantic attempts to contact Khanal before finally getting through to congratulate him.
During a visit to New Delhi last year, a visibly snubbed Khanal was on his way to the airport for the flight back home when he finally got word from Dr. Singh’s aides that he would get a meeting with the top man. That last-minute advance was not enough to perk up Khanal’s facial expressions at Tribhuvan International Airport, although he was careful not to use words conveying the sentiments inside.
He has not had to spell things out this time around, either. Prime Minister Khanal’s parameters have been defined by Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who took pains to describe the new government as being a product of indigenous genius. But as the sting from Devi Prasad Regmi’s slap now throbs on countless cheeks across the southern border, the Indians can be expected to gear up for action. How the Maoists managed to return to power by proxy was the refrain of the Indian commentariat well before the purported seven-point secret agreement revealed that the new government would be led by turns by the CPN-UML and the former rebels.
Dissenter-in-chief Dr. Baburam Bhattarai will prove useful in preventing Dahal’s return to the premiership. If New Delhi was in no mood to see the Maoist chairman back in the top job, Dr. Bhattarai was more than acceptable, a point the vice-chairman himself pushed with thinly disguised lament in recent days.
But more important for the anti-Dahal brigade in general may be the hardliners in his party. Mohan Baidya, who had joined Dr. Bhattarai in opposing Dahal’s decision withdraw from the race and support Khanal, has kept his powders dry.
For the hardliners, the Maoists’ participation in power would now leave the revolt option – that great propellant for melancholy cadres– in limbo. The party’s official documents – in spirit, if not necessarily in letter – stands against the Maoists’new ascendancy.
Then there remains that major stumbling block in the peace process: the fate of the Maoist army. Though the formal transfer of the PLA combatants to the special committee of the government was achieved with great fanfare, the Maoists were already expected to resist all further moves for a variety of reasons. Now, according to the secret deal, the combatants will be either put together as a new security force on its own or form a new unit along with the same number of state security forces. Both options have triggered opposition from the principal parties, and not only on the merit or otherwise of the issue alone.
As the beneficiary of so many layers of betrayals all around, Prime Minister Khanal probably recognized the ridiculousness of his undertaking well before the votes came in last Thursday. But Maila Baje feels Khanal can easily afford to sit back and relax. The Maoists, the Nepali Congress, and the CPN-UML, as well as the Terai-based parties, will need time to sort out their internal woes festering since the election.
The Indian premier was quick to sense that Khanal remained the only man standing between Baluwatar and Dahal. Our new prime minister has coveted the job for far too long not to know how to put that emotion to great personal use.