Sunday, March 13, 2011

Homing In On The Maoists?

Jasjeet Singh seems to have secured the home ministry for the Maoists. Prime Minister Jhal Nath Khanal and UCPN (Maoist) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal both, in their own ways, have described the murder attempt on TV executive Yunus Ansari inside high-security Central Jail as an attack on Nepal.
The prime minister pledged to the legislators that he would hold a detailed inquiry into what happened and how. As the antecedents of the accused hit man revealed intriguing twists, there was, in Maila Baje’s view, a development that ranked much more than a related development. Bhim Acharya, the chief whip of the CPN-UML, publicly announced the Maoists would get the home ministry in the next cabinet expansion.
In the weeks since Khanal’s rise, the omnipresence of the prime minister has not been able to negate the absence of the home minister. From the outset, the premier could have kept the portfolio pending a resolution of the controversy, but he knew home affairs was a full-time responsibility. For that simple reason, all that talk about awarding the ministry to Bishnu Poudel, in addition to his defense portfolio, was probably a last-ditch ruse of the anti-Khanal faction in the UML.
The other major parties do not want to see the Maoists at the helm of the home ministry, for long obvious reasons. If anything, the escalation in the ex-rebels’ rhetoric since their ascension to power has bolstered their critics. Yet the Maoists themselves might not be that keen to designate the next home minister without properly vetting the credentials of the candidate.
Within each major party, former home ministers have carved a special place for themselves. The likes of Khum Bahadur Khadka, Govinda Raj Joshi and Krishna Prasad Sitaula continue to rattle the internal equations of the Nepali Congress. Deep down, Ram Chandra Poudel probably saw in his recent candidacy for the premiership less a lateral shadow of his stint as speaker than a vertical entitlement stemming from his home ministership.
In the UML, people like K.P. Sharma Oli and Bam Dev Gautam have used their terms as deputy premier and home minister – either clubbed together or during separate terms – to fortify themselves within the party and beyond. The former continues to hover around the constituent assembly, despite the fact that he lost the 2008 election. The latter, another defeated candidate, still cannot really be written off as a has-been.
The home hallmark is most conspicuous in the right. Kamal Thapa, King Gyanendra’s much-maligned home minister, is the chief of a party whose ideological consistency has of late drawn defections from former royalist organizations.
The Maoists appear anxious to want someone with little propensity to create his or her own fiefdom. A quadrangular factional contest may help Dahal, Mohan Baidya and Baburam Bhattarai to roil the waters to their liking. But it would be less likely to let any one of them dominate the process, much less the outcome.
Ansari blamed India’s premier external spy agency, RAW, for the failed plot to kill him. But sloppiness is not an attribute normally associated with RAW, especially when it comes to physical liquidation. Perhaps whoever was behind the attack wasn’t really trying to kill Ansari? Maybe they were anxious to see the Maoists get the home ministry, even more so than the ex-rebels themselves?