Monday, April 11, 2011

Diplomacy And Politics of Estrangement

The road to Delhi begins from Lainchour – and Rakesh Sood seems intent on keeping things that way. The soon-to-depart Indian ambassador scuttled a fence-mending meeting between Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Sharad Yadav of India’s Janata Dal (United) party was said to have arranged such a meeting after much behind-the-scenes jockeying. He and his Maoist-friendly colleagues have long pressed the fact that India cannot afford to snub the leader of the largest party in the legislature, regardless of Dahal’s ideology or idiosyncrasies.
But Sood and an influential section of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) reportedly saw matters differently. They advised New Delhi to first invite Prime Minister Jhal Nath Khanal to sound out the intentions of the new government.
It’s easy to see the shadows of all those black flags running amok in the Indian ambassador’s behavior. Yet Sood & Co. must have bolstered their resistance through their conclusion that the Maoists are, at best, running out of steam.
Earlier this month, Yadav voiced his frustration with Sood by publicly accusing the ambassador of “crossing all  limits.” Sood, for his part, is no amnesiac. Yadav has not exactly been credible as a go-between. After all, he had failed to persuade then-Prime Minister Dahal to shelve plans to make Beijing his first foreign port of call. And that, too, after candidly claiming in the full glare of the media that doing so would only antagonize India.
In fairness, Dahal wants to uphold Nepal’s freedom to make the decisions it deems vital to its national interests. That conflicts with New Delhi’s basic psychology. In a recent BBC Nepali Service interview, retired general Ashok K. Mehta seemed to concede Nepal’s aspirations on every specific instance the questioner and his co-panelist, former Nepali ambassador to China, Rajeshwar Acharya, raised. Yet, on a philosophical level, Mehta, in his inimitable Nepali, insisted on India’s paramountcy, citing Nepal’s anatomical import as the head of South Asia.
Dahal, from the outset, probably recognized the difficulty a republican Nepal would face in warding off the dilemma successive monarchs faced vis-à-vis India. He also must have felt he would carry far more credibility in articulating Nepalese concerns as a democratically elected leader.
But Dahal’s obsession has had an echo-chamber effect, muddling the message not only among the intended audience but also among those on whose behalf he is making them. If by orientation and temperament Dahal seems ill suited for diplomacy, those same attributes make him unlikely to stop dragging India into the daily political discourse.
Dahal partisans may jump on RAW’s involvement in the latest ostensible sabotage as part of the effort to project Dr. Baburam Bhattarai as the next leader of the party. The Chinese, too, seem to have become alert to that reality and have therefore begun according greater respect to the vice-chairman.
It is hard to see Dahal making way for Bhattarai. So the Maoist chairman probably has another trick up his sleeve, perhaps even one connected to the latest convention of the Coordination Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA). At a meeting the Indians believe was held in Nepal, the organization, among other things, resolved, “People all over the world look up to the Maoists in Nepal to break out of conspiracies and advance determinedly towards the completion of new democratic revolution.”
The Dahal plan could go like this. Let the constituent assembly die without its having formed a new constitution. Oppose President Ram Baran Yadav’s inevitable intervention by bringing the capital to a standstill for a few days. Then send out your own men and women on ‘spontaneous’ anti-Maoist demonstrations. Take a deep breath and renew the anti-Indian tirade.
New Delhi must have anticipated as much. The variables beyond are probably what both sides are anxiously weighing.