Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Vetting And Barring Scheme

In the regional power play, Prime Minister Jhal Nath Khanal’s coalition government has been rudely tossed onto the defensive. The new government formed in early February, according to a section of the Maoists, was the culmination of Nepali genius.
The claim gained wider resonance as the not-quite-secret seven-point accord underpinning the new coalition was reached during President Ram Baran Yadav’s visit to India ostensibly for consultations on breaking the deepening deadlock following Madhav Kumar Nepal’s resignation as premier.
Whether or how deeply the Chinese were involved in building the new alliance is hard to fathom. The most Beijing would publicly assert was the urgency of unifying all patriotic forces to strengthen Nepali sovereignty and territorial integrity. The elasticity of that assertion, Maila Baje feels, served China’s characteristic pragmatism. But the Maoists and, to a lesser degree, the CPN-UML, sought to profit from the perception of a new northern tilt.
So when a new minister of state representing one of the indigenous and marginalized communities our new Nepal was supposed to have advanced turned out to be an alleged confidant of the Dalai Lama, triumphalism collapsed with a raucous thud.
Minister of State for Finance Lharkyal Lama resigned amid allegations that he carried passports of both Nepal and India, apart from a Tibetan refugee ID card. A UML lawmaker from Sindhupalchowk district, nominated under the proportional electoral system, Lama was also accused of involvement in Free Tibet activities in violation of Nepal’s longstanding one-China policy.
While he termed the allegations as ‘imaginary and baseless’, Lama said he had chosen to resign to facilitate the government’s investigation into the charges. But the move seemed to have come after much personal resistance.
The controversy left Khanal with a putrid egg on the face. How lax could the vetting process have been. That, too, on something he would have been expected to exercise particular prudence. Khanal had hardly endeared himself to the mandarins up north when, somewhere on Chinese soil, he took a call from India’s powerful minister, Pranab Mukherjee, and cut short his visit to return home and criticize then-premier Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s decision to sack the army chief.
The demolition ball this time hit Dahal hard, too. Or maybe he anticipated – if not quite engineered – something like this. The Maoist chief has now veered to the peace camp led by Dr. Baburam Bhattarai. While hardliners like Mohan Baidya will continue to persist in the urgency of a people’s revolt, Dahal has craftily positioned himself for the post-May 28 situation.
Although visiting Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna reportedly gave Dahal an earful about the former rebels’ waywardness vis-à-vis the south, there are indications that New Delhi may be ready to meet Dahal at least quarter of the way.
No longer able to shun him, New Delhi has presented Dahal with blandishments. If he signed the dotted line – on, say, the extradition treaty, allowing Indian security personnel to man sensitive areas, etc – New Delhi could be sympathetic to the Maoist chief’s return as prime minister.
From his subsequent public comments, Dahal does not seem to have been entirely impressed. What he will do on the China front is anyone’s guess. Maybe – just maybe – he might clear the way for Dr. Bhattarai gain the premiership and implement his grand geopolitical vision. Dahal could then just as easily swing back to the Baidya camp to restore the regional equilibrium, regardless of how the Lharkyal Lama episode plays out.