Sunday, May 08, 2011

Convergence Of Contradictions

Few expected Madhav Kumar Nepal to make life easy for Jhal Nath Khanal. Yet those anticipating a full-blown offensive between the incumbent premier and his immediate predecessor were bound to be disappointed.
Neither tradition nor temperament suggests that Nepal would ever become a boisterous belligerent. So when he claimed the other day that now was not the time to look for an alternative to the Khanal government, the sentiment was merely characteristic of the speaker. But make no mistake. In measured but meaningful cadences, Nepal is hitting back on the man who sought to subvert him from the get go.
Prime Minister Khanal’s principal rival within his CPN-UML, Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, has been more vociferous. Even if Oli ever got over his defeat to Khanal in the election for party chairman over two years ago, he seems to see in his adversary enough to get aggravated by.
By timing his allotment of the home ministry to the Maoists at a time when Oli was out of the country, Khanal took a personal swipe at his rival. Cutting short his visit to Malaysia, Oli returned home to describe the move as “a serious conspiracy against the party, country, people and democracy”. Oli seems set to raise the decibels several levels at the upcoming party central committee meetings.
The prime minister, for his part, has been careful to cover his bases. By giving the home portfolio to Krishna Bahadur Mahara, he precipitated the exit of the original claimant, Barsa Man Pun, from the cabinet. Khanal has thus attempted to widen the fissures within the UCPN (Maoist) precipitated by party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s turnaround to embrace the peace camp. To be sure, Oli, Nepal and Co. would like to measure how all this might play out in Maoist ranks before pushing Khanal any further to the wall.
From the other end of the spectrum, the Nepali Congress is nibbling at – if not exactly biting – its nails. Barely able to keep his house in order, Nepali Congress leader Khum Bahadur Khadka insists the UML would split if the Khanal government continued in office. As the self-proclaimed mastermind of the damaging 1998 UML split, Khadka does carry some authority.
Oli and Nepal, Maila Baje feels, might want to pay deference to the likes of Khadka – at least in public. By depicting Khanal as polarizing figure, the UML’s liberal camp could hope to take over the party from the radicals. But what if Khanal were to risk a party split for the sake of retaining power? Oli at least might not be terribly bothered by that prospect.
By aligning his group with the Nepali Congress, Oli could hope to take on both the Maoists and the Khanal-led UML and find resourceful external patrons. The Madhesi parties, congenitally more likely to veer toward the liberal combine, could then fortify the new front.
While grappling with their own grievances, the Maoists can perhaps rest assured on one count. The fact that five years later, the Nepali Congress and the UML are still clamoring for the Maoists to demonstrate their commitment to peace says more about the mainstream parties than about the ex-rebels.
As events crystallize with approaching crucial May 28 deadline, Nepalis can brace for the next grand convergence of contradictions, a process that has long passed for our collective journey to a new Nepal.